2013 San Diego State Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - San Diego State Aztec Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Rocky Long is one whale of a defensive coach. The head man took over the coordinator job a few years ago, and the results came through last season leading the Mountain West against the run and allowing a paltry 369 total yards per game. The front six of the 3-3-5 alignment should be terrific with everyone returning to the smallish, athletic front three and Jake Fely and Derek Largent two devastating pass rushing linebackers. The safeties will be a strength with Nat Berhe one of the league's best hitters, but the cornerback situation is a question mark with untested, smallish options working around King Holder. The whole will be better than the sum, but it's an athletic whole.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Jake Fely
Tackles: Nat Berhe, 94
Sacks: Jake Fely, 7
Interceptions: Eric Pinkins, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior CB King Holder
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Pierre Romain
Best pro prospect: Junior LB Derek Largent
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Fely, 2) S Nat Berhe, 3) LB Derek Largent
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, Pass Rushing Linebackers
Weakness of the defense: Cornerback, Steady Pass Defense
The entire front three is back after a terrific year, anchored by 6-4, 275-pound junior Sam Meredith, who beefed up over the last few years after working as an undersized interior presence and using his quickness to make plays. Last season he was stronger against the run with 36 tackles with a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss. He has the talent and athleticism to get into the backfield as an interior pass rusher from time to time, but it's his job to hold firm against the run. He'll be backed up by another quick nose tackle, 6-1, 270-pound sophomore Kenny Galea'i, a nice prospect who could work on the end if needed.
6-3, 265-pound junior Cody Galea went from being a linebacker-sized pass rusher to a stronger end making 22 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. A great tackler and a mauler, he plays bigger than his size and is great at occupying blockers. Junior Dontrell Onuoha is an even better athlete with 6-2, 265-pound size and great quickness off the ball, but he can't stay healthy playing in only four games last season making nine tackles after having back problems in 2011.
Senior Jordan Thomas is a terrific athlete with great speed and the talent to do far more now that he's more than a year past an Achilles heel injury. He only made 18 tackles with a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss, but he needs to be better at getting to the quarterback on a regular basis. 6-2, 265-pound sophomore Jon Sanchez was a good recruit with a world of upside as a pass rusher, and he showed he could be a nice part of the rotation with 21 tackles with two tackles for loss with a broken up pass.
Watch Out For … Dakota Turner and Jordan Watson, two excellent end recruits who fit the Aztec 3-4 scheme. The 6-5, 255-pound Watson is a speed rusher from Chicago who came up with 15 sacks and 30 tackles for loss as a high school senior, while the 6-3, 245-pound Turner steps in from Hawaii after working as a linebacker and tight end in his high school career.
Strength: Holding up. This is a quick, tough line that doesn't quite put up the big stats it should considering the athleticism, but it holds up well against the run and doesn't get shoved. Considering this is a linebacker-sized group, allowing 133 rushing yards per game isn't bad.
Weakness: Raw bulk. It didn't really matter all that much last season, but the lack of a massive space-eater could potentially be an issue. Meredith is the heavyweight, and he had to work hard to get to 275 pounds. It would be nice if there was a 300-pound monster to work around.
Outlook: Somehow, it all works. Rocky Long and defensive line coach Osia Lewis have a great group of veterans with three solid starters back from a line that did a great job against the run and has the athleticism to swarm around the ball. There might not be any all-stars – Meredith is close – but the whole is better than the sum.
Unit Rating: 7
The stars of the Aztec defense are at linebacker led by junior Jake Fely, a 5-10, 210-pound hitting machine who came up second on the team with 90 tackles with a team-leading seven sacks with 11.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. While he's woefully undersized, he's very fast, very durable and shot out of a cannon when he has to get into the backfield. Even so, at his size in the middle he needs to be a part of a rotation. 6-2, 220-pound junior Josh Gavert is a slightly bigger option with the talent to come up with a big year somewhere in the corps, if he's not in the middle, after making 24 tackles with two sacks and four tackles for loss. Like Fely, he's a pass rusher with great athleticism and range.
Also back is junior Derek Largent, a 6-4, 235-pound JUCO transfer from El Camino CC who was exactly what the defense needed with 61 tackles with 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss with two interceptions. Built like a smaller version of the Aztec defensive ends, he's a pass rusher who swarms around the ball and is excellent in dropping into pass coverage. A former receiver, he brings the athleticism to the linebacking corps, while 6-2, 220-pound senior Jacob Driver is a veteran backup who came up with nine tackles working mostly as a special teamer.
6-2, 225-pound senior Nick Tenhaeff was a great high school running back who blew off USC, Cal and other Pac-12 teams turning into a decent linebacker following up a 47-tackle sophomore season with 52 tackles with three sacks and a team-leading 13 tackles for loss. Very quick and very active, he's always working to get to the ball with the upside to be one of the team's top tacklers. 6-2, 255-pound senior Vaness Harris is the team's biggest linebacker option and one of the most experienced making 31 tackles with three sacks and six tackles for loss. The former wide receiver has the speed to go along with the hitting ability.
Watch Out For … Calvin Munson. The Aztecs only brought in one true linebacker prospect, but he's a hitter. Munson came up with 193 tackles and nine sacks for his Missouri high school with huge hitting ability and a world of upside for the interior. He wasn't a big recruit, but he'll eventually lead the team in tackles.
Strength: Hitters. Fely and Largent are two of the best pass rushing linebackers in the Mountain West, and Tenhaeff and Harris can fly into the backfield, too. The Aztec linebacker will make play after play behind the line.
Weakness: Bulk in the interior. The linebacking corps has beefed up a bit, and Largent and Harris have decent size, but Fely is a smallish 210 pounds and is too valuable to be out of the mix for any stretch of time. It would be nice if the 255-pounder was in the middle, but that's not the design of the D.
Outlook: The linebacking corps that was such a concern going into last season has grown into a major plus and one of the best in the Mountain West. There's depth, experience, speed and hitting ability, and while it would be nice if there was a bit more size, this veteran group won't have any problems holding up.
Unit Rating: 7.5
The secondary loses a superstar in corner Leon McFadden and has to replace Josh Wade on the other side, but the defense is loaded at safety led by all-star Nat Berhe, a 5-10, 190-pound senior at the Aztec position making a team-leading 94 tackles with two picks and five broken up passes. While he's not huge, he's a big popper with a nose for the ball and the smarts to be the quarterback of the talented secondary. Really, really quick, it always seems like he's in the right position highlighted by a 15 tackle game against Nevada with 14 stops against Army and 12 against Air Force.
6-0, 190-pound senior Marcus Andrews is back at one safety spot – the Warrior – after making 27 tackles with a pick and four broken up passes. A veteran who brings a little bit of pop, he knows what he's doing and is solid against the run, but he needs to be steadier when the ball is in the air and he has to pick off more passes. Also back is 6-3, 215-pound senior Eric Pinkins at the other Warrior stop after finishing third on the team with 65 tackles with three picks and two sacks and seven tackles for loss. A huge defender and a great hitter who gets all over the field doing a variety of big things, he was consistent throughout the season and great at coming up with the key play with a pick six against Fresno State and nine tackles against Nevada.
5-10, 180-pound senior Rene Siluano is a good veteran behind Andrews making 30 tackles with a pick. Very smart and very fast, he produces whenever he gets into the mix, while 5-10, 195-pound senior Gabe Lemon is a spot starter who can fill in just about anywhere in the secondary while also working as a strong special teamer. He made 32 tackles with a sack and two broken up passes after coming up with 33 stops two years ago.
Corner is going to be a problem early on needing 5-10, 165-pound junior King Holder to rise up in place of McFadden after making 33 tackles with a pick and five broken up passes. He has the experience and the blazing speed, but he's a wisp who'll get pushed around even though he's a willing tackler. Even smaller is 5-8, 165-pound sophomore Pierre Romain, a Los Angeles native with track star speed and good upside. He made ten tackles in his limited time, but he has to hold up with the bigger targets and has to prove he can produce and come up with a few big plays when he gets his chances. They'll both be pushed by 6-1, 170-pound new recruit Kalan Montgomery, one of the team's top pickups with phenomenal wheels and great size and upside. He can hit, run and do it all – he might be too good to keep off the field.
Watch Out For … Marcus Stamps, one of the team's best recruits among a slew of good incoming defensive backs. However, there's one problem – the 6-1, 195-pounder might turn into a whale of a running back. A great all-around back in high school, he was dangerous as both a runner and a receiver while also finishing his career with 238 tackles with 17 sacks.
Strength: Safety. The position is a big key in the 4-2-5 alignment, and there are three fantastic ones in Berhe, Pinkins and Andrews who can all hit and all get around the ball. This is a good-sized group that works like a smallish group of linebackers.
Weakness: Consistency. The secondary was ripped to shreds by Fresno State, North Dakota and Nevada, but the stats look better than they actually were thanks to dealing with Army, Hawaii, Air Force and others who couldn't throw.
Outlook: The pass rush and the front six are good enough to help out the back five. The corners aren't big, but they're quick and they need a little time. The safeties will have to help pick up the slack and need to do more to help out the green corners.
Unit Rating: 6
Gone is Chance Marden, who hit 10-of-14 field goals, and now it'll be up to senior Wes Feer, a former JUCO transfer who came in as a punter and has the leg to bomb away from deep. He has to prove he can be as steady as Marden from midrange, but he'll hit a 50-yarder now and then. The punting game was mediocre even though sophomore Seamus McMorrow averaged 41.7 yards per try putting 13 inside the 20. He didn't come up with too many big blasts with just 13 of 50 yards or more.
The Aztecs have a superstar kickoff returner in receiver Colin Lockett, who averaged 25.9 yards with touchdowns against Army and a game-changer against Boise State. Fellow receiver Tim Vizzi was okay on punt returns averaging 7.3 yards per try, and he'll work with Lockett as a kickoff returner.
Watch Out For … the kicking game. McMorrow could get a shot at the placekicking gig if Feer struggles, but the former JUCO transfer has the leg to be fine. McMorrow has bigger range.
Strength: The returners. SDSU has been solid in the return game for the last few years and have a killer in Lockett. Vizzi is steady enough to do more.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. The Aztecs finished 23rd in the nation in kickoff returns averaging 23.9 yards per pop thanks to Lockett, but the coverage team always gave it right back allowing 24.4 yards per try. The coverage team has to be far tighter after a few years of struggling.
Outlook: As long as Feer does the job he was brought in to do last year, and is solid at it, the special teams should be fine. Lockett is one of the best kick returners in the nation, and McMorrow has the leg to be a much stronger punter.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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