Memphis is finally ready to stop hearing how young they were last year, and show that they are one of the most experienced defenses in the AAC. Injuries forced numerous freshmen and sophomores to step in early last season, but that means the Tigers should be much better. While they lose players like safety Jonathan Cook and linebacker Genard Avery, there is still ample talent returning. Defensive coordinator Chris Ball gets to work with 18 players that played in 10 games or more last year. It will be difficult for players to stand out over others, but here are five that may just find a way to shine.
T.J. Carter, Cornerback
No surprise here, Carter got his career off to a great start in 2017. He’s known as one of the best cornerbacks in the AAC, and that helps in a conference known for offense. Carter racked up 61.5 tackles, 11 pass breakups and five interceptions in his first season of college football. Opposing teams now know who he is, and will most likely think twice before attacking his side of the field. His stats may not be the same in 2018, but that should mean good things for the Tigers defense.
Curtis Akins, Linebacker
Genard Avery received most of the attention with his 22 tackles for loss, but Akins led the team in total tackles. He will be the leader of a group that could be deep this year. This is a group that includes Tim Hart, Bryce Huff, and JJ Russell while also getting Jackson Dillon back from injury and adds transfer Keith Brown to the mix. Akins may not get the most attention again this season, but he will play a big role in the defense’s success.
Austin Hall, STAR
Hall’s position is fitting to his performance last year. As a mix between a linebacker and a defensive back, there were multiple games in which Hall made a huge impact. He finished second on the team in tackles (84), tackles for loss (8.0), and interceptions (3) while also defending five passes, and returning a fumble recovery for a touchdown. That kind of production will be needed again, though maybe not to that extent. He’s now a junior and his versatility is a weapon that will be utilized all over the field.
O’Bryan Goodson, Nose Tackle
Another freshman that saw playing time earlier than anticipated, Goodson is difficult to miss on the field. And no, not because he’s 300 pounds. Goodson has great quickness, and his natural power gives him a unique combination at his position. Goodson and fellow sophomore John Tate benefited immensely from getting playing time early and often last season.
Tito Windham, Cornerback
Windham will be the beneficiary of the T.J. Carter effect on defense. If teams decide to avoid Carter, it means that they will head to the other side of the field. The Tigers other corner is naturally aggressive, which is helpful when supporting the rush defense. Where he will have a bigger impact is in the pass defense. Memphis struggled mightily stopping the pass last year even with Carter, so Windham’s success will pay huge dividends in 2018.