Before we preview this year’s UTSA defense, let’s take a honor how good the Roadrunners’ defense was last year. UTSA ranked 6th in the nation in yards allowed per game. They ranked 19th in the nation in S&P+, an algorithm that adjusts for performance relative to the strength of the opposition. The Roadrunners had the third most disruptive defensive line in college football, spearheaded by first round NFL draft pick Marcus Davenport.
Now with the New Orleans Saints, Davenport is gone from the program, along with two starting cornerbacks, an excellent outside linebacker, and a three-year starter at free safety. That’s a lot of production out the door.
Additionally, the Roadrunners will be breaking in a new defensive coordinator. The runaway success of UTSA’s defense under previous coordinator Pete Golding caught the eye of Nick Saban, leading to Golding leaving San Antonio for Tuscaloosa. UTSA Head Coach Frank Wilson didn’t have to look far for a replacement, choosing to promote linebackers coach Jason Rollins to defensive coordinator. While Rollins held co-defensive coordinator duties at Tulane and McNeese State, this will be his first year calling all the shots for a defense.
With a change of coordinators and a large exodus of talent, it’s fair to predict a sizable regression from last year’s defensive performance. Luckily for UTSA, a major step back on the defensive side of the ball would likely still place the Roadrunners in the top tier of Conference USA’s defensive units. Let’s take a look at each position group to get a better idea of where the Roadrunners stand.
Projected depth chart
Eric Banks / Kevin Strong / Baylen Baker / Lorenzo Dantzler
Jarrod Carter-McLin / King Newton / Jaylon Haynes / Solomon Wise
That’s one salty depth chart. Flush with size and talent, UTSA’s returning defensive linemen boast a collective 36 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks through their careers. If my projected starting line up is correct, UTSA’s defensive line averages out to roughly 6’4”, 278 pounds. While this unit will miss Davenport, they’re still well positioned to be the anchor of this football team.
Replacing Davenport’s pass rush single handily is impossible but Eric Banks and Lorenzo Dantzler have the tools to menace opposing quarterbacks. A former high school quarterback, Banks has grown to 6’5”, 270 pounds after playing in 24 games through his first two seasons on campus. Banks is actually on an extremely similar development path to Davenport’s. Both contributed immediately as a pass rusher, then became an every down player as they filled out their body. Davenport’s junior year is when he really took a step towards becoming an NFL-level player, so there’s a lot on the line for Banks this season.
A JUCO transfer, Dantzler flashed extreme promise in UTSA’s spring game but he’ll need to fight off competition from veterans Jarrod Carter-McLin and Solomon Wise.
The interior is extremely stout as all eight players on the depth chart could reasonably break out to earn all-conference honors or already have. Senior Kevin Strong is the most talented player on UTSA’s defensive line but issues with consistency have prevented him from realizing his potential. Will Strong take the next step now that he’s playing for a potential pay check on Sundays?
Projected depth chart
Josiah Tauaefa / Les Mauro
DeMarco Guidry / Donovan Perkins
This seems like a cop out, but I really think UTSA’s linebackers could either be extremely good or extremely bad. We’ll likely see something in between the two extremes.
Expect a major bounce back year from junior linebacker Josiah Tauaefa. After fighting the injury bug throughout his sophomore year, the former Freshman All-American has impressed through fall camp.
Everything after Tauaefa is an unknown. JUCO transfer Les Mauro has been in the program for a while but has only recorded 12 tackles and 1.5 sacks throughout his time at UTSA. He’s also dealt with some serious injuries in the past.
Redshirt freshmen DeMarco Guidry and Donovan Perkins should both see plenty of snaps this fall despite neither having played a snap at the collegiate level yet. 6’3”, 225 pound redshirt freshman walk-on and former wide receiver Tyler Mahnke could also fit into the picture after making the move to linebacker this spring. He certainly showed the speed and physicality to excel at the position while he was a wide receiver.
Projected depth chart
Clayton Johnson / Teddrick McGhee
Cassius Grady / Stanley Dye Jr.
The Roadrunners will need to replace two starters at corner but there are a few options here. Teddrick McGhee earned eight starts as a true freshman, becoming the first true freshman in UTSA history to serve as a team captain. Unfortunately an ACL injury held McGhee out in 2017 so he enters the 2018 campaign as a true sophomore. If he’s fully healthy then McGhee should be UTSA’s top cornerback.
Opposite of McGhee, Clayton Johnson seems primed for a breakout season after the walk-on appeared in six games and collected two interceptions as a sophomore. The ball hawk looks to continue to build on his success last season as he has collected several interceptions through UTSA’s fall scrimmages.
JUCO transfer Cassius Grady and veteran Stanley Dye should see plenty of snaps as well. At 5’9”, Grady is among the shortest players on UTSA’s defense but he’s a tough defender that can play the boundary. A speed demon, Stanley Dye has yet to record an interception at UTSA but that could change as he sees his role expand.
Projected depth chart
Carl Austin / CJ Levine / Andrew Martel
Darryl Godfrey / Brenndan Johnson / Carrington Kearney
Leading the way at the safety position for UTSA is Carl Austin. UTSA’s third-leading tackler last season, Austin flew under the radar last year as the seniors stole the show. It’s now Austin’s time to shine in his senior season. While Austin was listed at the Lion safety position coming out of the spring, he has the versatility to play anywhere in the secondary.
CJ Levine might be the Roadrunners’ best defender against the pass. Levine started all 11 games in 2017 as a junior but has contributed in every game of his career so far. Through three seasons Levine has turned in 87 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, five pass break ups, and one interception.
Past Austin and Levine, the rest of the secondary will be in fierce competition for snaps. Standing at 6’1”, 215 pounds, Andrew Martel made a mark on special teams in 2016 before registering 23 tackles in 2017. The junior is extremely physical and could excel at strong safety.
Senior Darryl Godfrey has seen consistent action through his first three years at UTSA, including four starts last year, but he’s yet to establish himself as a game changer. The local product spurned Power Five opportunities to stay home in San Antonio.
Brenndan Johnson was an under the radar contributor to UTSA’s secondary as a redshirt freshman last year and should see more snaps in 2018. Carrington Kearney only played sparingly on special teams in his redshirt freshman year but the former quarterback has the athleticism to contribute in coverage. Lastly, true freshman Kelechi Nwachuku has impressed through fall camp and could be in line for early playing time.