2007 San Jose State Preview - Defense

Posted May 14, 2007

Preview 2007 San Jose State Spartan Defense Preview

San Jose State Spartans

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 San Jose State Preview | 2007 SJSU Offense Preview
- 2007 SJSU Defense Preview
| 2006 CFN San Jose State Preview 

What you need to know:
The Spartan defense took a giant leap forward giving up yards, but not a whole bunch of points allowing fewer than 24 in ten of the final 11 games. Seven starters are back from the ball-hawking crew led by tackling machine Matt Castelo at middle linebacker and corners Dwight Lowery and Christopher Owens. The defensive front has to do a better overall job, and it will now that it's experienced after cutting its teeth last season. Jarron Gilbert and Justin Cole will be pass rushing terrors. Expect this group to give up plenty of yards, but also come up with more than its share of takeaways.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Matt Castelo, 165
Sacks: Jarron Gilbert, 5
Interceptions: Dwight Lowery, 9

Star of the defense: Senior LB Matt Castelo
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DT Adonis Davis
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Carl Ihenacho
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Dwight Lowery
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Castelo, 2) Lowery, 3) DE Jarron Gilbert
Strength of the defense: Corners, tackling linebackers
Weakness of the defense:
Safety experience, proven interior pass rush

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
Junior Jarron Gilbert leads a veteran line that should be much better than last year. The 6-5, 260-pound junior was a good reserve and turned into the top pass rusher the line desperately needed with five sack and 7.5 tackles for loss to go along with 32 tackles. As the one the offensive coordinators will have to gameplan around, he has to be prepared to be double-teamed throughout the year.

On the other side is 235-pound sophomore Carl Ihenacho, a ridiculously raw prospect who's still growing into his potential as an athlete much less a football player. He saw a little bit of time throughout last year making 28 tackles, a sack and three tackles for loss, but he only started playing football, and organized sports, two years ago.

6-3, 281-pound senior Jerome Pulu returns to his starting spot coming off a 15 tackle season. The former JUCO transfer wasn't always a rock against the run and didn't use his quickness to get into the backfield as often as he needed to. Now that he has a year of starting experience, he has to become more productive.

Next to him will be 290-pound sophomore Adonis Davis, who needs to play up to his size to clog up the middle. With 11 tackles in a little bit of time last season, he has the experience to do more, but don't expect him to collapse the pocket too often.

Projected Top Reserves:
Sophomore Justin Cole was one of the team's new stars last season making 32 tackles, four sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss earning Freshman All-America honors. He's not technically a starter going into the year after missing spring ball, but he might as well be with the amount of time he'll see at both end spots. Tremendously quick off the line, he has a great burst when he's turned loose.

On the other side, 235-pound senior David Lomu is a decent veteran who'll fill in behind Ihenacho and make a few plays against the run, but he's not a pass rusher. 305-pound sophomore Justin Willis and 278-pound sophomore Kalvin Cressel form part of the future of the defensive interior. Cressel was a major force as a reserve making 24 tackles and two tackles for loss after making himself into a stronger, quicker run defender. Willis has the size to do far more playing behind Davis.

Watch Out For ... a big jump in pass rushing production. Last year's line was trying to figure out what it was doing. This year's group is full of veterans who should be able to take more chances and start to make more big plays. It's not just going to be Gilbert and Cole getting into the backfield.
Strength: Experience. Ten players return with significant experience to form an excellent rotation that should keep everyone fresh. Don't get hung up on who's starting; everyone will see time.
Weakness: Proven interior pass rush. Davis, Cressel and Willis are young and talented, but they haven't shown anything in the way of collapsing the pocket. That has to change to take the attention away from Gilbert.
A young, untested group that relied on the coaching and the overall defensive scheme last year, now this is a veteran line that should be fantastic. Think of it this way; the defense was third in the WAC with almost no help up front. That'll change this year.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters
If senior Matt Castelo isn't the best linebacker in the WAC, he's number two. While only 5-10 and 210 pounds, he's a sure-tackler making a whopping 165 last year (and 265 over the last two seasons) to go along with four forced fumbles and an interception. Always being around the ball is an understatement considering his 87 assisted tackles would've been good enough to finish fifth on the team. He's a smart player who's never out of position.

Senior Demetrius Jones returns on the outside where he finished with 78 tackles and nine tackles for loss after starting his career as mainly a special teamer. Able to roam free with Castelo cleaning everything up, the 222-pounder uses his speed to make plays all over the place. Expect him to see time inside and out depending on the situation.

Sophomore Ryno Gonzalez takes over the other outside spot from backfield terror Damaja Jones, who cranked out 10.5 tackles for loss and 99 stops. Gonzalez was a good backup with 28 tackles, and he has the speed and toughness to quickly turn into a major playmaker both in the backfield and against the run.   

Projected Top Reserves: It's not like there's a lot of work to be had for Castelo's backup, but the combination of sophomore Travis Jones and redshirt freshman Jason Swisher will try to form a good tandem in the middle. Jones made 17 tackles last season mostly in mop-up time, while Swisher should grow into one of the team's tougher, more physical players. Undersized junior Chris Reese was supposed to be the starter going into last season, but he was relegated to backup duty making ten tackles. At only 5-9 and 205 pounds, if he's not using his quickness to get into the backfield, he's not doing too much good behind Gonzalez. 

Watch Out For ... Castelo and Demetrius Jones to form the best 1-2 tackling punch in the WAC. Everyone in the league knows about Castelo, but now Jones will start to make a name for himself once he starts cranking out a few sacks.
Strength: Hitting. This group will swarm to the ball and always make the big tackle. The overall stats might not be quite the same with an improved line in front of them, but they'll all get their chance to shine.
Weakness: Size. Toughness isn't an issue, bulk it. At 222 pounds, Demetrius Jones is the biggest linebacker in the rotation. Anyone who wants to try to power the ball should be able to wear this group down late.
Outlook: There's a lot to be excited about. Castelo alone makes this a good corps, but Jones and Jones, along with the emerging Gonzalez, should make the Dick Tomey defense do exactly what it's supposed to: make big plays.
Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
There's not a better returning cornerback pair in the nation as far as interceptions than senior Dwight Lowery and junior Christopher Owens. Lowery was an All-American with nine interceptions to go along with seven broken up passes and 48 tackles. At 6-1 and 185 pounds, he has excellent size to go along with a nose for the ball when it's in the air. Between his time as a JUCO star and last year, he came up with 22 interceptions in 28 games. When he gets the ball in his hands, he's an offensive gamebreaker able to crank out big returns. Teams can't stay away from Lowery with Owens on the other side making four interceptions, five broken up pass and 50 tackles. He's good in the open field hitting like a safety despite only being 5-9 and 161 pounds.

While the corner situation is set, the safeties will be settled this fall when the top recruits have had a chance to show what they can do. JUCO transfer Andrew Ryan made a huge impact in spring ball making play after play in practices including an interception in the spring game. Getting to school early has helped him immeasurably get a leg up on the incoming stars-in-waiting. 

Former running back Dominique Hunsucker has moved over to the defensive side using his next level, track star speed to become a key free safety. He's still learning the position after making five tackles last year, but his athleticism should make up for his mistakes.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-1, 190-pound JUCO transfer Joe Bates was a top corner for Laney College but projects as a safety. His versatility might be the key to the secondary since he can play either safety spot or even move to corner for a stretch. Freshman Duke Ihenacho might be too good to keep off the field. He's still young and needs seasoning, but he's 6-1, 200 pounds and 4.55 fast. The top backup corner will be senior David Bowen, a career special teamer who made eight tackles and broke up one pass in a limited role. He has outstanding speed and could see time as a nickel back. 

Watch Out For ... the new safeties. Ryan and Hunsucker aren't just going to hand over the starting jobs, but Bates and Ihenacho need to at least be very productive reserves.
Strength: Picking off passes. Lowery and Owens attack the ball and make passing games pay. That's a plus in the WAC.
Weakness: Safety experience. While there are plenty of promising options, there isn't any starting experience. The corners might be on their own for a little while.
Outlook: Even with all the big plays made by the corners, and the great season by safety Chris Vedder, the pass defense didn't exactly stop anyone cold. It'll give up yards in chunks and will occasionally get ripped deep, but it'll win more than its share of battles.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters
The kicking game will be tremendous with the return of junior placekicker Jared Strubeck and senior punter Waylon Prather. Strubeck has nailed 20 of 30 career field goals showing great range and consistency. He connected on four of his five shots from behind 40 yards and has the leg to be great on kickoffs. Prather had a good first year, and then started bombing away averaging a tremendous 44 yards per kick putting 19 inside the 20. He could use a big more hang time only forcing five fair catches and with ten touchbacks.

Watch Out For ... the kicking game to be the best in the WAC. Strubeck and Prather have great legs and can do it all.
Strength: The veteran kickers. The coaching staff won't have to rely on the kicking game as long as Strubeck remains consistent and if Prather can combine his big boots with the accuracy he showed off two year ago when he put 27 kicks inside the 20.
Weakness: Kickoff returns. The Spartans only averaged 17.8 yards per return last season with the longest return a mere 35 yards. This is the one chink in the special teams' armor.
Outlook: As long as a steady punt returner can be found for James Jones (possibly Dwight Lowery or Patrick Perry), and if there can be a bit more pop on kickoff returns from Dominique Hunsucker, this should be among the team's biggest strengths. The field position battle should belong to the Spartans game in and game out.


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