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An Early Look at Central Michigan: Defense

Sorry for not getting it done yesterday. I was swamped but I should have much more free time in the coming days and weeks to devote to RCT than I have been giving. Let's take a look at the Chippewas defensive unit. Again, I will be using Rivals team summary as my primary resource, it is an excellent read to learn more about our first opponent.

Defensive End: Larry Knight and Frank Zombo
This is going to be the problem spot next season for the Chips. After losing their best defensive player, end Daniel Bazuin, to the Chicago Bears and the NFL along with fellow starting end Mike Ogle to graduation has left them with zero experience. Their solution consists of two redshirt sophomores, Larry Knight and Frank Zombo, who both have little-to-none experience. Of the two, however, Knight is the far more experienced player piling up 26 total tackles (14 solo) and 2 sacks. While certainly no Bazuin yet, don't be surprised if he is the next great Chippewa defensive end. And while Knight looks promising to say the least, Zombo is very inexperienced. Likewise just a sophomore, Zombo only appeared sparingly last season and even then mainly on special teams. I'm sure he has the talent to succeed in the MAC, but I would feel cofident consistently running to his side of the line as he will likely be the defensive line's weakest player. Here is what Rivals had to say about these two:

Must step up: DEs Larry Knight and Frank Zombo. The sophomores played as reserves last year, but are the front-runners to replace Bazuin and Ogle. Central Michigan was eighth in the MAC in pass defense last year, a ranking that could be boosted with an improved pass rush.

Other Possible Factors: Trevor Weeks and De'Onte Burnam

Defensive Tackle: Steven Friend and Casey Droscha
Friend will be expected to anchor down the line as both he and Droscha are returning starters. This will be Steven's last year (Droscha gets to spend another year in Mt. Pleasant as he is only a junior) and according to Rivals is the 6th best player on the team. It is hard to get talented AND big players in the MAC and while some schools go for the big players, trying to teach football skills the more successful schools (case in point: Central Michigan) go for the overlooked guys because of size, but who can still play football. Friend is a perfect example, weighing in at an Indianoplis Colt-light 292 pounds. This will be the third year as a starter for Mr. Friend (I would never get tired of saying that) and the second for Mr. Droscha. Droscha is an even lighter 270 pounds (he was moved from walk-on linebacker to scholarship defensive tackle after spring drills his freshman year) and stands to get beaten down consistently by our bigger and more talented offensive linemen. Granted, we are replacing nearly everyone on that line. A beast compared to Central Michigan's other tackles, Ronnie Ekdahl figures to see some action for the simple fact he stands at a rather robust 300 pounds.

Other Possible Factors: Evan Brownie and Philip Telfer

Linebackers: Red Keith, Ike Brown and Nick Bellore
While Bellore is listed as the top backup according to Rivals, I am going to give him the other outside linebacking job. Why? Because I get the feeling that the Chips don't play many freshmen at all, much less true freshmen, so when they say Bellore is going to play I can immediately can tell he is a special kid. He will be the leader of the front 7 as early as next year after Brown, Keith and Friend all leave campus with Keith and Brown having a legitimate shot at the NFL. The star of this defense though is third year starter Red Keith. Red is a perfect example of the type of player CMU builds their program around, not heavily recruited out of high school mainly because of physical liabilities (Keith is only 5'11" and 239 after four years in the weight room) but have enough talent to play with the big boys. I am looking foward to seeing them play just to watch him run around the field, I am anticipating a tremendous game out of him. He has plenty of off-the-field accolades, if you want to take a gander at them look here. Fellow senior (after a medical redshirt last season) is Ike Brown who is really a returning starter after starting his sophomore and junior season all the way through. He is even smaller than Keith at 204 after coming to the Chips as a RB, switching to safety then to his current position of drop 'backer where he thrives. He could have been drafted along with Staley, Bazuin and Mormino according to some scouts but beacuse of his medical situation he chose to come back. He is a beast as well and figures to be a gamebreaker or playmaker or whatever you want to call him in our little shibang. The fact that both of these fine young gentlemen are seniors and very talented football players is the reason behind me starting Bellore along side the two. Hey, the best way to learn is to play and even better than that is to play and learn alongside two of the better linebackers in the MAC, which is exactly what Bellore would be doing. If Nicky does end up starting don't be surprised for us to attack that side in the passing game as he will probably not be up-to-speed on all of the coverages.

Other Possible Factors: Jonathan Lapsley and Chris Wohlgamuth

Cornerback: Curtis Cutts and Chaz West
Cutts was a starter last year, shutting down receivers across the MAC from week to week. West, on the other hand, has only started two games in his short life as a Central Michigan University Chippewa. Those were the last two games of the season while not (technically speaking) being in the season at all. He started both the MAC Championship game and the Motor City Bowl, forging a 'postseason expert' reputation that will undoubtedly earn him a job with the Yankees some day. Whether he will play to the same level or not in the regular season is debatable at best. You see, when stars are thrown they either succeed (Tom Brady, Joe Montana and Anthony Atkinson come to mind) or fail miserably (A-Rod, Lin Elliot and Donovan McNabb all are good examples). Which camp Chaz falls into has already been decided, but whether he is just a good postseason performer or all-around good corner is yet to be soon. I think it will end up being the latter, but I wouldn't mind him taking a game to realize that he has to play well in the regular season too. I feel bad for Curtis Cutts, he is the leader of the secondary and I barely mentioned his name. I'm sorry Curtis. Beyond those two, there are plenty of incoming freshmen and sophomores capable of playing in the future, but their readiness is questionable.

Other Possible Factors: Too many to count

Safeties: Tim Brazell and Jason Ruger
I'm pretty sure Ruger wasn't last year's starter at strong safety. Anyways, Brazell was only a freshman last year and still produced big time results so look for him to be flying at the back end of the defense. Him and Cutts are the leaders in the back, bringing along sophomore (and postseason extroadinare as previously mentioned) Chaz West and strong safety Jason Ruger. (Whoo! I just had a majorly scary moment, accidentally clicking on an icon and almost deleting this entire article. I got lucky though, I have to learn to be more careful during these long posts...) Back to the Chips' secondary, it is a young and fast unit. Ruger is fairly unfounded and could be vulnerable but I am pretty confident that Brazell is a future star in the MAC and may already be emerging with their visit to Lawrence.

Other Possible Factors: Too many to count

There you have it, it is a fairly young defense led by Friend on the defensive line, Keith and Brown in the linebacking corps and Cutts and to a certain extent sophomore Brazell back in the secondary. This unit will likely struggle against the pass due to the nearly non-existent pass rush expected from the defensive end position and the lack of experience in the secondary but with linebackers Ike Brown and Red Keith leading the way will be a tough team to run against. Hopefully Meier can get off to a good start, he will need it to raise his confidence.

Returning Starters: 5 (DT, DT, LB, CB, S)
Incoming Starters: 6 DE, DE, LB, LB, CB, S)

Freshman Starters: 1 (LB Bellore)
Sophomore Starters: 5 (DE Knight, DE Zombo, CB West, S Ruger and S Brazell)
Junior Starters: 1 (DT Droscha)
Senior Starters: 4 (DT Friend, LB Keith, LB Brown and CB Cutts)

After a couple of days looking at other things concerning the Jayhawks, I will be taking a look at the 1-AA Southeastern Louisiana Lions and their team.

ROCK CHALK!