Preseason look at the Blue Raider defense

Experienced front line leading the way in 2007

July 31, 2007 · MT Media Relations
Middle Tennessee's defense, under the direction of Manny Diaz, loses four starters off of last year's surprising group but will still welcome back a wealth of talent. The Blue Raiders return seven starters and 18 lettermen, along with the leader in quarterback sacks, tackles for loss, and interceptions.

Keying Middle Tennessee's first bowl berth in the I-A era was a defense that set school records in sacks and tackles for loss while allowing just 38 points combined in the second half of SBC action. The unit was also opportunistic by scoring four touchdowns and forcing 27 turnovers.

The Blue Raiders should be solid up front with all four starters returning including two all-conference performers. The defense will not be as fortunate at linebacker where all three starters departed to create a wide-open battle for playing time during the spring and fall camp.

The secondary lost just one starter and returns All-American Damon Nickson, Roy Polite, and steady Bradley Robinson. Nickson had five interceptions and proved to be quite a weapon with the ball in his hands.

"I was probably more pleased with the play of our defense from start to finish than any area of our team last year," added Stockstill. "We did the type of things on defense that can make it difficult on opposing offenses, we forced turnovers, we got pressure on the quarterback, and we had several tackles for loss. All of these things make your football team better in every area because if you are forcing turnovers then your offense is usually put into a good situation, and the lost yardage plays generally put offenses in a down and distance where it is difficult to convert and make first downs.

"We need to build on the success of last season and continue to have an exciting, aggressive defensive football team. We do have a lot of quality returning on the defensive front but a big key for us is going to be what shakes out at the linebacker positions and whether we are able to develop quality depth there as well as in our secondary."

DEFENSIVE LINE (Coach Les Herrin)
The anchor of any defense is the players up front and Middle Tennessee is blessed to have all four starters and all four backups returning in 2007. Last year's unit accounted for 22 sacks, 54 tackles for loss, and eight forced fumbles while leading the SBC in rushing defense.

Headlining the group is all-conference ends Erik Walden and Tavares Jones. Walden is coming off a career year in which he totaled 48 tackles, a school-record 11.5 sacks to rank 10th nationally, and 14.5 tackles for loss. Along the way, the senior also became Middle Tennessee's all-time leader in sacks by running his mark to 20.5.

The other half of this dynamic duo is Jones who coaches say has an unbelievable motor. In his first year as a defensive end, Jones turned in a career season with 38 stops, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks.

Also at end is senior Sean Mosley who started all 13 games in 2006 and produced a career season. The Sylvania, Ga., native collected 40 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and forced a team-high four fumbles in helping lead one of the top defenses in the SBC.

The inside of the defensive line returns Trevor Jenkins and Wes Hofacker who combined for 24 of a possible 26 starts in 2006. Jenkins started all 13 games and collected 35 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss, while Hofacker added 19 tackles in his first season on the line.

Backups Jonathan Presley, Derek Mason, and Chris McCoy combined to play in 34 total games in 2006 and all three look to be improved in 2007. Presley, a junior from Jacksonville, Fla., competed in all 13 games and had one start at tackle on his way to recording 13 tackles and a sack.

Mason, who has impressed coaches with his effort in the offseason, looks to be a major contributor in his senior season. The former offensive lineman played in 10 total games and tallied four tackles.

McCoy, who played defensive end in 2006 but could see more time at tackle in 2007, had six tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble in 11 games last year. The sophomore has good size and athleticism and should provide valuable depth.

Also figuring in for playing time will be senior Chris Anderson, junior Brandon Perry, and freshman Andre Wicker.

LINEBACKER (Coach Art Kaufman)
Middle Tennessee is blessed with experience on the defensive line but is not as fortunate at linebacker. All three starters from 2006, including all-conference picks J.K. Sabb and Justin Rainey, will not return. Sabb and Rainey were the team's top two tacklers from a year ago.

The most experience at linebacker belongs to Chance Dunleavy, Lonnie Clemons, and Danny Carmichael.

Dunleavy started at linebacker in the opener last year before suffering an injury and missing the remainder of the season. The senior redshirted and will return in 2007. As a junior, the West Covina, Calif., native played in 11 games and collected 31 tackles and two sacks.

Clemons is coming off his best season as a Blue Raider after recording 22 tackles and his first interception in 2006. A junior from Milledgeville, Ga., Clemons played in 12 games last year and earned five starts while also registering a 40-yard fumble return for a touchdown and a six-tackle game at Arkansas State.

Sophomore Danny Carmichael will also be a heavy contributor and compete for starting duties in 2007. As a true freshman last year, Carmichael collected 26 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. In a win at Arkansas State, Carmichael turned in a 10-tackle effort to lead the defense.

Also in the hunt for playing time will be senior Derek Shropshire and sophomore Cam Robinson. Shropshire, out of Oak Ridge, Tenn., competed in all 13 games in his first year with the Blue Raiders with the majority of his snaps coming on special teams. Robinson played in 12 games in 2006 and was a regular on special teams.

The biggest impact at linebacker could come from newcomers Andrew Harrington and Ivon Hickmon. Both enrolled in January after playing the previous two seasons together at East Central Mississippi Community College. Harrington earned the starting job at the "sam" position with a productive spring, but Hickmon missed the second half of drills with an injury which slowed his progress.

CORNERS (Coach Antonio Goss)
Depth at cornerback is a major concern for the Blue Raiders in 2007 as both starters return but only one experienced backup.

Bradley Robinson, a three-year starter with nine career interceptions, rates as one of the best at his position in the Sun Belt Conference. The Duncan, S.C., product had 37 tackles and two interceptions in 11 games last year and should man the left side in 2007.

The favorite at right cornerback will be junior Alex Suber who made the move from running back to cornerback following the second game last season. Suber did a solid job in his first season in the secondary by collecting 17 tackles and earning four starts, including a start and three tackles in the Motor City Bowl.

Roy Polite, who started six games at right corner and three at left last year, missed spring drills while sitting out for disciplinary reasons. The senior rejoined the team in May and should be a major contributor in 2007 after collecting 34 tackles, eight pass breakups, and an interception in 2006.

SAFETIES (Coach Manny Diaz)
Middle Tennessee returns one of two starters at the safety positions.

Senior Damon Nickson is back to man the free safety spot after registering the best season of his career in 2006. Nickson had a memorable junior year by becoming the first All-American in the I-A era at Middle Tennessee, being voted first team all-conference at two different positions, and gaining National Defensive Player of the Week honors. Nickson finished 2006 with 61 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, and five interceptions.

The strong safety spot will be a battle between Anthony Glover and Dana Stewart to replace the graduated Jonathan Harris. Glover, who was moved from linebacker to safety last spring, sat out the 2006 season due to academic restrictions. A redshirt junior, Glover played in 2004 and 2005 but most of his action came on special teams.

Competing with Glover will be Stewart who is coming off his best year as a Blue Raider. The senior from Springfield, Tenn., collected a career best 35 tackles last season while playing in all 13 games and picking up one start.

Also competing for playing time at safety will be walk-on Josh Gregory who transferred from Auburn.

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