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New Mexico State Preview 2006 - Defense
New Mexico State Aggies
Posted Aug 9, 2006

New Mexico State Aggies Preview 2006 - NMSU Defense

What you need to know ... Much was made about the problems on offense last year, but the bigger issues were with a defense that finished second-to-last in America (ahead of only Northwestern) allowing 480 points along with 39 points per game. Step one has to be to generate a pass rush after coming up with only seven sacks last year. You don't have a chance in the WAC if you can't stop the pass, so the corners have to be far better and there has to be far more than seven interceptions. There's enough size and experience to hope for the 3-4 to be better against the run after getting shoved around for 216 yards per game. 

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Eric Carrie, 80
Sacks: Brandon McKinney, 2
Interceptions: Courtney Bryan, 2

Star of the defense: Junior SS Eric Carrie
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Maurice Murray
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Shauna Leaupepe
Best pro prospect: Sophomore CB Jared McCullar
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Carrie, 2) CB Courtney Bryan, 3) Leaupepe
Strength of the defense: Size up front
Weakness of the defense:
Proven production, pass rush

Defensive Line
The front three did nothing, absolutely nothing last season. There was no pass rush whatsoever and got shoved around against the run despite a decent amount of overall size. Enough experience returns to expect more overall production with the ends needing the help the D generate more than nine sacks and help get running games to under 200 yards per outing.
The key to the unit: Be better at everything, especially getting into the backfield and hitting the quarterback.

Defensive Line Rating: 4

Projected Starters
- DE Maurice Murray, Jr.
The JUCO transfer never got on the field last year, but now he's supposed to be a difference maker at left end. He's a tackle-sized 6-3 and 280 pounds with decent moves.

- NG Jeremy Weeks, Sr. - 19 tackles, 1 TFL
The former tight end played in nine games on the defensive side learning on the fly at nose guard. Now he'll get the full-time job and needs to be a run-stuffer. At 6-2 and 285 pounds, he's the team's biggest lineman.

- DE Jared Naylor, Sr. - 18 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL
Part tackle, part end, the 278-pound senior is experienced one the right side and was one of the few veterans up front starting last season. He could move to the nose if needed.

Top Backups
- DE/LB Brandon McKinney, Soph. - 33 tackles, 2 sacks, 8 TFL, 2 broken up passes
McKinney needs to add a pass rush to the line. The former end turned linebacker turned end should be a quick option at right end behind Jared Naylor. He could end up moving back to linebacker.
- DE Syler Sargent, Jr. - 27 tackles, 3 TFL
Undersized for his more natural tackle position, the former walk-on will see time in the rotation at left end behind Maurice Murray
- NG Polo Gutierrez, Soph. - 14 tackles
An offensive lineman by trade, Gutierrez learned the defensive side last year and was decent in the tackle rotation. He's 276 pounds and strong on the inside.

Gone is Jimmy Cottrell and his 179 tackles in the middle, but there's plenty of returning experience and enough depth for a few options at several spots. There isn't a rock like Cottrell to count on, so several very young players like Shauna Leaupepe and La'Auli Fonoti will have to step up right away. As a group, there has to be more big plays and more production against the run.
The key to the unit: More overall production and a threat of a pass rush from the outside.
Linebacker Rating: 4.5

Projected Starters
- Tim McManigal, Sr. - 36 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 broken up passes
A spot starter last year, the 222-pound senior will start at the hybrid of middle linebacker and defensive lineman at the Wanda position. He spent the last three seasons as an outside linebacker and special teamer and now will be used as a pass rusher. He should be one of the team's leading tacklers.

- Shauna Leaupepe, Soph.
It'll be up to the former transfer to replace the 179 tackles in the middle left by Jimmy Cottrell. At 235 pounds, Leaupepe is a good-sized tackler who should be around the 100-stop mark with everything funneling in through him. He was fantastic on the scout team last season.

- La'Auli Fonoti, Soph. - 8 tackles
The tight end will move over the linebacker full-time bringing his athleticism and good size to the outside. He's 225 pounds and quick.

- Jamar Cotton, RFr.
Cotton will looking to be a playmaking pass rusher on the right outside position. He's only 6-0 and 215 pounds, but he's fast enough to be a disruptive force.

Top Backups
- Michael Hernishin, Soph. - 19 tackles, 3 TFL
Good enough to start inside if needed, the 238-pound sophomore will push for time behind Shauna Leaupepe in in the middle. The former JUCO transfer is a sure, solid tackler.
- Michael Brewer, Jr. - 9 tackles
Originally used an undersized, speedy defensive end, the 220-pound experienced junior will play behind La'Auli Fonoti on the left side.
- Nathanial Nuttall, Sr. - 25 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFL
Nuttal turned into a top reserve linebacker after moving over from safety. He's a quick defender on the outside with good experience behind Jamar Cotton on the right side.

Defensive Backs
The secondary went into the tank after a decent 2004 mainly because the corners were awful. No one made big plays and coming up with any sort of a stop was next to impossible. There's not enough overall talent to be a rock of a pass defense, but there's enough experience to hope for a little bit of improvement after allowing 264 yards per game. The big loss is at safety losing Matt Griebel and his 149 tackles, but replacement Cole Marton is a faster defender.
The key to the unit: More interceptions, more big plays on third downs, and better overall pass coverage.
Secondary Rating: 4

Projected Starters
- CB Courtney Bryan, Sr. - 38 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 interceptions, 11 broken up passes
Bryan grew into one of the team's only productive pass defenders leading the way in broken up passes and interceptions. He's decent-sized, experienced corner with good quickness on the right side.

- FS Cole Marton, Sr. - 10 tackles
It'll be up to the former JUCO transfer to replace the 149 tackles and nine broken up passes from Matt Griebel. While he's no where near the tackling machine that Griebel was, he should be even better in pass coverage adding more speed.

- SS Eric Carrie, Jr. - 80 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 interception, 7 broken up passes
Carrie turned into the team's third best tackler last year and became a consistent playmaker against the run as one of the last lines of defense. He's a compact 5-9 and 200 pounds who provides some pop on his hits.

- CB
Alex Bernard, Jr. - 39 tackles, 2 interceptions
Bernard is a high school receiver who's finally getting the hang of corner. He struggled last year on deep passes, but now he has enough experience to make more big plays. He's a decent tackler.

Top Backups
- CB Gill Byrd, 15 tackles
It's all about quickness for the 5-9, 160-pound senior. He has been a decent kick returner in the past and a spot starter at corner. He'll play behind Alex Bernard on the left side.
- FS Joey Vincent, Sr.
Vincent spent last year battling with Royal Gill for the starting quarterback job throwing for 1,219 yards and six touchdowns with 12 interceptions. He also finished second on the team in rushing, and now will bring that quickness to the secondary. He can move back to quarterback in an emergency.
- CB Jared McCullar, Soph. - 13 tackles
One of the team's fastest players, the 6-2, 186-pound sophomore is also the team's biggest corner. He'll battle all year for playing time on the right side behind Courtney Bryan.

Special Teams
The kicking game will see enough competition to eventually find two new starters who can get the job done. However, it'll be hard for the Aggies to finish sixth in the nation in punting against with Brad Evans gone. PK Matt Pratt and P Jared Kaufman have big legs, but they're hardly locks to have their respective jobs on opening day. WR A.J. Harris will handle the kickoff returns to start, while Chris Williams will look to add more to the punt return game after the Aggie averaged 4.2 yards per try.
Special Teams Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- PK Matt Pratt, Soph.
Pratt, a JUCO transfer, will battle with Mike Harnett to replace Conor Foley, who only his six of 12 field goal attempts.
- P Jared Kaufman, Jr.
Kaufman and Rod Carson will be in a fight for the starting job all season long to replace the solid Brad Evans and his 41.8-yard average.

Related Stories
New Mexico State Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
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New Mexico St Preview 2006 Further Analysis
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New Mexico State Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by  Aug 9, 2006

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