Defense has been the engine fueling UTSA’s competitiveness for the last several years. Over the past two seasons, one could argue it was the only working component of a very broken vehicle. One of the only reasons why the Roadrunners remained competitive in many recent contests was the defense’s ability to keep opponents scoring at bay.
As the 2019 season arrives, it’s not exactly certain that UTSA will have that same security blanket. With the talents of Josiah Tauaefa and Marcus Davenport now long gone, the unit will have to look to its lunch-pale type contributors of the past to step up into more dominant roles. The safe bet is to expect UTSA’s pass rush to take a small step back this season. However, this should still be a strong enough defense to be in the upper half of C-USA.
Defensive Coordinator Jason Rollins is a coach fans can get behind. This will be his second year running the defense and his fourth year being with the program. He’s proven to be a strong enough defensive schemer to pilot the unit. Opposing offenses will still see a base 4-2 front with an emphasis on getting to the backfield.
The defensive ends will remain the strongest and deepest position group. Expect the leaders to be upperclassmen Solomon Wise and Jarrod Carter-McLin along with Lorenzo Dantzler. Dantzler was named on Pro Football Focus’ All C-USA Second Team last year after notching 27 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Dantzler has been limited recently due to injury but is expected to be available for the opener.
McLin started every game last season and finished the year with 30 tackles. He also has the ability to bat down passes. Wise has an opportunity to have a coming out party this year after only seeing four games as a redshirt sophomore.
Depth will be provided by the likes of Eric Banks and DeQuarius Henry. Redshirt freshman Trumane Bell may also get a good number of snaps.
The tackles will also be a beefy position. Seniors Baylen Baker and King Newton are the likely starters. Both guys have earned starts for UTSA since their freshman years and have been big impact players. Baker’s got a lot of athleticism for his size, and makes plays in different ways, be it blowing up a blocker and getting to the backfield or breaking up passes. Newton totaled 21 stops last season while playing in nine games.
Two other tackles that should get frequent snaps are San Antonio’s own Brandon Matterson and junior Jaylon Haynes. Haynes was actually named to C-USA’s All-Freshman team in 2017.
Unfortunately, the linebacker unit is UTSA’s biggest concern on either side of the ball. Even through weeks of fall camp it’s rather unclear what this group is going to look like and if they can be a large contributing factor like they have been in recent years. Various media outlets have pointed to Andrew Martel as the strongest linebacker on of the team, but who’s going to start beside him is yet to be determined. Dominic Sheppard, a graduate transfer from Virginia, probably has the highest potential as his talent level should translate well into C-USA. His experience is rather limited however, only playing three games in 2017 and suffering a season-long injury in 2018.
LSU transfer Layton Garnett should also be in the mix and may be the favorite for starting snaps at middle linebacker. Garnett is a powerful backer, more than capable of playing downfield and getting after the quarterback when asked to blitz.
Alongside Sheppard are sophomores De’Marco Guidry and Donovan Perkins. Guidry saw some action off the bench last season but still needs to develop at the collegiate level, granted he was a standout as a senior at La Marque High School. Perkins mainly saw the field on special teams through 2018 and the jury is still out on how effective he’ll be as a consistent piece of the linebacker group.
Here’s an area that should be fairly dependable for the Roadrunners. Junior Teddrick McGhee has been a starter since his freshman year and should have somewhat of a breakout season as his talents continue to develop. He and junior transfer Dexter Myers (Oregon) are the tallest guys at the position. Myers is another P5 transfer that fans have their fingers crossed for, hoping his talent and size can put him into the upper echelon of C-USA.
Seniors Clayton Johnson and Cassius Grady should provide sound experience with dependable coverage. There won’t be a lot of error from this group, they are solid and can hold their own against the best receivers in the conference.
This is the defense’s second area of slight concern. There are a lot of safeties on UTSA’s roster, but who’s going to really fill out the depth is still a question. Rollins has touted senior Carl Austin as “the best athlete on the team” and the leader of the secondary. Behind him is a slew of guys that need to cement their role. Sophomore Dadrian Taylor has started to blossom through the fall alongside redshirt freshman Kelechi Nwachuku.
Then there’s true freshman Rashad Wisdom of Converse-Judson, who is proving himself to be a man amongst boys as scrimmages and practices progress. He could very well end up being a consistent starter, but with so much youth at the position it’s hard to tell who's going to be ready for the role.
UTSA’s defense is going to have some kinks to work through as the season progresses. The defensive line will still be a powerful force in C-USA, but maybe not as dominant as it has been the last two years. The real issues lie within the second level at the linebacker and safety positions. Which one of the youngsters will separate themselves and prove ready for the next level of competition? However it pans out, the unit will remain strong enough to cause difficulties for even the best of C-USA’s offenses.