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Boston College Football Preview: Defense

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North Carolina State Vs Boston College At Alumni Stadium Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

We continue our preview series with the revamped Boston College defense. Tem Lukabu takes over a defense that finished dead last in the ACC in total defense and allowed 32 points per game. From pass defense to pass rush, the job wasn’t getting done.

Lukabu brings a blend of NFL and college experience, primarily with linebackers. With a defensive back expert as a head coach, we should expect major changes with this side of the ball, but we should be patient. Hafley continues to stress the importance of fundamentals in practices, meaning a stress on proper tackling, the bane of Eagle fans’ existence last season.

Linebackers

The strength of this defense surely comes from the stellar linebacking corps. The team brings back experience and great depth.

The brightest of spots on last year’s defense, Max Richardson, returns after leading the team in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks. Richardson is an All-ACC caliber player who will look to build on a very successful campaign. Big on the inside, John Lamot returns, and Isaiah McDuffie makes a fully healthy return to the field in his strong side role, looking to make up for lost time and the expectations entering last season.

Joe Sparacio showed flashes while starting much of last season in McDuffie’s place. He’s fully capable of stepping in and making plays. Redshirt junior Paul Theobold Jr. and Vinny DePalma both got on the field last season. Theobold played in every game and totaled 17 tackles. DePalma made one start while getting in the mix and even recorded a forced fumble. Hugh Davis saw action in eight games and recorded 11 tacklles. Nick DeNucci, Thomas Hovsepian and maybe Korey Smith will work to round-out the primary linebacker rotation.

Defensive Line

A brutal year for the line, the group will hope to plug their gaps and devise a pass rush. Brandon Barlow and Marcus Valdez led the group with 2.5 sacks each, and as leaders of the position, they’ll both like to see those numbers go up across the board. Shittah Silah played in nine games as a freshman began to make some noise. Bryce Morias provides great depth and energy, appearing in each game and totaling 16 tackles. Cal graduate transfer Luc Bequette will be a much needed force on the end and should help ramp up stat production for the team.

At tackle, TJ Rayam made some impact plays, getting into the backfield and being a general force. He’ll hope to build on his performance to have a more consistent impact. Kyiev Bennermon, the day one starter from last season, will hope to return to the starting lineup. Ryan Betro played eight games in his redshirt freshman year, and should push for snaps. Jaleel Berry will hope to recover from an injury-plagued season, and Chibueze Onwuka and Cam Horsley round out the tackle group.

Cornerbacks

Brandon Sebastian could not have asked for a better teacher, recently explaining how Hafley has helped to “tie up loose screws in [his] game.” The pass defense was dreadful last year, ranked 122nd. There’s plenty of work to be done, but if Coach Aazar has even a fraction of the impact he’s had on the recruiting trail, we should expect major strides. Having Hafley on his corner won’t hurt either, of course.

Sebastian is the clear leader of the pack, but there are a number of corners that could emerge alongside. Making six starts last season, redshirt sophomore Jason Maitre picked up valuable experience that should put him in pole position. Tate Haynes began as the year as a starter, but inconsistent play pulled him back. The redshirt junior will hope to bounce back. Elijah Jones came on as the starter the last few games of the season and showed promise. Sophomore Josh DeBerry made two starts in the rotation and will look to continue on his development and emerge as a regular.

Jalen Williams should expect to see some action in his redshirt freshman season. Tyler Days will look to make a leap, and Bryce Sebastian might be back to defensive back along with his brother. From there, Teon Smith or even walk-on Nick Bearup could vie for snaps. Freshman Denzel Blackwell even made a highlight reel play since the start of preseason.

Safeties

Mike Palmer returns as a graduate student, and in comes Maryland transfer Deon Jones. Palmer had an up and down season starting 11 games. He’ll look to improve under new tutelage. Jones should provide solid experience and leadership to this unit. He’s a big hitter that could come in and make a strong impact. Redshirt junior Jahmin Muse will be competing for time, and redshirt freshmen Connor Grieco and Steve Lubischer will look to be in the mix as well.