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What Does JMU Football’s Defense Need in the Transfer Portal?

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

Earlier this week, we looked at the areas JMU football could bolster its offense through the transfer portal. It’s time to look at the defense. 

The Dukes were one of just two Sun Belt teams (Troy) to allow fewer than 20 points per game in 2023, allowing 19.5 per contest. The Dukes were dynamic offensively, but consistent defense has been a calling card for JMU since Mike Houston arrived in Harrisonburg ahead of the 2016 season. 

Will they be able to field a dominant defense in Bob Chesney’s first season? It’ll likely take major reinforcements in the portal to achieve that goal.

Let’s look at the position-by-position needs for the Dukes’ defense.

Defensive line: Very high

James Carpenter and Mikail Kamara left for Indiana, and standout defensive ends Jamree Kromah and Jalen Green graduated. That leaves JMU in major need of defensive line help. 

Returners Immanuel Bush and Tyrique Tucker should play key roles on the interior of the defensive front in 2024, and rising redshirt sophomore Amar Thomas has tremendous potential at the defensive end spot. Still, JMU needs added depth and experience along the defensive line. 

We’d anticipate the defensive end/edge spot being a major target area for the program. If the Dukes can add someone with a similar skillset to Green, it’ll benefit the team’s pass rush. JMU’s defense line led the defense in 2023, and the unit will look drastically different in 2024.

Albany’s Elijah Hills and Syracuse’s Terry Lockett are a pair of transfer targets who could make immediate impacts.

Editor’s note: Thanks to Christopher William Jewelers for their advertising support.

Linebacker: Moderate

Adding Jacob Dobbs from Holy Cross helps fill this need, but the Dukes could still use a linebacker in the transfer portal. Dobbs and returner Trent Hendrick make a formidable starting duo, but if the Dukes want three linebackers on the field, they’ll either need to turn to a younger player or add another transfer. 

The losses of Aiden Fisher, Jailin Walker, and Taurus Jones are notable. That group (plus Hendrick) formed arguably the best linebacker unit in the Sun Belt. 

Dobbs is an absolute stud and a plug-and-play starter. If JMU can give him and Hendrick additional help, the position shouldn’t see much of a drop off, if any. 

Cornerback: Moderate

JMU’s starting cornerbacks, Chauncey Logan and D’Angelo Ponds, are expected to return to JMU in 2024. That should leave JMU in a good position at cornerback, especially with several recent Power Five transfers still on the roster for added depth and competition. 

Still, it’s possible the Dukes add 1-2 defensive backs who can play at either cornerback or safety. There’s no downside to adding depth in the secondary, especially with JMU’s cornerbacks largely unproven outside of the top two.

Holy Cross’ Terrence Spence is a name to monitor as a possible defensive back addition. He’s versatile in the secondary, and he’s blocked six kicks in his college career.

Safety/rover: High

Jacob Thomas returns at safety, but outside of Thomas, JMU graduates five safeties/rovers from its two deep. 

The Dukes’ high school recruiting class is loaded with defensive backs who can play safety, but it’s still likely JMU uses the portal to bring in at least one experienced safety to play alongside Thomas, who should have some role in the secondary next season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if JMU added multiple safeties in the portal in hopes of adding competition for the starting spots, though.

Old Dominion’s Terry Jones would be a home-run addition, if the Dukes can convince him to stay in the Sun Belt.

https://twitter.com/IamTerryJonesJr/status/1639700425333956608?s=20

Special teams: Moderate

Ryan Hanson returns at punter, and rising sophomore Jack Mowrey is a natural fit as the starting long snapper. Those positions don’t seem like areas of need, 

Camden Wise is out of eligibility, however, which means a kicker could be on their way in the portal. We’d anticipate JMU either adding a high school kicker or a transfer to bolster competition at the position going into the spring and fall. 

JMU may also look to bolster its return game, via the portal. Could a wide receiver or running back transfer earn the punt returner or kick returner job in 2024? It’s possible.

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