2012 San Diego State Preview – Defense
San Diego State LB Jake Fely
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - San Diego State Aztec Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Head coach Rocky Long took over the defensive coordinator job a few years ago and has done a strong job improving a mediocre situation. The 3-3-5 alignment gets plenty of speed and athleticism on the field, but it has been inconsistent. Any team on the schedule that could throw was able to do it without a problem even against the five defensive backs. The secondary should be good with plenty of safety prospects and star corner Leon McFadden, but getting help from the pass rush needs to be a must after leading the Mountain West in sacks and tackles for loss. The linebacking corps loses star Miles Burris, but a slew of good young options are expected to pick up the slack while rising sophomore Jake Fely should put up huge numbers. The issue will be a quick line that has no size whatsoever. It’ll take a steady rotation to keep everyone healthy, but everyone up front can move. What the D will lack in size and strength it will make up for in aggressiveness.
Star of the defense: Senior CB Leon McFadden
Tackles: Nat Berhe, 67
Sacks: Josh Gavert, 2
Interceptions: Leon McFadden, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DT Sam Meredith
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Jake Fely
Best pro prospect: McFadden
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McFadden, 2) S Nat Berhe, 3) Fely
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, Aggressiveness
Weakness of the defense: Size, Good Passing Offenses
The pass rush was terrific last season but has to replace all three starters. The key to the line will be replacing tackle Jerome Long, the man in the middle in the 3-4 who finished second on the team with 69 tackles with five sacks and eight tackles for loss. Now it’ll be up to 6-4, 250-pound sophomore Sam Meredith who moves well and should be a good interior pass rusher after getting in the mix as a true freshman making four tackles for a tackle for loss. He’s not big and he’ll get beaten on, but he’s strong. Adding a bit more bulk is 6-1, 275-pound sophomore Kenny Galea’i, a good-sized, promising athlete who needs to be a rock against the run when he gets his turn in the rotation.
Looking to replace J.J. Autele at one end is 6-3, 255-pound Cody Galea, a linebacker-sized lineman who got his feet wet making six tackles on the year with a sack against UNLV. A great tackler and a mauler, he’ll play like a much bigger end who needs to be a pass rusher from the start. 6-3, 245-pound sophomore Everett Beed is a good-looking athlete and a pass rusher who added size to his frame and now needs to be a regular behind Autele.
6-1, 230-pound senior Frederick Trujillo saw a little bit of time making five tackles with a sack but will be thrown into the fire and needs to shine right away to hold off Jordan Thomas, a great get for the Aztecs with terrific athleticism. The 6-1, 245-pound Thomas started in the first eight games of last year but struggled to get to the quarterback with no sacks, three tackles for loss and 20 tackles on the year. Smart, fast and talented as he tries to get over an Achilles heel injury, he’ll start out behind Trujillo but could take over early on.
Watch Out For … Meredith. He’s not big and he isn’t a true anchor, but he has the quickness and the potential to be a pass rushing terror from the interior. He’ll be active and he’ll make plenty of tackles if he can hold up like Long did.
It's not a plus that he already has an injured shoulder.
Strength: Quickness. The Aztecs have athleticism and speed across the board. With top end
Dontrell Onuoha facing some major off-the-field issues facing felony charges after a fight - he pled not guilty - the
pass rush is up in the air. The potential is there to get into the backfield on a regular basis and there’s plenty of hope, but there’s no …
Weakness: Experience or size. There isn’t a 300-pounder to use as an anchor or a space-eater on the nose, and the ends aren’t exactly bulky. Worse yet, there isn’t any one lineman to count on with Thomas the lone veteran and he's hurt. However, he didn’t come through as a pass rusher last year when he got his chances.
Outlook: This was supposed to be a major problem area last season and it turned out to be okay. There was no experience and little to count on, but the front three didn’t get gouged as much as expected and the pass rush was fine. Take two. Again, the line doesn’t have any veterans and it could require some creativity with the rotation. Defensive line coach Osia Lewis did a great job and needs to come through big again.
Unit Rating: 5
Playmaker extraordinaire Miles Burris is gone, but the linebacking corps should be fine with a slew of talented new parts of the puzzle and with a nice starter to work around in 5-10, 200-pound sophomore Jake Fely. While he’s woefully undersized, he’s fast and durable, he came up with 58 tackles and was decent at getting into the backfield. A great tackler with terrific range, he’ll be a statistical star again, while 6-2, 225-pound senior Rob Andrews is a nice veteran who made 17 tackles with a tackle for loss. He brings a little more size and has good speed and range. While he’s not as fast as Fely, he can move.
6-2, 225-pound junior Nick Tenhaeff was a great high school running back who blew off USC, Cal and other Pac-12 teams, and last year he came up with 47 tackles as a key part of the rotation. Experienced, fast and active, he’ll be one of the team’s top tacklers, while 6-0, 210-pound sophomore Andrew Feaster is a former JUCO transfer with nice hitting ability. Now he has to do something for the defense while also serving on special teams.
While he’s not Burris, 6-2, 210-pound sophomore Josh Gavert could put up big numbers after shining this spring. After getting his feet wet last year he isn’t starting from scratch making two sacks and seven tackles as a pass rusher. He has breakout star potential as both a pass rusher and a tackler. He’ll be backed up by the bulk. 6-2, 255-pound junior Vaness Harris is the team’s biggest linebacker option and one of the most experienced making 24 tackles. A high school wide receiver, he can move.
Watch Out For … the young guys. Gavert should blossom with a bigger role, while Fely will put up big numbers in the middle with the range to get to everything that isn’t funneled his way.
Strength: Speed. All three spots have quickness and athleticism with both the ones and the twos. The Aztecs should swarm all over the ball and should make up for the loss of Burris.
Weakness: Miles Burris. He really was a special performer. The leader and the star of the linebacking corps, he was the main man for the run defense with a team-leading 78 tackles with eight sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. The linebackers should be fine, but there’s no Burris.
Outlook: Staying healthy is a must for a smallish group that should be banged up on a regular basis. The athleticism is terrific at all three spots with great young players to get excited about and promising depth. It could take a little while but the disruption will be there once the starting three finds its groove.
Unit Rating: 5.5
Larry Porter is gone after making a team-leading seven picks, but the secondary gets back Leon McFadden, an all-star, shutdown cover-corner who finished with 46 tackles with two picks and 15 broken up passes. At 5-10 and 185 pounds he’s not huge, but he’s physical and able to come up with stops in the open field. However, his real talent shines through when the ball is in the air with outstanding recovery skills and great speed. The former wide receiver can do it all and is good enough to stay away from after making 27 broken up passes over the last few seasons. He’ll give up big plays from time to time – he struggled in the bowl loss to Louisiana-Lafayette – but he’ll win his share of battles.
Trying to take over for Parker on the other side is senior Josh Wade, a spot starter two years ago who made 26 tackles with a pick and three broken up passes. Just when it looked like he was ready to take another big step forward and become a major factor in the secondary in some way, he ruptured his Achilles tendon and was out for the year. Now the 6-0, 185-pound senior is back and should make plenty of big plays. If he struggles with his healthy, 6-1, 160-pound sophomore Mahbu Keels will step in. With great speed, he should be able to stay with anyone in the Mountain West, but he’s not built to make any big hits.
Back at the Aztec position after moving around a bit is junior Nat Berhe, who went from being a nice spot starter to a steady producer finishing third on the team with 67 tackles including ten in the bowl game. Extremely quick and with a nose for the ball, he’s also smart and in the right position. Consider it a shock if he’s not one of the team’s top tacklers and an all-star.
5-10, 185-pound junior Rene Siluano made 36 tackles with a pick, and now he’s going to be given the first look at one of the starting Warrior spots. Very smart and very fast, he’s great at getting around the ball and should start to do far more on pass plays when the ball is in the air. Also in the rotation will be 5-10, 185-pound junior Gabe Lemon, a starter throughout the season and a key special teamer making 33 tackles with a pick and four broken up passes. He’ll find a spot somewhere in the rotation.
Junior Eric Pinkins is a big 6-3, 205-pound hitter for the other Warrior position making 27 tackles coming on strong late in the year. With his size and his ability to pop he should be an intimidating force as he gets more and more work; he’ll be used like another linebacker. 6-0, 190-pound junior Marcus Andrews made 21 tackles turning into a key starter. A veteran who brings a little bit of pop, he knows what he’s doing at any of the safety spots and should see time in dime packages.
Watch Out For … the Warrior positions. Andrews and Lemon were the main starters by the end of the year, but they’re going to be pushed hard by Pinkins and Siluano, who could take over the jobs and never let them go.
Strength: McFadden. There’s speed at all the spots and plenty of options, but it all works around McFadden, the solid veteran who could be the Mountain West’s best cover corner. If he can take away one side of the field, or at least the No. 1 opposing receiver, the rest of the secondary will have things much easier.
Weakness: The better passing teams - and even some of the mediocre ones. The Aztecs gave up 336 yards or more in three of the final four games and gave up two scoring passes or more in seven games. The teams that didn’t throw for a scoring pass – other than Michigan – didn’t throw against anyone.
Outlook: The five defensive back scheme will be positive if the pass rush helps the cause. Losing Porter is a problem, but the Aztecs are loaded at safety and Wade should be a good second corner on the other side of McFadden if he’s healthy. The team has to be better against the teams that can throw, but overall this group should turn out to be fine.
Unit Rating: 5.5
Gone is kicker Abelrado Perez, who nailed just 6-of-15 kicks. In comes JUCO transfer Wes Feer, a punter who can also bring a big leg on field goals. Perez had a decent leg but missed too many makeable kicks. As long as Feer is steady, he’ll be a big improvement.
Gone is punter Brian Stahovich and his 43.8 yard average and terrific ability to hang the ball up high. In steps sophomore Joel Alesi, a 6-0, 240-pound bomber with a great leg and good potential. He might not be Stahovich, but he should be able to bang away for well over 40 yards per kick.
Top receiver Colin Lockett had a nice year on kickoff returns, averaging 21.9 yards per try with a touchdown. He had his moments, but he needs to be more consistent, while star corner Leon McFadden has to come up with more pop after averaging 5.8 yards per try.
Watch Out For … Alesi. As good as Stahovich was, he also struggled a bit with touchbacks and outkicked his coverage a bit too often. Alesi could be a bomber while also being a big more accurate.
Strength: The returners. McFadden is too quick and too good not to start doing more for the punt return game, while Lockett has the raw speed to add more consistent flash to the kickoff return game.
Weakness: Coverage teams. They were awful and need a ton of work. The Aztecs allowed a whopping 24.5 yards per kickoff return and gave up ten yards per punt return. They lost the field position time and again.
Outlook: The San Diego State special teams have been awful when it comes to kick and punt coverage over the last few years, while the returners have been mediocre to be kind. With two new kickers and help needed across the board, the special teams are a major question mark.
Unit Rating: 4.5
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