With all the questions surrounding the offense as the season approaches, there is an even greater importance placed on the Ball State defense. It is a challenge the players and mostly new staff welcome with open arms. Here is a positional breakdown:
Incumbent starters Drew Duffin and Renee Perry are still entrenched at their spots, but they have some young talent coming up fast behind them, making this a surprisingly deep position – which has been a bit of a problem in the past.
Duffin, a 6-3 265 Sr., brings his usual toughness and big motor to the field for his last season in Muncie. The converted DE has been a fixture on the Cardinals Defensive Line since his redshirt freshman and his tenacity and skill set make him invaluable against the run. He has really stepped up his game in practice so far and fans can expect a solid season out of Duffin.
Perry, although undersized 5-11 275, has been the man in the middle basically since he stepped on campus and his quickness command for a double team every play will pay dividends for the rest of the line.
Coming up quickly behind these two veterans are fresh faces in Adam Morris and Donovan Jarrett.
Morris, a 6-0 280 So., played a little last season, but after dropping a few pounds to add quickness, has really stepped up this fall and is expected to be an impact player in the 5-man rotation in the middle.
Jarrett, the 6-3 303 true freshman, has been the biggest surprise for the Cardinals up front. Jarrett, who was a little underrecruited coming out of Hamilton, OH, was a great find for the Cardinals. After a stellar Sr. season in high school, Jarrett stepped on the Muncie, IN campus with a chip on his shoulder, which is great for Cardinal fans, but bad for the rest of the Mid-American Conference. Jarrett is by far the biggest of the Cardinal lineman, but might be the most athletic. He has great quickness and is almost unblockable, even though he is still learning the position at the collegiate level, look for Jarrett to not only play as a true freshman, but to be a force up front. Jarrett has not only been solid against the run, but is a beast in pass rushing. Cardinal fans should really be excited about this young man.
Rounding out the regular 5-man rotation up front will be Kaylon Woods. Woods, who has played sparingly up until now, has found his game and brings his 6-2 265 frame to the fold.
The best unit for the Cardinals might be their defensive line, and that is saying a lot. With a talented and deep core at WR and RB, as well as LB, it is hard to say what the Cardinals’ strength will be. But D-Line might be the best answer. With a stellar group at DT and an even better and more experience group on the edge, expect the Cardinals to put a lot of heat on opposing QBs this fall.
Leading the group will be 33-year-old Sr. Brandon Crawford. Although he is getting up there in age (okay, he’s a year older than me), those close to the program are saying that Crawford has come to camp this fall in the best shape of his life and getting even better. And that is saying something. Crawford will again be a force for the Cardinals and he is surely going to be very productive in the final season of his college career.
Joining Crawford in the starting unit will be Robert Eddins, a 6-3 235 speed rusher. Eddins has improved over the summer and has been a stalwart in fall camp. I expect big things from Eddins this year, he is capable of putting up double digit sack numbers thanks to his increase in speed and quickness. Many think that Eddins can step in and be the MAC’s premier pass rushing DE.
Backing them up are three younger players that have played a little in the past, but are familiar to most fans.
Jeff Barker has stepped into the #2 spot at the speed rushing spot. Fans will be happy to hear that the once lanky Barker (came to college around 185) is now over 220 and has been very impressive in camp. He will be a player the Cardinals staff relies on to come off of the edge and make noise in the backfield.
Backing up Crawford will be So. Andrew Puthoff. At 6-3 260, Puthoff will see time backing up at DE, where he is solid against the run, as well as in the middle in some passing situations thanks to his big frame. Puthoff made some big plays in key moments last season, so we know we can expect more of the same out of him this season.
The fifth player in the rotation that will help put pressure on opposing QBs will be So. Loren Womack. After coming to Muncie as a heralded LB, Womack makes a move to putting his hand in the dirt and playing the speed spot on the D-line. Womack has impressive physical skills and is expected to make an impact in pass rushing despite his 6-0 225 frame.
It is easy to see why this unit might be the best on the Cardinal team loaded with talent. Some have even said that this may be the best defensive line that the school has had in a decade.
The linebacking corps maybe saying, “not so fast!”, right now. They too have a solid group of players that will be relied upon to make plays against the run as well as brining it on blitzes. The group has a very good mix of tough veterans that have seen the battles in MAC play as well as some young, but extremely talented players that will be a force.
Starting it off in the middle is Sr. Spain Cosby. The 5-11 225 MIKE, has seen the field a lot as a back up and a special teamer during the past three seasons and now steps in as the current starter. Cosby is a force against the run and loves to hammer opponents into submission, the tough and physical presence he brings to the table is always a major asset to any defense.
Backing him up – while also pressing him for playing time is top defensive recruit Travis Freeman. The Cleveland Glenville product comes to camp at 6-0 220 and has really done a great job in camp. Freeman will see the field, he is just too good to keep on the sidelines, but pushing Cosby out of the lineup will be a difficult task, even for the talented Freeman. But make no mistake, this kid will be a force in the MAC for years to come.
At the WILL spot will be former starting MIKE Davyd Jones. After being one of the top tacklers on the team last season, the tough and athletic, but undersized Jones has been moved to a place that will better suit his skill set. Jones, who has packed on weight and is up to 6-1 220, has the speed and quickness to make plays underneath against the pass and still be a force against the run.
At the MIKE spot will be 5th year walk on Sam Woodworth. Known for his toughness despite being a shade under 210, Woodworth should be more than capable against the run the fall. He is a tough and physical warrior, but he will be pushed from a group of three players vying for playing time – all of whom are true freshmen.
Tony Martin came to campus as a bit of an unknown. A former S in High School, the 6-1 225 Martin was expected to probably redshirt as he learned the nuances of a new position, but much to everyone’s surprise, he came into camp, not only physically ready, but up to the challenge of pushing the older players at the LB positions. Martin brings a lot of speed but also toughness and intelligence.
Also in the fold is 5-11 205 Justin Cruz. One of the early commitments from the Class of 2009, Cruz brings a tough and physical makeup along with good speed and a head for the game. Cruz will have to work hard to see the field right away at a deep LB position, but Cruz will be a fixture as a dynamo on special teams.
The biggest surprise at camp has been Theon Dixon. The “other” Glenville commit at the LB spot wasn’t being counted on to contribute right away, but when he came to camp at an astounding 6-1 225 (listed at 5-11 195 on signing day) he quickly caught the attention of the coaching staff. Dixon is also a former S that also highlighted at LB in high school, but he has the most upside of any of the LBs. With an NFL type body and a great work ethic and quick learning ability, Dixon has already pushed the incumbent starters ahead of him and looks to be a vital member of a solid LB group and will be a major force in the MAC.
The staff signed 4 LBs in the Class of 2009, but really hit a grand slam, as all four will not only be a big help in practice, but also play early and be a big part of special teams.
Upperclass leadership is the key here as two of the MAC’s best in the last line of defense take the field again.
Sr. Alex Knipp returns after having been a force with his hard hitting play the past few seasons. Knipp has added weight and redefined his body as he is up over 200. He appears to be faster in coverage and has become a leader on the D, making sure everyone is lined up correctly prior to the snap.
Also back is Freshman All-American Sean Baker. Baker “the taker” returns with his ball hawking skills and hard nosed approach. Baker too has added weight and is currently around 210. He too has gotten faster and is expected to be one of the leaders of the defense.
Rounding out the unit and expected to see the field are returning players Kyle Hoke and Joshua Howard.
Hoke, how is stout against the run, returns to add depth and Howard, is a fast S that also has become a fixture in the Cardinal special teams.
I saved the biggest question mark for last. We here at BallStateInsider.com have gotten the most questions and emails about DB. Everyone knows that all three regular DBs graduated from a year ago and their playmaking will be missed . . . maybe. Say hello to the new crop of players who will make you forget BJ and the Treys.
Penciled in at one starting Corner is Jr. Koreen Burch. The fastest man in the Cardinal Red has seen playing time in the past as a RB and kick returner, but couldn’t crack the lineup because of the veterans ahead of him before. It is time to get to know him now. Burch brings a ball hawking and play making tenacity to the defense and has shown up huge in every scrimmage, picking off passes including the one he took to the house in the spring game. Burch is playing his best, but has even more upside thanks to his physical tools. Some game time and look out for Koreen.
At the other spot for the time being, as he is being pushed hard, is JUCO transfer Charlie Todd. The 5-10 195 beast was a complete unknown to us until he showed up at practice and started making plays. Todd has great physical tools, but that is not all. Described as “a man!” by those who have watched a ton of practice, Todd brings another level of physicality to the defensive backfield. He is stout against the run and completely holds the edge. He also is tough as nails in coverage and has made a ton of plays already. Todd is also projected as the punt returner as the season approaches.
Backing up these two and also making noise are youngsters who have blown past the veteran backups in practice as well as blown up expectations.
Jason Pinkston comes to Muncie with an impressive resume. The 6-2 175 cover corner was one of two Cardinals (Jarrett being the other) who were selected to the Big 33 Ohio/Pennsylvania All-Star Game. That is where Cardinal fans got their first taste of the talent this young man possess. Pinkston has continued to show that he will be a force to contend with in the future and already looks the part of an NFL DB with great size and speed. All he needs now is to adjust to the speed of the college game and he will be a force in the MAC.
The other DB that will get some playing time will be Armand Dehaney. Although small, Dehaney is a tough and physical young man. He will probably make for a good nickel corner moving forward as he has the speed to cover the slot and the tenacity to attack the run. Dehaney is also vying for time as a PR and KR specialist.
Brandon Carnegie and Jakeem Gregory will round out the unit and also get some PT as back ups and special teamers.
All in all, the defense will be a great mix of veteran players and youthful talent and excitement. This unit will have to be counted on heavily as the young offense gets its legs. But make no mistake, the once Achilles’ heel of Cardinal teams in the past has now become its strength and will be one of the best defensive units in the MAC.