Like with the offense, the Panther defense is left with voids to fill, but there is plenty of talent and playmakers returning to Coach Minter’s defense to build off a much improved defensive performance in 2015.
The Panther defense showed significant improvement in 4 very key areas. The number of first downs allowed dropped from 307 to 299. The Panthers allowed 5.3 yards per play, a drop from 6.57 a years ago. Even though they allowed 87 more plays in 2015, they total yards of offense allowed dropped by almost 700 yards.
Perhaps the biggest improvement on this defense is the amount of points allowed. In 2014, the Panthers gave up an average of 43.3 points a game. That dropped to 28.3 in 2015.
The defense returns 35 in 2016 including 12 linebackers, 9 on the defensive line, 5 cornerbacks, 5 defensive ends and 4 safeties
Notable Returnees on Defense
Bobby Baker – Perhaps few players may have had more of an immediate impact than Safety Bobby Baker who was named to the SunBelt All-Newcomer team in 2015. In his first game as a Panther, Baker recorded 2 interceptions, and 3 fumbles recovered versus Charlotte. Baker ended his first season at Georgia State with 53 unassisted tackles 23 assisted. He had 10 tackles in each game versus the Ragin Cajuns and in the Cure Bowl against San Jose State.
Kaleb Ringer – Like Baker, inside Linebacker, first took the field as a Panther with a bang with 8 unassisted tackles. Ringer would go on to total 73 total tackles for the 2015 season averaging 4 unassisted tackles per game. Ringer is completely capable of filling the void left by the graduation of Joe Peterson. Keep an eye out for him and Baker as potential leaders on the defensive side of the ball.
Chandon Sullivan – Sullivan was one of the more versatile players for the Panthers serving as Cornerback for the defense and Kick Returner on special teams. As a Cornerback, Sullivan accounted for 2 sacks 2 interceptions including one returned for a touchdown and 50 tackles in 2015, 42 of those unassisted. Sullivan was named the SunBelt Defensive Student-Athlete of the Week after a big game versus Texas State where he had 6 unassisted tackles, an interception and 2 pass breakups.
Jerome Smith – Smith is a Redshirt Junior Cornerback who started for the Panthers playing in 12 games. Smith led the Panthers with 11 pass breakups, and also recorded 44 tackles, 12 of those unassisted and 2.5 for a loss of 17 yards. Smith, along with fellow cornerback Sullivan should provide a solid foundation in the Panther secondary.
Mackendy Cheridor – As another solid starter on the Panther defense, Cheridor had 34 tackles with 6.5 of those coming at a loss for 31 yards. He was able to get into the opponents backfield to terrorize quarterbacks with 3 sacks for 22 yards and 3 quarterback hurries and 2 pass breakups.
Notable Positions of Concern
Coach Miles and his staff have done a decent job attempting to build depth on his young team. It’s a painstaking process that takes time but when done right can really start to pay off.
Like on the offensive side of the ball, the position of greatest concern may be along the line of scrimmage. Most coaches will tell you that they like to have 15 players ready to plug in and play. Going into 2016, the Panthers are about 6 bodies shy of that target.
Next week we will look at how he addressed these concerns with recruiting and transfers.