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TU Football: Defensive Position Breakdown

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College football season is rapidly approaching and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane has big plans in their new conference. As Tulsa kicks off play as a member of the American Athletic Association, it will look to shake off the negativity from a disappointing 3-9 campaign last season.

Over the next two days, we're taking a look at TU position-by-position, examining who might make an impact in 2014.

RELATED STORY: Offensive Position Breakdown

Defensive line

Key Losses

Jack Jewell, DT

The Basics

On a team full of young players, a veteran defensive line will be one of Tulsa's biggest strengths. TU returns five players with starting experience, including sack leader Derrick Alexander. As the Golden Hurricane looks to rebuild its linebacking core, it will need the d-line to shoulder the load up front.

The Players

Junior Derrick Luetjen and sophomore Jesse Brubaker both return as TU's starting defensive tackles. Luetjen started all 12 games last season while Brubaker started 10 as a freshman.

The aforementioned Alexander returns for his junior season to lead a talented group of defensive ends. He'll be joined on the outside by seniors Brentom Todd and Chris Hummingbird. Todd and Hummingbird combined for 13 starts last season and will form a nice three-man unit with Alexander.

Linebackers

Key Losses

Shawn Jackson, MLB

The Basics

This will be one of the biggest question marks entering the 2014 season. It's unfair to call it a weakness because we haven't seen a lot of these guys play extensively, but it certainly is an unknown. Tulsa has a couple of guys back with experience, but might lean on a trio of freshmen to carry a bulk of the load.

The Players

Let's start with the known variables. Sophomore Trent Martin missed most of last season with an injury but made Conference USA's All-Freshman team back in 2012. Having Martin back in there this season along with senior Mitchell Osborne gives TU a good foundation. Osborne started all 12 games last season, recording 83 tackles and two sacks. And before we get to the young guys, don't forget about senior Luke Snider. The former Union High star played in all 12 games last season as a reserve and is expected to do the same in 2014.

Redshirt freshmen C.J. Gooden and Craig Suits are both expected to make major impacts this season. Gooden is highly praised by the coaching staff and looked good in spring drills last season. Suits, a cousin of former TU star G.J. Kinne, is known for his physical play and work ethic. It's unsure what type of impact these guys will have this season, but expect them to get plenty of chances.

And then there's true freshman Petera Wilson. Wilson is TU's top recruit, a four-star linebacker who was offered by the cream of the college football crop. Wilson reportedly received offers from Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Ohio State, Oregon, Tennessee, UCLA and USC among others.

If Wilson is ready to go instantly, he could boost the Hurricane's young core with his instincts and playmaking ability.

Defensive backs

Key Losses

Nobody

The Basics

Of every position group on the roster, this is probably the Golden Hurricane's strongest. TU returns a veteran core and even gets safety Marco Nelson back from academic suspension. There's plenty to be excited about in the Tulsa secondary.

The Players

Nelson is the key guy here. The senior safety has started 39 of 40 career games, most recently collecting 80 tackles and two interceptions during the 2012 campaign. He missed last season due to an academic issue but it should actually work out better for Tulsa this way. Instead of burning his final year of eligibility during a wasted season in 2013, Nelson returns for the Golden Hurricane's inaugural season in the AAC.

Emerging star Michael Mudoh will team with Nelson to form one of the best safety combos in the country. The junior led Conference USA and was fourth in the nation with 133 tackles last season.

Senior Dwight Dobbins and sophomore Will Barrow also return and should be TU's starting cornerbacks. Dobbins started the first nine contests last season before suffering an injury while Barrow played both corner and safety in 2013.

The one candidate to push this group for playing time is redshirt freshman Darnell Walker Jr. Walker reportedly won a starting corner job out of spring practice last season but ended up receiving a redshirt instead. With Walker added to this already thick mix, Tulsa could end up with one of the finest secondary units in the nation.

Kicker

Carl Salazar returns for his second and final season in a Tulsa uniform. The former Air Force Falcon turned Oklahoma Sooner wound up getting an opportunity to kick in 2013 when Daniel Schwarz was dismissed from the university.

Salazar had a rocky start, missing his first two field goal attempts in TU's season opener at Bowling Green, but got it together after that. Salazar drilled 16 of his final 17 attempts of the season and became downright dependable.

Lack of range is the former soccer player's weak point. Salazar didn't even attempt a kick from 40+ yards in 2013, so the Tulsa offense will have to likely venture inside the 25-yard line for any realistic shot.

Punter

Dalton Parks had a solid freshman season in 2013. He took over punting duties from Cole Way as a walk-on true freshman and did an admirable job. Parks averaged 39.5 yards per punt and will look to improve on that number this season.

 

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