Florida A & M Preview Part III: The Defense

In the week leading up to the match up with Florida A & M, Jeff Murdock looks at the Rattler defense. The Rattler defense has been decimated through players leaving and and suspensions. Their defense will be missing two starters (one on the line and one in the defensive backfield) due to suspension, and it will hurt their attempts to slow down the Illini offense.

Florida A & M is only returning six defensive starters from last years defense that allowed just over 23 points per game (their overall point differential was -0.2). Billy Joe is looking to replace two starting linebackers (Shedrick Copeland and Chris Gilchrist), a starting corner back (Julian Worley), a safety (Levy Brown), and a defensive tackle (Leon Scott). This was thought to be a very difficult task for Joe, until he learned that it would get much harder with the suspensions of starters DL John Edwards and DB Ed ward Kwaku. So heading into the Illinois game on Saturday, Joe is looking to replace all but three starters from last year's already suspect defense. It would be an understatement to say he has a large task at hand.

The best player left on a decimated defensive line for the Rattlers will be 6-2 225-pound defensive end Jeff Green. Green is a senior with three years of experience under his belt, and he is the leading returning tackler on the Rattler defense (not counting the suspended Kwaku and Edwards) with 3.9 tackles per game last season. Green also had 6.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks, a team lead, last season.

Green will be joined on the defensive line by 6-4 270-pound senior Clarence Laws at Right Tackle, 6-0 285-pound junior Steve St. Felix at Left Tackle, and 6-1 275-pound Altariq Brown at Left End. In the rest of the three deep rotations at each of the line positions, the Rattlers will be playing two underclassmen, and five upperclassmen.

Billy Joe recruited three linebackers this season to come in and be the future of the Florida A & M defense, but what he did not know is that these three players would be forced into action this season due to player defections and ineligibility. The youth movement for the Rattlers is extremely apparent at the Middle Linebacker position where all three players on the three-deep are freshman, starter Melvin Jenkins, and backups Vernon Wilder and Dannel Shepard.

With the youth movement taking over the Rattler line backing corps, interim defensive coordinator Derrek Hill has installed a scheme that is geared towards not bogging down the freshman, and even the first year starter upper-classmen, with complicated assignments. This is a move that sounds eerily familiar to Mike Mallory's new defensive scheme at Illinois, which simplified the defensive assignments and refocused on the fundamentals of the defensive game.

Joining the freshman at each outside linebacker position is a bit more experience in senior Michael Foreman (5-11/218) and junior Darius Fountain (6-0/225).

The Rattlers will be playing without their best corner back, Edward Kwaku who has been suspended by the NCAA for playing while ineligible in previous seasons. Billy Joe will look to replace his star defensive back with junior Michael Fisher (5-8/185) from Tallahassee, FL at the left corner back position. Starting opposite Fisher at the right corner back will be senior Devvin Richardson (5-10/200) from Phoenix, AZ. At the safety positions the Rattlers will line up with junior Sam Doughty (6-3/205) from Columbus, MS and sophomore Cardan Alexander (6-2/190) from Edgewater, FL.

Replacing Kwaku will be a huge task for the FAMU defense. Kwaku is the only returning player with an interception from last season, and he was in on 50 tackles in 12 games. There was no other player besides defensive lineman John Edwards who was in on 50 tackles for the Rattlers that is returning from last season.

The Rattler defense can be summed up in one word: suspect. They are looking to replace their best two players who have been forced to the sidelines by the NCAA for playing in games while academically ineligible, and they are throwing in some young pups to the fire as replacements. On the defensive line, the Rattlers are not an imposing force, so the Illini offensive line should be able to create holes for the running backs and give Jon Beutjer a lot of time to pick apart what is a now very suspect secondary without Kwaku. The Rattler linebackers are just getting their feet wet in the college game, and one of the first things they will be asked to do is defend against the flare pass to Illini backs, something even season veterans have trouble handling.

The bottom line here is: The Illini offense should be able to move up and down the field at will against the Rattler defense who will not be able to put up much of a fight.

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