4. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE MIDDLE TENNESSEE DEFENSE
– Six of the top ten tacklers and five starters are gone from an okay defense that finished in the middle of the Conference USA pack, but needs to be much, much tighter on third downs. The strength is at linebacker with Khalil Brooks the star on the outside and DQ Thomas a safety-sized veteran on the other side. Second-leading tackler Darius Harris is gone from the inside, but the veteran options are there to play around with.
– Thomas and Brooks are the team’s two best playmakers in the backfield, and now more needs to come from the line. Trae Philpots led the defensive front with four sacks, and senior Tyshun Render needs to play a bigger role on the other side. There’s a little bit of bulk in the interior, but the best returning tackle is the 254-pound Malik Manciel.
– The safeties are there, but the starting corners have to be replaced. Sophomore Reed Blankenship led the team with 107 tackles with four picks. He’s back at free safety, and all-star veteran Jovante Moffatt is back at strong safety after missing most of last year hurt. However, the six interceptions – and two pick sixes – of Wesley Bush are gone. The corners are young, but they’ve got decent size.