What you need to know ...
The defense had a hard time coming up with consistent
production last season, but it should be better with eight
returning starters and a great cornerback combination in Terrell
Maze and Donny Baker. Overall, better run defense is a must
after finishing next-to-last in the Mountain West allowing 185
yards per game. End Antwan Applewhite is one of the Mountain
West's best pass rushers, but the defense needs to produce more
than the 17 sacks of last year. The linebacking corps could
quickly turn into something special if Andrew Shantz shines as
the new starter in the group.
Tackles: Reggie Grisgsby, 90
Sacks: Antwan Applewhite, 5.5
Interceptions: Terrelll Maze, Brett Storm, 3
Star of the defense: Senior CB Terrell Maze
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DT
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Andrew Schantz
Best pro prospect: Maze
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Maze, 2) DE Antwan
Applewhite, 3) CB Donny Baker
Strength of the defense: Cornerback
Weakness of the defense:
Proven pass rush from someone other than Applewhite
This could be a sneaky-good line if another
pass rusher develops to help out Antwan Applewhite. Jonathan Bailes is a
nice tackle to build around, while JUCO transfer Frederick Amano has to
be a rock against the run. Nick Osborn has the experience as a tackle,
and now he has to prove he can be a consistent pass rusher. The depth is
young, but has a little bit of experience.
The key to the unit: The rest of the line has to be
effective enough to take heat off of Antwan Applewhite. .
Defensive Line Rating: 5
- DE Antwan Applewhite, Jr. - 56 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 8.5
TFL, 2 broken up passes, 3 recovered fumbles
Applewhite went from being a pure pass rushing specialist to a great
all-around end who earned honorable mention All-Mountain West honors.
He's a fast 6-3 and 235 pounds who's great at getting around the corner
with excellent finishing ability.
- NT Jonathan Bailes, Sr. - 38 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4.5 TFL
Bailes was expected to grow into the rock of the line last year, and he
didn't disappoint with his best year yet against the run. Despite
dealing with constant double teams, he was a steady tackler and showed
enough quickness to occasionally get into the backfield. This is his
fourth year as a starter and he should start to receiver more
- DT Frederick Amano, Jr.
The JUCO transfer brings size up front. At 6-3 and 300 pounds, he'll be
expected to shine right away as a big clogger in the middle next to
Jonathan Bailes with the strength to play nose or tackle.
- DE Nick Osborn, Jr. - 47 tackles, 2 sacks, 3.5 TFL
Osborn has to take advantage of playing on the other side of Antwan
Applewhite. At 255 pounds, he's the team's biggest defensive end option
and is a solid athlete. He's strong enough to play tackle, which he did
for all 12 games last year, and now he has to show off his pass rushing
- DT Jonathan Soto. Soph. - 11 tackles
Undersized at only 265 pounds, but tough, Soto started as a true
freshman late in the year and was a consistent reserve in the rotation.
He wasn't able to do anything in the backfield, but he has the quickness
to grow into an interior pass rusher.
- DE Siaosi Fifita, Soph. - 10 tackles
Fifita had a nice true freshman season showing good promise on the end.
He's a tall, linebacker-like end with good strength. Now he needs to
prove he can get into the backfield.
- DE Kwan Howard, Sr. - 3 tackles
Part linebacker, part defensive end, the 215-pound senior hasn't been
able to see the field as anything more than a special teamer. With his
quickness and athleticism, he needs to be a factor behind Antwan
The linebacking corps was a pleasant surprise after losing
Kirk Morrison, Matt McCoy and Heath Farwell. This year it has to
overcome the loss of leading tackler Freddy Keiaho, but starters Russell
Allen and Joe Martin return along with rising star Andrew Schantz on the
strongside. There's decent depth led by undersized, but productive,
The key to the unit: Get in the backfield. Last year
the linebacking corps was just trying to keep its head above water. Now
it has the experience to start being more productive.
Linebacker Rating: 6
- Russell Allen, Soph. - 61 tackles, 2 interception
Allen does a little bit of everything well on the weakside. He has a
very nice true freshman season finishing sixth on the team in tackles
showing good quickness and the toughness of a middle linebacker. He's a
pure tackler who should be in the hunt for all-star honors over the next
- Joe Martin, Sr. - 81 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception, 4 TFL
The former walk-on created a role for himself as a strong backup early
in his career, and then he did a little of everything last season
finishing third on the team in tackles earning honorable mention
All-Mountain West honors. He saw time at all three linebacking positions
last season and grew into the leader of the defensive front seven after
the loss of stars Kirk Morrison and Matt McCoy.
- Andrew Schantz, Soph. - 29 tackles, 4 TFL
The high-motor sophomore is the newcomer to the starting linebacker mix.
He saw time in every game as a redshirt freshman. With defensive back
speed in a 6-2, 235-pound body, he should emerge as a top tackler..
- Brett Martin, Jr. - 30 tackles, 1 interception, 2.5 TFL
Martin has the talent and intensity, but he doesn't have the size at
only 6-0 and 215 pounds. Even so, he proved to be a strong reserve
weakside defender last season with the potential to be a good starter if
- Marc Hill, Jr.
Hill has been a special-teamer so far, but he ahs too much speed and
potential not to be used on defense. He'll combined with Trevor
Parrington on the strongside.
The Aztec secondary was excellent at times last season
finishing 22nd in the nation in pass efficiency defense and second in
the Mountain West in pass defense. Three starters return including the
ultra-productive corner combination of Terrell Maze and Donny Baker. The
one big loss is at one of the safety spots with Marcus Demps to be
replaced by the combination of Brett Sturm and T.J. McKay. The big
problem is with experience at backup corner, but the redshirt freshmen
The key to the unit: Make even more big plays. This was a
ball-hawking group last year, and now it should be dangerous.
Secondary Rating: 7.5
- CB Terrell Maze, Sr. - 59 tackles, 3 interceptions, 3
TFL, 12 broken up passes, 2 forced fumbles
An honorable mention All-Mountain West performer last season, Maze will
be in the hunt for bigger things this year now that he has a reputation.
He's great with the ball in the air with excellent makeup speed and
great open-field tackling ability. He's can be a number one cover-corner
against any receiver in the Mountain West.
- LS Brett Sturm, Sr. - 26 tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 broken up
The former quarterback has grown into a nice defender. He was the top
reserve behind Marcus Demps and ended up making big plays whenever he
was on the field finishing third on the team in interceptions. He's a
good special teamer who should grow into one of the team's top tacklers.
- RS Reggie Grigsby, Sr. - 90 tackles, 1 interception, 3 broken
up passes, 1 TFL
He was a superstar recruit for the program a few years ago, and he
played like it last year. While he's average against the pass, he's a
whale of a tackler finishing second on the team last season and seventh
in the Mountain West on his way to honorable mention All-Mountain West
- CB Donnie Baker, Sr. - 60 tackles, 1 interception, 12 broken up
passes, 2 TFL
While not all that big at 5-9 and 165 pound, he has great ball skills
with 25 broken up passes over the last two seasons thanks to his
outstanding speed. While he's not a big hitter, he's a good tackler and
is a willing run defender.
- LS T.J. McKay, Soph. - 19 tackles, 1 interception,
1 broken up pass
McKay isn't a big safety at 6-0 and 195 pounds, but he proved he can
play showing nice range as a backup free safety. He wasn't able to show
what he can do this spring after undergoing surgery for a shoulder
injury, but he should be in the hunt for a starting job on the left side
when he returns.
- CB Kwincy Edwards, RFr.
While only 160 pounds,
Edwards has next-level speed and is a good hitter. He'll push for time
behind Terrell Maze.
It'll be a shock if the kicking game isn't among the best
in the nation with placekicker Garrett
Palmer and punter Michael Hughes coming off huge seasons. The big
question is in the return game needing to replace Michael Franklin, but
he was mediocre last year. The coverage units could stand to be
The key to the unit: More is needed from a kickoff return
game that averaged a mere 16.4 yards per try.
Special Tams Rating: 8
- PK Garrett Palmer, Soph. 15-17 FGs, 36-38 extra points
Palmer got much, much better going from hitting 12 of 21 field goals in
2004 to 15 of 17 kicks last year including four of five from beyond 40
yards. He doesn't have the biggest leg around, but it's good enough from
inside 50 yards.
- P Michael Hughes, Jr. - 67 punts, 3,003 yds, 44.8 yards per
kick, 19 inside the 20
One of the league's best punters while also a reliable backup
placekicker, Hughes has a huge leg upping his game in a big way going
from averaging 38 yards per kick in 2005 to 44.8 yards per boot last
year. He went from being a liability to a weapon helping the Aztecs
finish first in the Mountain West in net punting.