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For a team that has recently been known for their defensive dominance, they didn’t live up to their reputation last year. The Minutemen finished last season ninth in the conference, giving up 358 yards per game. Although the defense didn’t live up to expectations in 2008, they bring more experience and leadership into the 2009 campaign.
UMass is returning a very knowledgeable group on the D-line. Brandon Collier, Michael Hanson, and Kyle Harrington are all seniors who have seen a lot of action over the past four years and each hopes to have stellar seasons in their senior year. Collier served as team captain last season when he finished with 36 total tackles and one sack. He had some minor injuries throughout last season, which prevented him from making an even bigger impact.
Coach Kevin Morris is looking for a better season out of Michael Hanson. He was also plagued by minor injuries last season, but finished with 33 tackles, and two forced fumbles. Hanson also has solid speed and was moved from linebacker to defensive end following his freshman season to better utilize it. Harrington will be seeing time at the nose tackle spot after being a back-up defensive lineman for the past two seasons. Harrington compiled 56 total tackles and 2.5 sacks. Ray Jones, a transfer from Delaware, has good size and strength and will also being seeing playing time on the line.
Josh Jennings is coming off a fantastic 2008 season where he earned his first team CAA All-Conference honors and was an ECAC All-Star. He was second on the team with 90 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions. He is a true playmaker on defense and is always around the ball.
Kurt Filler will step into the starting role at outside linebacker this season. He had 18 tackles and a fumble recovery in his first season at UMass. He is a transfer from junior college and hopes to make a significant impact in his second full season at UMass. In order to get some leadership at the position, Coach Morris has moved former safety, Eric Dickson, to outside linebacker. Dickson is very versatile and brings experience to the position.
The secondary is where the Minutemen might be hurting. Their leader, Jeromy Miles, returns at safety. A transfer from Navy, Miles was a 2008 CAA All-Conference First Teamer, Preseason All-Conference player, and 2008 Sports Network Second Team All-American. Former walk-on, Shane Viveiros, will be the other safety for UMass who possesses a great knowledge of the game and is very physical. Coach Morris and the rest of the staff have been very happy with the progress Viveiros has made.
The corners will be a tough position to fill after losing their two starters. Corey Davis, David Cozzo, and C.J. Burnley will see significant time at the corners. In order to add more depth to the position, UMass has moved receivers Ke’Mon Bailey and Warren Wilson over to the defensive side of the ball. Coach Morris and the rest of the coaching staff are hoping to be able to implement different defensive packages with the depth at corner.
Overall, with another year of experience, the UMass defense should improve and put up better numbers than last season. They have great experience, with leaders at each position, and have decent depth. The only soft spot might come in the secondary where there is some lack of playing experience. If Jennings and company can produce enough pressure up front, the guys in the secondary will have a much easier time defending the pass.