Next to USC, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better secondary in the Pac-10 (and the country) than the one in Berkeley. Last season, the Bears finished 6th nationally in pass efficiency defense, 3rd in the nation with 24 interceptions, 2nd in red zone defense, and 10th in third-down efficiency defense.
As impressive as the 2008 season was, the unit has a chance to be even better in 2009.
Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory and defensive backs coach Al Simmons will have the services of virtually every contributor from last year, and they will welcome fresh new talent as well.
One of America’s best cornerbacks will headline this unit, and he is looking to end his remarkable career in Berkeley with another tremendous season.
Syd'quan Thompson getting past the line
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This is an important season for Nick Aliotti (defensive coordinator) and his Oregon defense. There are high expectations in Eugene, and in all likelihood, the Ducks offense will do its part.
But for Oregon to play in Pasadena twice this season (once being at UCLA), the secondary will have to step up in a big way.
Aliotti’s defenses are known for achieving great success through aggressive man-to-man defense, and for the most part, they played that way in 2008 even though the numbers seem to tell a different story.
The defensive backfield finished 111th nationally in pass defense, and last in the Pac-10. There were a number of reasons for this, ranging from the UO offense’s time of possession (last in nation at 25:11), to the run defense being so strong (23rd nationally, 2nd in Pac-10).
Still, in two of the Ducks three losses (against USC and Boise State), the secondary allowed an average of 414.5 yards passing, and repeat performances against the Broncos and Trojans will be unacceptable.
Walter Thurmond III runs it in for the score
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While there may (and I stress the word may) be question marks at defensive line and linebacker, USC could not be in better shape at the third level. This secondary is absolutely loaded with talent, depth, and most importantly, experience. In fact, the unit looks so strong that head coach Pete Carroll (a former college DB himself) has stated that it may be the best group the program has had since his arrival at USC.
It will be impossible for the defensive backfield to improve on its statistical production from last year (#1 pass defense and scoring defense in nation for 2008), but repeating the utter dominance actually seems quite achievable.
The cornerbacks look great and the safeties look downright scary. New defensive coordinator Rocky Seto (also secondary coach) should have a fun time with this unit in 2009.
Kevin Thomas running back an interception
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The 2009 Oregon State secondary has a lot to prove. After losing four starters off of a defense that ranked 22nd nationally against the pass, this will be a defining season for these Beavers defensive backs, and their performance as a unit could determine how far OSU goes this year.
For folks in Corvallis, the current DB situation may bring back memories of 2005 when a group of inexperienced players were attempting to offset the losses of all-league performers Mitch Meeuwsen, Brandon Browner and Aric Williams.
It’s hard to forget CB’s Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes suffering through that Louisville game in ‘05 where they gave up 428 passing yards as wide-eyed freshmen. But four years later, Lewis and Hughes are gone, and they exited OSU as two NFL-ready corners looking to make an impact on Sundays.
Now, highly respected defensive coordinator Mark Banker must start the process over again, although this group is primarily made up of upper-classmen. The unit could take its fair share of hits in 2009, but there is enough talent in place at both cornerback and safety to ensure a serviceable season at the third level.
Tim Clark defends the pass
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Arizona State players and coaches believe the 2009 defense has a chance be the best group the program has fielded in years. With all-conference talent on the defensive line and in the linebacking corps, the Devils D boasts a front seven capable of wreaking weekly havoc in the Pac-10.
But for ASU to fulfill high expectations on defense, the secondary must perform as well as the first and second level. The unit has a few questions, and answers may not come until a week three match up in Athens, GA against the Georgia Bulldogs.
While cornerback should be fine, uncertainty exists concerning the safeties. Still, the Devils have plenty of talented candidates at both FS and SS, and head coach Dennis Erickson has expressed confidence in up to six players for the two spots.
Omar Bolden lands a big hit
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Statistically speaking, the Washington State secondary actually performed respectably in 2008. The unit ranked 44th in the country against the pass (195.7 yards per game), which was good enough for 6th in the Pac-10. The numbers should come as a pleasant surprise considering the amount of points WSU gave up last year (FBS record 570).
Unfortunately, the pass defense production was greatly influenced by the effortless ease with which opponents ran the ball last season. After all, the Cougars run defense ranked dead last in America, giving up over 247 yards per game (including allowing over 300 yards in seven games).
This season, the Wazzu secondary will look to prove that it can stop the pass even when opponents are throwing the ball 25+ times a game. Co-defensive coordinators Chris Ball and Jody Sears have done a lot of shuffling within the unit (for a variety of reasons), but the defensive backfield does have some promising pieces in place.
While depth will be an issue at cornerback, safety should be one of the strengths of the entire defense (along with linebacker).
Xavier Hicks prepares for the coming season
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Last season, Stanford’s defense finished 11th nationally in sacks with 33. A strong front seven returns again in 2009, meaning a repeat performance is quite achievable.
Unfortunately, that may not help the secondary.
Even with consistent pressure being applied by the first and second level, Stanford’s defensive backfield fell victim to an onslaught of passing yards in 2008. The Cardinal’s passing defense ranked 86th in the country, and the unit produced a dreadfully low seven interceptions on the year (107th nationally).
This off-season, the coaching trio of Ron Lynn (co-defensive coordinator), Andy Buh (co-defensive coordinator), and Clayton White (DBs coach) have made a number personnel changes in an attempt to resuscitate the lowly third level. The changes appear to be paying off, as there is now more quality depth at both safety and cornerback. In fact, head coach Jim Harbaugh has been raving about the play of the DBs this fall.
While the unit still has a long way to go, the new look secondary is improving by the day.
Richard Sherman will switch to CB in '09
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Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Arizona secondary. After all, the unit was replacing Jim Thorpe Award Winner (Best Defensive Back in Country) Antoine Cason and four-year starter Wilrey Fontenot. But the 2008 Wildcats defensive backfield didn’t miss a beat, finishing with the 14th ranked pass efficiency defense in America.
Two starters return again this season, along with an abundance of exciting new talent at both cornerback and safety. Defensive minded head coach Mike Stoops and his brother Mark (defensive coordinator and secondary coach) have put together a unit that is loaded with elite athletes. Opposing offenses will not find much room through the air against these ‘Cats, as this secondary looks like the strength of an already impressive defense.
The marquis performer of UA’s explosive secondary is senior corner Devin Ross. Ross made the post-Cason transition quite easy for Arizona, as he locked down almost every number one receiver he faced throughout 2008. He finished with 50 tackles, 13 pass breakups, and three interceptions on his way to being named second team All-Pac 10.
Devin Ross running at practice
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The Washington Huskies defense wasn’t just bad last year; it was downright awful. UW finished near the bottom of the country in nearly every defensive category including: 110th nationally in total defense, 115th in pass efficiency defense, 116th in scoring defense, and 119th in turnovers gained.
Blame for these pitiful statistics can be placed a lot of places, but the secondary should certainly be near the top of the list. Both the cornerbacks and safeties were exposed, and while sheer talent may have been lacking, there also seemed to be no confidence or continuity within the unit.
Fortunately, the exciting regime change at U-Dub has breathed new life into a program searching for answers. The coaching change is especially welcome on defense, where new coordinator Nick Holt has already changed the culture with more intensity during practice.
He may need to do his best coaching job yet in the secondary (along with DB coaches Demetrice Martin and Jeff Mills), but Washington has the right staff for the job.
Quinton Richardson defends a pass
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Since his arrival in Westwood, head coach Rick Neuheisel has been tirelessly working to infuse UCLA with elite talent. By almost all accounts, his first two recruiting classes have received rave reviews with a variety of blue-chippers electing to play for the Bruins. Nowhere is the blue-chip talent more evident than in the secondary, and this season could be the coming-out party of several young and dynamic defensive backs.
With a sturdy defensive line led by All-American Brian Price, and arguably the best linebacking corps in the conference, this promising secondary could make UCLA’s defense downright frightening for opposing offenses in 2009.
The Bruins defensive backfield played very well last season, finishing 8th nationally in pass defense. Although the unit lost two starters to graduation (CB Michael Norris and S Bret Lockett), many believe the DB’s could be even better this season.
The group is led by an All-American cornerback looking to finish off his tremendous career in style.
Alterraun Verner returning an interception for a TD
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