UCF Spring Football Preview - Defense

March 18, 2009

ORLANDO, Fla. - Spring Prospectus and Practice Schedule

The UCF football team begins spring practice on Thursday morning in Orlando. On the defensive side of the ball, UCF returns almost its entire front seven, a unit that helped UCF rank third in the nation in TFLs last year. However, the Knights lost four senior starters in the secondary and a host of young talent will get an opportunity to shine in the defensive backfield.

Defensive story lines ...
? UCF brings back the entire defensive coaching staff intact and six starters from a front seven that helped the Knights lead Conference USA in rushing defense (126.08 yards per game) and passing efficiency defense (107.46 rating) while ranking second in the conference in both total defense (333.75 ypg) and scoring defense (24.08 points per game).

? UCF's secondary got a lot of headlines in 2008, but its defensive line was exceptionally productive as well and returns almost entirely intact. A year ago, UCF ranked third in the nation with 8.17 tackles for loss per game and tied for 26th nationally in sacks. Anchored by All-Conference USA selections Bruce Miller and Torrell Troup, the Knights hope to be able to be just as disruptive in the trenches in 2009.

? UCF's linebacking corps, all ready deep, will be bolstered this spring by the return of Cory Hogue and Jordan Richards who both missed much of the 2008 season with injuries. With Lawrence Young returning to the fold after a 10.5 tackle for loss season on the outside, this position group should prove to be stout once again.

? Much of the focus this spring will be on a secondary which graduated four exceptional senior starters. Joe Burnett, Johnell Neal, Sha'reff Rashad and Jason Venson combined to start 183 career games for UCF and intercept a total of 50 passes. The Knights played a lot of nickel and dime coverages in 2008 and this, along with special teams play, allowed many of the potential 2009 starters to see a fair amount of game action and gain some experience. The return from season-ending injuries by Hogue and Richards has also allowed UCF to shift 2008 starting linebacker Derrick Hallman to safety. UCF also has a pair of talented January enrollees, Josh Robinson and Jarrett Swaby, who could factor into the mix.

Defensive Line
UCF's secondary stole a lot of headlines last year but the team was every bit as dominant in the trenches, the place where so many games often are ultimately won and lost.

The Knights ranked third in the nation last fall by averaging 8.17 tackles for loss per game. UCF also ranked 26th nationally in sacks. This pass-disrupting pressure helped the UCF secondary account for its high interception total and also disturbed opposing ground attacks as well. UCF led Conference USA in rushing defense, yielding just 126.08 yards per game on the ground.

The unit was so deep entering the 2009 spring practice that head coach George O'Leary had the luxury of moving Wes Tunuufi Sauvao and Theo Goins to the offensive line to help sure up that area.

Two reasons for the strength of the line are returning All-Conference USA selections Bruce Miller and Torrell Troup. Miller showed versatility in 2008, playing at both end and tackle, a look which gave UCF more speed and allowed Jarvis Geathers to get more involved in the unit. Miller is back at the end position as the curtain rises on the spring. In 2008, he recorded 17 tackles for loss which tied for the C-USA lead.

Troup shed a lot of weight from what he initially arrived at UCF weighing and the improved fitness paid off in 2008. Troup started all 12 games at tackle and attracted double teams all season, allowing others to roam free. Still, Troup made 12.5 TFLs himself to tie for fourth in C-USA.

Travis Timmons, who started seven games at tackle last year, again is going to be looked upon at that spot. David Williams who started six games at end and Geathers, who started the final five games at end, also return to help bolster the outside.

The most amazing and inspirational returner of the unit though is Darius Nall, a 2007 Conference USA All-Freshman team member, who will be able to practice fully this spring after missing the entire 2008 campaign while undergoing treatments for cancer. Rashidi Haughton and greyshirted true freshman Chris Martin are presently slated as backup tackles.

UCF's defense was amongst the national leaders in both interceptions and tackles for loss last fall. That can't happen without good linebacking play helping on both ends of that equation.

Lawrence Young is back from a break-through season where he started all 12 games and picked up honorable mention All-C-USA accolades. Young was third on the team with 10.5 TFLs and leads all 2009 season returnees with 72 total tackles.

The Knights will welcome back a pair of players lost to injury early last season in Cory Hogue and Jordan Richards. Both can help strengthen an all ready strong unit at the core of the Knight defense.

Also strengthening the middle is Chance Henderson who started 11 games for UCF in that spot last fall and was fourth on the team with both his 57 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

A multitude of young players could help form the backbone of an extremely strong linebacking corps for UCF in 2009.

Many eyes will be on the secondary this spring as the unit looks to sustain itself amidst the graduation loss of four starters, Joe Burnett, Johnell Neal, Sha'reff Rashad and Jason Venson, a quartet who combined to start 183 games for the black and gold and intercept a total of 50 passes as Knights. Each of the four was named at least to the honorable mention All-Conference USA team a year ago and ranks amongst the UCF career top 10 in interceptions. All four also graduated on time. Each will be missed.

However, UCF made very good use of its nickel and dime packages last fall in an attempt to get some playing time for the potential replacements for this fine group. The Knights also gave many young defensive backs ample reps on special teams. As a result, the names in the starting lineup will be new, but the faces will be familiar ones who bring some playing experience to the table.

In addition to the familiar faces from 2008, UCF has also brought in two early enrolled true freshmen to the mix in Josh Robinson and Jarrett Swaby, while also converting 2008 starting outside linebacker Derrick Hallman to a safety. With this influx of talent, the hope is that the unit will once again be a stout one in 2009.

Three of the early projected starters, Emery Allen, Reggie Weams and Darin Baldwin, along with Justin Boddie, are amongst those understudies who learned much about the position and UCF's system on the practice field last fall from the departing seniors and coach Gary Blackney while also getting some action in games.

Hallman earned honorable mention All-C-USA recognition as a linebacker, making 57 tackles, including eight TFLs, with one interception and a fumble return for a touchdown. His athleticism will help the Knights as a safety. Robinson and Swaby will both be prime competitors for a prominent role once they begin the on-field portion of their collegiate careers in March.

Vance King will get a look at safety as will several other young players. Another new addition to the group is former quarterback Michael Greco.