The Toledo Rockets have annually pulled down some of the best talent in the MAC in terms of recruiting, and it shows up the most on the defensive side of the ball, as the Rockets, under Division III coaching legend Vince Kehres, were a Top 5 defense in the league in every metric.
Toledo was the best at preventing scores in the MAC, with 21.8 points per game average (27th in the country), while also being the second-best MAC unit overall in total yards per game (349.7). It was a ferocious front, finishing 19th in the country in team sacks (39) and 22nd in team tackles-for-loss (22.)
Toledo will look to improve upon that effort, with the vast majority of their best pieces returning in 2022, including three all-MAC honorees at their respective positions.
The defensive line room returns two starters from last season in Desjuan Johnson and Judge Culpepper, while former rotational piece Cavon Butler (22 tackles, one tackle-for-loss in 12 appearances and six starts) looks to take on a bigger role.
Desjuan Johnson is perhaps one of the best down linemen in the conference, picking up 70 tackles, 12.5 tackles-for-loss and 4.5 sacks in 2021, en route to picking up second-team all-MAC honors in 2021. Johnson has great size, standing at six-foot-three, 275 lbs., but also has the speed and burst to go with it, making him a dynamic piece to use along the line.
On the interior, the six-foot-four, 290 lb. former Penn State transfer Judge Culpepper is the highlight player, picking up 43 tackles, three sacks, two pass break-ups and a quarterback hurry from the tackle position. He and Butler should make for a very nice combo to limit the run game and funnel action towards the linebackers.
Sophomore Darius Alexander (21 tackles in 13 appearances and two starts) and 2019 starter Devan Rogers (eight tackles in 11 game appearances in 2021) provide some good options for depth at the tackle positions.
First-team all-MAC backer Jamal Hines returns to the EDGE role after an 86 tackle effort in 2021, which included 15 tackles-for-loss and 10 sacks, making him one of the premier edge rushers in the MAC.
When in tandem with Desjuan Johnson as a defensive end, it’s a hard day at the office for offensive lines, as their combined speed creates pressure ion Toledo’s attacking front. Hines is no slouch in the middle of the defense either, with eight pass break-ups in 2021 and three career interceptions.
Terrance Taylor also returns from injury after spending the first half of the season as a starter, where he picked up 19 tackles, six tackles-for-loss and three sacks in six starts. He and senior Nate Givhan will likely fight for a spot, after Givhan finished with 20 tackles, four tackles-for-loss and four sacks in 2021.
Six-foot-two, 250 lb. backer Adrian Woliver (nine tackles in 12 appearances in 2021) and six-foot-five, 240 lb. Maryland transfer Deshawn Holt (15 tackles in eight appearances as a Terrapin) will also fight for a role along the edge.
It’s a bounty of riches for the Rockets at linebacker, who employ them early and often in this defensive scheme.
Third-team all-MAC backer Dyontae Johnson returns to the lineup after picking up 86 tackles, eight tackles-for-loss of his own and 2.5 sacks to go along with an interception and five pass break-ups in coverage.
Other on-roster options for linebacker spots, whether that’s as a starter or in the rotation include Jackson Barrow (42 tackles, one tackle-for-loss in 12 appearances and six starts), 2020 starter Daniel Bolden (20 tackles, one tackle-for-loss in six games and five starts), and defensive line conversion D’Andre Ragin (12 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, two sacks in 12 games), while newcomer Dallas Gant, a former four-star prospect, lands in Toledo after amassing 54 tackles, including three tackles-for-loss in four seasons at Ohio State.
The hometown product, who played his high school ball at nearby St. John’s Jesuit, could be a potential rotational piece on the outside, as his six-foot-three, 235 lb. frame and former pedigree and experience should be an asset for a defense which needs to take the next step in order to help their offense.