Defensive Future Looks Encouraging

Aymiel Fleming
Aymiel Fleming

Isaiah Chambers
DE Isaiah Chambers

New Faces Punctuate The 2019 Starting Lineup

All football programs lose productive talent each year but UH’s defense takes it to another level in 2019. Dana Holgorsen’s new defense loses a ton of production from last year. It’s almost as if the previous staff had no plan for 2019 and beyond.

Eight key contributors off of that squad are now gone: Ed Oliver, Austin Robinson, Roman Brown, Isaiah Johnson, Emeke Ebule, Alexander Myres, Nick Watkins, and Jerard Carter. Combined, that’s 81 starts, 555 tackles, and 45 tackles-for-loss gone from 2018. When you add Garrett Davis, lost in the 3rd game to a broken foot, it’s also 10 of the team’s 14 INTs.

When you consider how terrible the defense was last year, it might seem like a good thing that there will be a complete rebuild this year.

2018 Defensive Rankings

CategoryNational Rank
(Out of 129)
Defensive Snaps129
1st Down Defense128
Rush TDs Allowed128
Total Defense126
Passing Yards Allowed123
Red Zone Defense123
Offensive TDs Allowed122
3rd Down Defense120
Scoring Defense118
Rushing Defense115

There were some very good players on that defense – certainly not guys that should have been part of such an embarrassing display. Ed Oliver was selected 9th overall in the NFL draft.  Isaiah Johnson was picked in the 4th round, Emeke Ebule went in the 6th and Austin Robinson was AAC First-Team All-Conference.

Cougar fans have, justifiably so, put a lot of the blame on Mark D’Onofrio. D’Onofrio’s defense was historically bad last season and his scheme kept the unit on the field way too long. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the previous staff left huge holes in the roster and especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Reason For Hope 

Luckily, Dana Holgerson and Joe Cauthen came in with a plan and put it into action.  They have gone about addressing the roster issues with a short term sense of urgency combined with a longer-term payoff.  

As GoCoogs wrote earlier this week, the new staff has loaded up the defensive side via the transfer market. They have added 10 defensive transfers since they arrived in January. UCLA grad transfer CB Colin Samuel is the only one-year player in the group.

NamePositionPrevious SchoolYears Left
Jordan MooreSafetyTexas A&M4
Thabo MwanikiSafetyOklahoma State2
Gervarrius OwensSafetyNortheastern Oklahoma3
Hasaan HypoliteSafetyColorado3
Colin SamuelCornerUCLA1
Marcus JonesCornerTroy2
Kelvin ClemmonsCornerMinnesota2
Damarion WilliamsCornerHighland CC2
Atlias BellDLIowa Western2
Jamykal NealDLHutchinson CC3
Oliver Charles-PierreDLNMMI2
Taures Payne*DLNorthwest Mississippi CC2
Terrance Edgeston*LBNortheast Mississippi CC2
Nathan FoxLBNorthwestern1
Eyabi AnomaLBAlabama3

Six JUCO defenders are expected to compete for playing time this season  All but one of those has two seasons of eligibility remaining (Jamykal Neal has 3 years to play). That is a short term infusion of talent that will help this defense climb out of the bottom ten in almost every statistical category. 

Thankfully this staff didn’t leverage the future by signing a group of one-and-done grad transfers. The longer-term play comes with the addition of five new defenders that will have to sit out a year.  Of course, waivers could change some things but there’s no reason to count on a waiver – it’s best to be surprised if it happens. There are also 3 high school recruits, giving Holgorsen the luxury of redshirting them.

2019 Starting Rotation

Without knowing how the waiver situation will play out, it’s impossible to be certain of the starting rotation. Given what we know today, here’s my best guess:

Defensive End

Isaiah Chambers
Isaiah Chambers

Payton Turner
Payton Turner

Isaiah Chambers will start at one of the DE spots while Payton Turner’s length should keep him at the other. 

I am very interested to see what Brian Early can get out of Isaiah Chambers.  He has all the tools physically and, with a better scheme, has a chance to have a big year. If Cauthen uses more bandit then expect a playmaker like Leroy Godfrey to fill the spot but it’s hard to imagine going smaller to start a game. 

Defensive Tackle

Aymiel Fleming
Aymiel Fleming

Taures Payne
Taures Payne

Fleming and a newcomer will likely fill the inside spots. Today, I’d guess Taures Payne from Northwest Mississippi CC. But Atlas and Charles-Pierre will either start or get lots of playing time. There are spots where you can afford injury but DT is not one of them this year. 


Leroy Godfrey

Elijah Gooden
Elijah Gooden

CGodfrey, Donavan Mutin, and Elijah Gooden will be in-play at linebacker. At either bandit or LB, Godfrey will start. I’d guess Gooden has the edge at the other LB spot today. 


Damarion Williams
Damarion Williams

Colin Samuel
Colin Samuel

At corner, I think you’ll see two newcomers: UCLA grad transfer Colin Saumel and Damarion Williams. Williams might be my must-watch player in 2019. Very interested to see how his game transfers to this level. 

Safety / Nickle

Gleson Sprewell

Deontay Anderson
Safety Deontay Anderson

Gervarrius Owens
Gervarrius Owens

And playing the three safety spots, two productive players from 2018 return: Gleson Sprewell and Deontay Anderson. Anderson is a physical guy that can be used in a lot of different ways. His versatility could make him a standout on this defense.

I think the most recent defensive transfer, Gervarrius Owens, will start at the final safety (nickel) spot. The JUCO All-American was a big-time late pickup for the Coogs. 

I won’t make any predictions of how this will all play out on the field.  With new coaches, new players and a new system it’s all up in the air. If the team can match the intensity that the staff has had in reshaping the roster, then I wouldn’t be surprised if 2019 exceeds my modest expectations.

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