It is no secret that the Eastern Michigan defense struggled a season ago. Out of their six games, they held just one team under 30 points and were gashed by opponents, especially on the ground, as teams averaged 241 yards rushing per game and a 5.3 yards per carry average.
Overall, the Eagles allowed 492 total yards and 36 points per game, and struggled to get home, with the team combining for just nine total sacks on the season. Granted, some of the numbers were due to mounting injuries, but the defense must improve against the run if the Eagles expect to make a run towards Detroit.
Of note for this piece, as Eastern runs a somewhat unique 4-2-5 defense, I have made the decision to include what would normally be a linebacking spot with our previous secondary preview piece due to the responsibilities of that position matching closer with the defensive secondary and not the front seven.
With that out of the way, let’s get to it.
Up front, the Eagles are led by Turan Rush, a second-team all-MAC honoree a year ago. Rush, a West Virginia native, had 4.5 of Eastern’s nine sacks on the season, adding 17 total tackles and 5.5 tackles-for-loss in a stellar campaign. Rush will return as one of the defense’s most experienced players, having played in 32 career games for the Green and White.
Opposite of Rush is Jose Ramirez, a third-team all MAC selection last year. A MAC defensive player of the week for his efforts against Western Michigan a season ago, Ramirez had 27 total tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and two sacks on the season.
Inside senior Woo Scott is a big body at six-foot-two, 330 lbs. He appeared in five games last season, and finished with 13 tackles and brings experience to the middle of the Eastern line with 29 games played across three seasons. Scott received a preseason all-MAC selection from Phil Steele earlier this offseason, marking him as a player to watch.
Alongside Scott returns Alex Merritt, who emerged last season as a redshirt freshman. Merritt started in five of six games played, and had 19 total tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and one sack. These numbers represented career highs for the former Cincinnati Moeller product. Merritt will be an important part of the Eagles’ future as well, as he retains his previous freshman eligibility thanks to COVID.
Senior Michael Scott returns inside after starting all six games at nose tackle last season. It was his first season on defense after previously being an offensive lineman. He had 13 tackles with one for loss. At six-foot-three, 318 lbs., he adds size to the middle of the line.
Jordan Crawford is another name to watch in the middle for the Green and White. The Eagles largest lineman at six-foot-one, 350 lbs., Crawford stood out after transferring from Tyler Junior College. He played in all six games and had 19 tackles, with 1.5 tackles-for-loss. He should feature in the rotation at defensive tackle spot.
Also returning is end Mikey Haney, a Sophomore. Haney started five of the Eagles six games last season, and finished with 18 total tackles. In EMU’s last full season in 2019, Haney had 43 total tackles and two sacks. He has now played in 20 career games.
Sophomore Carter Stagner looks the part of a key reserve after seeing action in all six games last season and 20 for his career, he added 11 tackles last season. Former JUCO transfer Grant Trueman also appeared in all six games a year ago, while Aaron Hamilton struggled with injuries during the 2020 season, playing in only three games. DeZaun Brooks also appeared in three games.
Among newcomers, Dexter Manior transfers in from the Naval Academy as is listed as a defensive end. While at Navy, he was a member of the 2019 squad which won the Liberty nowl. Among freshman, Melvin Swindle II might be the Eagles best recruit, as he continues the Eagles run of signing recruits from Oklahoma. Fellow freshman Carter Evans is the brother of running back Samson Evans.
At linebacker, the Eagles return second team all-MAC selection Terry Myrick. Myrick, a Georgia native, is perhaps one of the MAC’s finest conditioned athletes. He started all six games last season and had quite the stat line, finishing first on the team with 67 tackles, and 5.5 tackles-for-loss, second on the team with two pass breakups and the conference leader with two fumble recoveries. In 2019, Myrick was a contributor, with 89 total tackles and two sacks.
Junior Tariq Speights returns to the Eagle front seven and has emerged as a leader. On the field, Speights started five of the six games in which he played in 2020, recording 52 total tackles, with 2.5 tackles for loss. His leadership isn’t limited to his on-field play; Speights’was instrumental in organzing several efforts in a tumultuous 2020, including a Voter Registration drive, a Black Lives Matter rally, and a MLK march in Ypsilanti.
Steven Scheidt adds depth after appearing in four games after transferring from Fresno City Junior College. Luke Cameron played in all six games last season after transferring from Army West Point before the 2019 season. Matt Buschman is following in his brother Daniel’s footsteps in playing for the Eagles. He appeared in three games last season.
Position coaches for this position group include defensive coordinator Neal Neathery, who also oversees the linebackers, and defensive line coach Ben Needham. Special team’s coordinator Jay Nunez also helps oversee the defensive tackles.
With so much returning talent to the Eagles defensive front seven, it is hard to not see the Eagles defense improving upon their numbers from last season. EMU has several players who should be in the mix for all-MAC honors at seasons end.