Redhawks: Nowhere to go but up for defense with eight starters back
Thursday, August 28, 2008
The graduation of star linebacker Adam Casper left some big shoes to fill for Southeast Missouri State's defense.
Casper, a two-time first-team all-Ohio Valley Conference selection, led the OVC in tackles last year.
But as good as Casper was, the 2007 Redhawks finished next-to-last in the OVC in scoring defense (35.2 points per game) and total defense (424.4 yards per game).
While acknowledging that the Redhawks will miss Casper, Southeast coach Tony Samuel and defensive coordinator Tim McGuire expect the unit to improve considerably this season.
That's largely because of more depth and experience as Southeast's defense returns eight starters and 15 other letterwinners. Twelve of the Redhawks' top 15 tacklers are back.
A position-by-position look at Southeast's defense:
Two full-time starters and a number of other players who received significant action return up front from a unit that helped Southeast's defense rank second in the OVC with 20 quarterback sacks.
Senior tackle Nick Ketesleger started the final 10 games. He led Southeast's down linemen with 36 tackles, was second on the team with six tackles for loss and paced the Redhawks with four sacks.
Senior Brandon McCrary started only three games, but ranked third among Southeast down linemen with 24 tackles.
Also figuring into the mix at tackle after receiving solid action last year are senior Ryan Taloa and two big sophomores who tip the scales at over 300 pounds — Errick Aliifua and Maurice Lyles.
"We're going to be very good in the middle of our defensive front," McGuire said. "I think that's where it all starts."
At end, senior Hannibal Vaivao started 10 games. He had 23 tackles and tied for third on the squad with 5.5 tackles for loss to go along with two sacks.
Senior Ben Gugler, a tight end last season, switched back to his natural position of defensive end and should provide a boost. He had three sacks in Southeast's spring game.
Junior Quentin Brown, who started two games, led the Redhawks with 7.5 tackles for loss while ranking second with three sacks. He had 20 tackles.
Sophomore Damien Smith contributed 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, while sophomore Zack Buck also saw significant action.
"Our entire front should be more consistent. We added depth last year and we should be two deep at all positions," said Samuel, who is confident this will be Southeast's best defensive front since he took over the program before the 2006 season.
While the graduated Casper headed up this unit, most of the other players who saw action last year return.
Junior Jared Goodson, who started all 11 games, leads the way. He was second on the team in tackles with 98, trailing only Casper's 112 stops.
Goodson wound up fourth in the OVC in tackles, while tying for third on the squad in tackles for loss with 5.5 and tying for the lead in fumble recoveries with two.
Senior Matt Stahlberg, who also started all 11 games, moved from end to linebacker late in the season. He was fifth on the team with 47 tackles and added two sacks.
Versatile junior Patrick Maloney played all three linebacker spots and made seven starts.
Senior Nick Stauffer is slated to take over for Casper in the middle. He made two starts and recorded 34 tackles.
Sophomore Joshua Jackson made several starts as a freshman in 2006, but missed last year with an injury. Now healthy, he again should be a factor.
Junior Leon Hill and sophomore Devin Evans, two more returnees, also should battle for playing time. Ditto for Jackson product Joel Penrod, a sophomore transfer from NAIA Lindenwood.
McGuire said he likes the talent at linebacker, although he acknowledged the group has "questions, just because we had a guy [Casper] who was all-conference two years."
Every regular returns to give the Redhawks experience, and Samuel believes there's plenty of depth.
Juniors Eddie Calvin and Salim Powell, key contributors since they were freshmen, combined to start all but one game in 2007.
Calvin, Southeast's top cover corner, led the Redhawks with two interceptions while recording an OVC-leading 16 pass breakups, which ranked fourth nationally.
Calvin, fourth on the team with 51 tackles, became only the 26th player in Division I history to return an interception 100 yards for a touchdown when he pulled off the feat against Southwest Baptist.
Powell had 25 tackles, an interception and tied for the team lead with two fumble recoveries.
In order to add coverage depth, senior Kendall Magana — who started all 22 games at safety the past two seasons — was moved to cornerback. Magana's 57 tackles ranked third on the squad last year. He also intercepted a pass.
Junior college transfer Josh Woods also should see significant playing time at corner.
Freshman Kris Cottner from Perryville also could figure into the mix at corner if he doesn't redshirt.
At the safety and rover spots, the Anderson twins added plenty of pop after switching over from offense midway through last season. Samuel expects the impact of the two seniors to continue.
Vincent Anderson started the first five games at wide receiver — he led Southeast in receptions at the time — before moving to safety. He ended up sixth on the squad with 42 tackles and intercepted a pass.
Victor Anderson started six of the first seven games at quarterback before moving to rover. He had 23 tackles, forced three fumbles and returned a fumble 45 yards for a touchdown.
"They're going to be very big factors for us," Samuel said. "They are impact players."
Sophomore Bryan Blanfort saw plenty of action at rover and notched 23 tackles. Junior Marvin Anderson also received significant playing time.
Among others in the mix at safety are returning sophomores Aris Bowen and Jerald Williams, along with junior college transfer Terrell Totten.
This position appears to be in good hands as junior Doug Spada returns following an impressive season.
Taking over for three-time All-American David Simonhoff, Spada earned honorable-mention All-American honors by The Sports Network, and was first-team all-OVC after averaging 42.5 yards per punt. He placed 27 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
"He's a proven guy for us," said Samuel of Spada, an all-OVC preseason pick at punter who is also Southeast's place-kicker.
Southeast's punting unit ranked ninth nationally in net punting and 21st in punt returns, allowing an average of just 6.4 yards per return.