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Southeast football preview: Six starters return to anchor Redhawks' defensive unit
While Southeast Missouri State's overall defensive numbers weren't overwhelming last year, they were a decent upgrade from the previous season.
The Redhawks' improvement over the final half of 2008 gives defensive coordinator Tim McGuire optimism entering the 2009 campaign.
"The last half of last season I really thought we were coming along defensively," McGuire said. "We really set a nice tone."
Southeast ranked eighth among nine Ohio Valley Conference teams in total defense last year, allowing an average of 391.9 yards per game. The Redhawks were seventh in scoring defense at 30.3 points a contest, but offensive and special teams mistakes helped inflate the latter figure.
In 2008, Southeast allowed 424.4 yards and 35.2 points per outing.
Despite losing their leader in tackles (middle linebacker Nick Stauffer, the school record-holder who made 150 stops), sacks (end Ben Gugler, who had 6.5) and tackles for loss (Gugler with 14), the Redhawks return six defensive starters and several others who saw significant action.
"I feel good about the defense," McGuire said. "I think we're better in a good number of places.
"We just need to keep improving, and we need to be able to get the ball to our offense in better field position."
A position-by-position look at Southeast's defense:
Senior end Quentin Brown and junior end Damian Smith, along with junior tackles Errick Aliifua and Maurice Lyles, all have seen considerable action the past two years.
Brown had six tackles in 10 games last season, after posting three sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss in 2007.
Smith is Southeast's top returning tackler among down linemen after posting 31 stops, including six for loss and a sack. He had 2.5 sacks in 2007.
Aliifua and Lyles both are run-stuffers who weigh in at more than 300 pounds. Lyles' 20 tackles last season rank second-most among returning down linemen.
True freshman end Justin Love made a major impression during preseason practice and moved up to No. 1 on the depth chart.
Junior college transfers J.J. Sanchez and Josh Gipson are among those battling for playing time at the tackle spots, with returning sophomore Courtney Brame and redshirt freshman Antonio Garritano from Jackson making a push at end.
Although Stauffer was lost to graduation, the Redhawks return quite a bit of production and experience at this position.
Sophomore Philip Klaproth had a solid true freshman season, breaking into the lineup early and finishing third on the team with 76 tackles while intercepting two passes. Klaproth, Southeast's top returning tackler, made the OVC's all-newcomer team.
Senior Josh Woods was impressive after switching from cornerback midway through the season.
Starting the final six games at linebacker, Woods had 44 tackles. He ended the year third on the team with 11 tackles for loss and tied for third with 2.5 sacks.
Slated to replace Stauffer in the middle is junior Tyler Epstein, a transfer from Northern Iowa.
Junior Joshua Jackson made 22 tackles off the bench last year, while junior Andrew Adams had six tackles in a reserve role.
Another junior, Patrick Maloney, redshirted last year with an injury after starting six games in 2007.
Senior Jared Goodson, Southeast's second-leading tackler in 2007 who saw limited action last season, also returns.
Among others in the mix are junior Justin Woodlief, a walk-on at San Jose State last year, and true freshman Blake Peiffer from Jackson, the 2008 Southeast Missourian player of the year.
Half of the Redhawks' six full-time returning defensive starters reside in the secondary, which is filled with veterans. There are four seniors and six juniors in the group.
Senior cornerbacks Eddie Calvin and Salim Powell, along with junior free safety Bryan Blanfort, are the returning regulars.
Calvin, who earned preseason All-American honorable mention by Consensus Draft Services, ranked second in the OVC last year with eight passes defended and tied for fourth in the league with four interceptions.
Calvin was fourth on the team with 69 tackles, including five for loss, with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
As a sophomore in 2007, Calvin led the OVC with 18 passes defended and added two interceptions. He returned one of those picks 100 yards for a touchdown against Southwest Baptist to become the 26th player in NCAA history to pull off that end zone-to-end zone feat.
Powell, like Calvin entering his third season as a full-time starter, also was a part-time regular as a true freshman in 2006. He had 24 tackles last year.
Blanfort ranked sixth on the squad with 54 tackles a year ago. He also was second on the team with three interceptions and added five tackles for loss.
Senior Marvin Anderson, who made four starts at linebacker and had 35 tackles before suffering a season-ending knee injury, has been moved back to his natural rover position.
Other returning secondary members are senior cornerback William Castro, who had 12 tackles, and junior rover Aris Bowen.
Junior college transfer Taylor West is listed No. 1 on the depth chart at rover. Junior college transfers Larry Edwards and true freshman Tylor Brock at safety, along with Abraham Woodard and Aaron Grimes at cornerback, also are in the mix.
Among others trying to break through is redshirt freshman Kris Cottner from Perryville, who played in two games last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Senior Doug Spada, entering his third season as Southeast's punter, is the Redhawks' most decorated player.
Spada earned first-team All-American honors after ranking third nationally with a 44.7-yard average last year.
An honorable-mention All-American as a sophomore, Spada has been the all-OVC first-team punter the past two years.
Spada is only the third player in Southeast football history to garner All-American honors in multiple seasons.