Thursday, August 16, 2007

The 2007 UCF Defense/Special Teams: Chopping Wood ... With A Hammer

Sweet Merciful Crap

DE:  Leger Douzable  (Sr.)
DT: Torrell Johnson (So.)
DT: Keith Shologan (Jr.)
DE: Emeka Okammor (Sr.)
WLB: Jordan Richards (Jr.)
MLB: Steven Baker (Sr.)
SLB: Cory Hogue (Jr.)
CB: Johnell Neal (Jr.)
CB: Joe Burnett (Jr.)
SS: Sha'reff Rashad (Jr.)
FS: Jason Venson (Jr.)
Returning starters in bold.

Dearly departed: defensive end Chris Welsh (4 sacks, 7 TFL in '06), linebacker Randy Dozier (4th-leading tackler in '06).

There is something to be said for experience, but when you return a lot of crap, it's still crap--just a little less pungent.
2006        Rk
RushD 81
PassD 111
PassEffD 98
TotalD 106
Crap crap crap.

Leger Douzable, who led the Knights in sacks last season with seven, is the likely standout along the line; there isn't another returning lineman who had more than three sacks in 2006. Rearrange the letters in Douzable's name and you get Eager Bulldoze, which strikes me as appropriate.

Replacing Chris Welsh at the other end spot is Emeka Okammor. He is supposedly a returning starter, but he only recorded 18 tackles last season and so probably didn't get a significant amount of playing time.

Torrell Johnson is going to be a kid to watch--the true sophomore is a 335-pound running-lane-cloggin' behemoth.

If O'Leary's defenses are going to stop the slide they've been on since he took the head coaching job--from 83rd in total defense, to 96th, to 106th--they're going to have to start by getting a lot more out of their linebackers. That unit was, by all accounts, terrible in 2006. In ranking the state's LB corps, the Orlando Sentinel placed the Knights fifth, ahead of only Florida Atlantic and Florida International. The Sentinel also thinks those UCF linebackers are the second-worst group in Conference USA, so ... yikes.

Are they going to be better this season? No, not really, no. If you can read this passage without hearing alarm bells, you are an indefatigable optimist and I commend you for your irrepressibly bright existence.

In 2006, a lack of speed, depth and tackling ability haunted the linebackers, and UCF's defense suffered because of it. The linebackers especially were a liability against teams that used a lot of underneath crossing patterns.

It hurt that middle linebacker Steven Baker was injured (knee); a group of sophomores and freshmen was used to try to fill the void. Though Baker returned in October, he wasn't healthy enough to make an impact.

Fast forward to this season. Though Baker is healthy, outside linebacker Jordan Richards, who made five starts and eight appearances before a season-ending ankle injury, injured his shoulder in the spring and is expected to miss this season. Two other outside 'backers, former Lake Brantley standout Kyle Fowler and true freshman Troy Kelly, have left the program. Kelly had enrolled in January.

"We've had to move people around," linebackers coach Dave Huxtable said. "We've got some young kids that we're working [with], but hopefully they can come in and give us some good balance, and we just have to fill the spots with them."

"We've had to move people around" is, as everyone knows, coachspeak for, "fuck, man, we are so fucking fucked." I wonder if Dave Huxtable goes home and cries every night. I would.

This is also not good: Central Florida returns four of five leading tacklers from a season ago, but all four are defensive backs. Johnell Neal and Jason Venson, a corner back and free safety, repspectively, were 1-2 in tackles last year; Burnett and Rashad weren't far behind. The Sentinel says they "struggled at times," probably because they had to do the linebackers' tackling for them.

At the least, Central Florida's defense can expect to improve in the takeaway department. The Knights finished 2006 tied for last in the nation with 12 turnovers forced--tied, incidentally, with us. They recovered 2 of the 12 fumbles they forced, and both of those came early in the year against Florida. After that, it was ten straight games of nothing. Central Florida, our brothers in arms. (Or brothers without arms, as the case may be.)

With A Hammer!

Motivational Techniques 101:

Last season during their near-BCS run, Rutgers' "chopping wood" talisman and philosophy became the talk of the Big East Conference when the Scarlet Knights upset Louisville.

Thanks to assistant Dave Huxtable, the UCF Knights have a similar motivation technique this fall for the special teams. Earlier this week a metal black and gold sign stamped "Hammer Down" was hung just inside the gates at UCF's practice fields, complete with a mallet-style hammer resting on two hooks.

Huxtable said the sign is to remind the special-teams unit of the importance of "hammering down" and maximizing their role.


Huxtable said the hammer would be presented to the special-teams player of the week after each game.

"It'll be his for the week and he'll carry it out to the field, put it on the sign and after practice he'll take it off the sign and he'll have it for a week."

Thanks, coach, I guess.

One of the players vying for the hammer will be Michael Torres, the UCF place kicker; Torres hit 17-of-24 field goal attempts last season, including a long of 51 yards. Despite a strong finish to 2006, his starting spot isn't assured. Elsewhere, Central Florida will have new players handling kickoffs and punts.

George O'Leary has made kickoff coverage and returns an area of emphasis:

Knights Coach George O'Leary has hinted at it all preseason about his intense focus on it and now he's really starting to show it wasn't lip service. Whatever am I talking about? You guessed it, kickoff coverage and return.

If you haven't heard, he is really concerned about the new rule that has moved kickoffs back to the 30-yardline. He thinks it's going to be a weapon with not many kicks reaching the endzone anymore.

The team spent a good majority of the afternoon Sunday after individuals working on it and came back to it just before the end of practice.

UCF ranked 75th in kickoff coverage and 76th in kickoff return yardage last season.

One Other Thing That Didn't Fit Anywhere Else

Touchdown sirens

The crews at Bright House Networks Stadium tested the touchdown sirens for each of the past two days. They sound like police-car sirens, only louder.

Hey, I'm sure that won't get annoying.