New Mexico State
Preview 2007 - Defense
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What you need to know:
big plays, big plays. The call has gone out from defensive
coordinator Woody Widenhofer for the defense to use all its
experience, with eight returning starters (with safety Gerald
Gurrier moving to receiver) to find a way to force more
turnovers, come up with more stops on third downs, and most
importantly, generate a pass rush. The Aggies came up with a
mere 15 sacks and 55 tackles for loss last year, and those
numbers need to double to give the beleaguered secondary any
shot of being better. There isn't a whole bunch of talent from
top to bottom, so everyone will have to be ultra-aggressive and
Derrick Richardson, 71
Ray Manumaleuna, Brandon McKinney, 2
Interceptions: Alex Bernard, Derrick Richardson, 2
Star of the defense: Junior FS Derrick Richardson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior LB
Unsung star on the rise: Senior LB Dante Floyd
Best pro prospect: Senior NG Ray Manumaleuna
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Richardson, 2) Floyd, 3)
Strength of the defense: Experience
Weakness of the defense:
Production. pass rush
Projected Starters: The pass rush has to be better, and it has
to start from the front three (or four if you're counting the hybrid
linebacker/end the Aggies use). 290-pound junior Brandon McKinney
was an end, became a linebacker, and then started ten games on the end
making 16 tackles, two sacks and three tackles for loss. He has to be
far more active again after making 33 stops as a sophomore.
The pressure is also on senior Maurice Murray, a promising 6-3,
290-pound defender who made 24 tackles. The problem is his pass rush
ability; there isn't any. He's more like a natural tackle playing on the
end, but the JUCO transfer worked on his moves this spring and should be
a bit more effective at getting into the backfield.
On the nose will be 6-3, 310-pound Ray Manumaleuna, a true anchor
who wasn't bad in the rotation with 11 tackles and two sacks. He slimmed
down a bit and should grow into an effective interior pass rusher, but
his main role will be to plug the middle against the run.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-2, 280-pound senior
Jared Naylor has plenty of experience making 18 tackles as a junior
in 2005 and 32 in 2004, but ended up sitting out last year. While not a
pure pass rusher, and more of a tackle, he'll see time on the left side
Backing up Murray on the right side will be 280-pound senior Skyler
Sargent, a former walk-on who made 14 tackles and three tackles for
loss. While not all that athletic, he's experienced enough to step in
and provide decent depth.
Looking to help stop things up on the inside is 6-7, 340-pound senior
Mark Pole, a former offensive lineman who made ten tackles last
season. He started to play well over the second half of last season and
will be a key part of the rotation.
Watch Out For ... the line to do everything humanly
possible to get into the backfield. This group did absolutely nothing
last year to apply any pressure.
Strength: Size. It's a line of all tackles with
the beef to do far more against the run than it has over the last
several years. However ...
Weakness: It's a line of all tackles with almost
no real athleticism to get excited about. Just because the coaching
staff is trying to get this group to turn into pass rushers, that
doesn't mean it's going to happen.
Outlook: With three returning starters and three
veteran backups, there's no reason the line can't do something
right. Whether it's stopping the run or making plays behind the line,
there has to be something the front three can hang its hat on.
Projected Starters: In the desperate search for finding a pass
rush, the hope will be for 6-2, 230-pound senior Kramer Winningham
to help the cause at the hybrid of linebacker and defensive end.
Only a special teamer and reserve so far, with just three tackles last
year, he needs to shine right away in place of tackling machine Tim
Back in the middle is 232-pound senior Dante Floyd, who made 66
tackles last year and six tackles for loss. The former JUCO transfer is
a tough hitter who should be one of the team's leading stat-sheet
fillers as he takes over a bigger role in the defense.
On the outside will be junior La'Auli Fonoti and senior
Michael Brewer, who'll each be required to get into the backfield on
a regular basis. Fonoti, on the left side, made 38 tackles last season
with three tackles for loss, but he has the potential to double those
numbers. At 6-4 and 250 pounds, he should be tougher against the run.
Brewer, at 6-2 and 224 pounds, is more of a speed defender. Originally
considered a smallish defensive end coming from the JUCO ranks, he made
16 tackles as a reserve.
Projected Top Reserves: Somehow, somewhere, senior
Mike Hernishin will find a spot somewhere on the field after
making 28 tackles and six tackles for loss in six games before being
lost of the year with a knee injury. The 245-pounder is a pure middle
linebacker who is one of the team's surest, most solid tacklers who
needs to get healthy first.
Battling for time on the outside is sophomore Jamar Cotton, who
was mostly a special teamer last year making five tackles. He's a good
athlete who'll get every shot at winning the job on the right side
working behind Brewer. If he can turn into a consistent pass rusher, the
job is his.
On the way is top recruit,
Jeff Lucas, a 215-pound playmaker and leader who'll eventually
be a playmaker on the outside. While he might be a big undersized, and
might be better as a smallish inside defender early on, he'll be tough
to keep out of the lineup.
Watch Out For ... the outside linebackers to be
turned loose, almost at the expense of trying to stop the run. The
Aggies have to be more disruptive, and that starts with making more big
plays and trying to force more turnovers. That'll be the job of the
Strength: Options. There's good size, decent
quickness, and enough developed depth to create a nice rotation at all
Weakness: Playmakers. Losing Tim McManigal and
Nathan Huttal hurts, and there's no apparent sure-thing defender ready
to pick up the slack. There are plenty of defenders who can make
tackles, but will they be meaningful? Too many plays are made down the
field instead of at the line.
Outlook: The linebacking corps will be a work in
progress. There will be plenty of stat-sheet fillers by default, but
there aren't any All-WAC caliber performers, at least not after spring
ball. Dante Floyd will be fine in the middle, and the outside
linebackers could be fine once the coaching staff figures out the right
rotation, but it could take a few games.
Projected Starters: The secondary has to generate more big
plays, and that stars with the corners. Senior Alex Bernard made
50 tackles, two interceptions and broke up nine passes, and now he has
to play like a true number one. The former high school receiver has been
a solid tackler from day one, considering he's only 5-8 and 185 pounds,
but he has way too many consistency issues when the ball is in the air.
Senior Cole Marton will man the other side after coming to NMSU
from the JUCO ranks as a corner, was going to be moved to safety, and
now will be back at corner. He made one tackle in the first game of the
year, got hurt, and missed the rest of the season. He's a good hitter
with enough speed to be a difference maker.
With Gerald Gernier moving from safety to receiver, the door is open for
6-3, 220-pound redshirt freshman Kenny Evora to take over at
strong safety and be a fixture for the next four years. A big hitter and
good athlete, he's ready to make a big impact and should be one of the
team's top tacklers.
Junior Derrick Richardson is back at free safety after finishing
second on the team with 71 tackles to co along with two interceptions
and three fumble recoveries. He's the rising star of the secondary with
tremendous athleticism and range, but now he has to start making more
plays against the pass and not just against the run.
Projected Top Reserves: Along with Marton at the
right corner slot will be senior Marvin Betts, a decent reserve
who made 16 tackles and broke up three passes. With terrific speed, he
can hang with most WAC receivers, but he's not a ball-hawk.
Pushing for time at left corner will be true freshman Alphonso Powell.
He's smallish at 5-9 and 171 pounds, but he's extremely quick with the
type of playmaking potential the secondary sorely needs.
Watch Out For ... an emphasis placed on making more
big plays. The Aggies picked off just 14 passes last year and didn't do
nearly enough on third downs. That has to change to have any shot
against the league's better teams.
Strength: Tackling. This might not be that great a
group against the pass, but they can make the tackles when needed in the
Weakness: Defending the pass. That's sort of a
problem for a secondary. Short, long, mid-range, whatever quarterbacks
want to throw, they've been able to make plays against this group.
Outlook: The secondary has gotten absolutely no
help whatsoever from the front seven. USC's secondary would've had a
difficult time with the lack of pass rush generated by the Aggie front.
All the this group has to do is be a little better than last year when
it allowed 233 yards per game and was 111th in the nation in pass
Projected Starters: The Aggie special teams will be a major
strength if the kicking game can be more productive. Junior Matt
Pratt only hit three of eight attempts, but four were blocked. He
has a decent leg, with range around 45 yards in the right conditions,
but he needs to be able to get his kicks off. All the blocks weren't his
fault. A big plus is senior punter Jared Kaufman, who average
41.8 yards per kick and put eight inside the 20 and only put it in the
end zone one. The Aggies finished sixth in the nation, and first in the
WAC, in net punting.
Watch Out For ... Chris Williams to be an All-America
caliber kick and punt returner. He averaged 23.2 yards per kickoff
return and 15.3 yards per punt return. Now the defense has to force more
punts to get its star a chance to shine.
Strength: Return game, punting. The coverage units
haven't been bad, and Williams and Kaufman are terrific. The special
teams will be the best in the WAC if ...
Weakness: Someone can hit a field goal. It's not
like the Aggies are going to be playing in many, if any, close games,
for good and bad, but it would be nice if there was someone who could
consistently fire from 35 yards and in.
Outlook: The special teams made a major
improvement last year. If there can be the same sort of overall
production, with a little more blocking from the field goal unit, this
will be one of the team's most solid areas.