Preview 2007 - Defense
2007 San Diego
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What you need to know:
Uh oh. Four starters return from a
defense that struggled with its consistency throughout the year
and did nothing to get into the backfield. That was with Antwan
Applewhite, who left a year early. The outside linebackers,
Russell Allen and Brett Martin, are the strength of the defense,
Ray Bass is a solid, veteran safety, while Nick Osborn is a
good, versatile lineman who'll start out at tackle after playing
last year at end. That's about it for the sure-things. The
corner situation is a mess, there's no pass rusher to count on,
and the overall depth will be an issue.
Tackles: Russell Allen, 88
Sacks: Nick Osborn, 1
Interceptions: Ray Bass, 2
Star of the defense: Junior LB Russell Allen
Player that has to step up and become a star: All the
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Luke Laolagi
Best pro prospect: Allen
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Allen, 2) LB Brett
Martin, 3) DT Nick Osborn
Strength of the defense: Outside linebacker, tackle
Weakness of the defense:
Cornerback, pass rush
The early departure of Antwan Applewhite to the NFL left a gaping hole
for a pass rusher. Several players will be in the mix led by 6-4,
260-pound junior Siaosi Fifita, who made 15 tackles over the last
two years as a reserve. He has the size and he has the quickness, but he
hasn't been much of a pass rusher so far. That needs to change from day
6-4, 220-pound Brian Stanbra came over from the JUCO ranks
last year but didn't play. Now he's using his linebacker-like skills on
the outside in an attempt to generate some pressure.
The inside is a big more stable with the return of 6-4, 260-pound senior
Nick Osborn, who spent last year as an end after playing tackle
as a sophomore. He's an active playmaker with 105 tackles in two years
and three sacks, but he's not much of a pass rusher and is better
suited, even at his size, on the inside.
At the other tackle, at least
early on, will be 6-5, 270-pound sophomore Peter Nelson. He's
been close to cracking the lineup over the last two years, but never got
on the field and now has to play big against the run right away. He
should be good and getting into the backfield.
Projected Top Reserves: While Nelson earned a
starting spot coming out of spring ball, he'll be in a rotation with
6-2, 310-pound senior Ornan Nwansi, who provides the beef on the
line. He started 11 games last season but only finished with 19 tackles.
He's not going to provide any sort of a pass rush and has to play up to
his size against the run.
The ends are more of a question mark with
sophomore Tony DeMartinis and redshirt freshman B.J. Williams
each in the mix for a starting spot. DeMartinis made six tackles and
a tackle for loss as a reserve behind Applewhite. Williams is a pure
pass rusher with 6-3, 225-pound size and tremendous speed. He'll likely
be used in third down situations early on.
Watch Out For ... a regular rotation of ends.
Since there isn't any one to rely on to become a star, at least right
away, the coaching staff will use a variety of players to try to get to
Strength: Depth ... sort of. There's good competition
for each spot meaning the twos will be ready if the ones don't get the
job done, but ...
Weakness: The ones aren't that good. The line has one good
veteran, Osborn, and a slew of question marks.
Outlook: Uhhhhh, this could be a problem. The line
was miserable last season doing nothing in any phase, and while there's
decent experience returning, there isn't one singular star the front
four can count on to make plays. Getting to the quarterback would be
nice, but stopping the run on a consistent basis would be better.
The linebacking corps has two veteran on the outside in senior Brett
Martin and junior Russell Allen. Martin is a fiery competitor
on the weakside, but now he has to be more productive after making just
28 tackles. At a beefed up 235 pounds, he has the size to do far more
needing to be stronger at getting into the backfield and making plays
with the ball is in the air. Allen was second on the team with 88
tackles with six tackles for loss last season, and he should be one of
the team's defensive stars. At 6-3 and 230 pounds, he has good size to
go along with great range and athleticism. He's one of the team's
The middle is more of a question mark where 230-pound
sophomore Luke Laolagi will try to replace leading tackler, Joe
Martin. He saw most of his time on special teams finishing with ten
tackles, but has the hitting ability to become a star in the middle.
Projected Top Reserves: It'll take a combination
to back up Martin on the weakside. 235-pound sophomore Jerry Milling
can play either in the middle or on the outside, but hasn't don much
yet at either spot with three tackles last season.
He'll have to fight
for time with the emergence of 220-pound redshirt freshman Andrew
Preston, a high-rising defender who was one of the stars of spring
ball. 225-pound senior Freddy Dunkle moved from defensive back to
linebacker, but spent most of his time on special teams making 13
tackles. He'll start out playing behind Allen on the strongside.
Watch Out For ... the freshmen. Along with
260-pound redshirt freshman Marcus Yarbrough in the middle and Preston
on the weakside, the Aztecs will play around with their incoming
recruits using projected linemen and defensive backs to provide some
Strength: Martin and Allen on the outside. While they're
not all-star playmakers, they're good veterans to revolve the corps
around. At least, they're good in comparison to the rest of the defense.
Weakness: Depth. Options don't always equal good reserves, and
while the Aztecs have players who'll compete for jobs, they don't have a
slew of top-flight, proven backups.
Outlook: It would be nice if the veterans became
more active in the backfield and against the pass, but Martin and Allen
are good enough to win with. Laolagi will make plenty of tackles on the
inside, but they need to be meaningful stops against the run. It'll be
interesting to see how the depth chart takes shape this fall when there
should be plenty of movement.
The big question mark will be at quarterback where senior Scotty
James and sophomore Aaron Moore will try to take over
for Terrell Maze and Donny Baker. James saw time in seven games making
three tackles, but now he has to use his athleticism and experience from
the JUCO ranks to be the leader among the corners. Moore is a big
defender who was a great reserve last year making 20 tackles with a
broken up pass, and now he has to do more when the ball is in the air.
The one returning starter to the secondary is senior Ray Bass,
who came over from Hawaii to start in six games and make 39 tackles, two
interceptions and five broken up passes. While he's not all that big at
6-0 and 195 pounds, he's fast and versatile able to play either safety
Junior T.J. McKay was a good reserve for two years making
31 tackles and two interceptions, but he was never quite in the mix
after suffering a shoulder injury in the 2006 off-season. Now the job is
his at free safety, and he has to use his range to be a big help for the
Projected Top Reserves: The corner jobs are still
open going into the fall meaning redshirt freshmen Jose Perez and
Ray Patterson will get every opportunity to take over. Perez has
the most upside with good size and maturity. This might be his first
year in the mix, but he originally signed in 2003 before playing
baseball in the New York Yankees' farm system for a few years. Patterson
will push James for a job, but he'll likely need a little bit of time
before he's a major factor.
Senior Corey Boudreaux is neck and
neck with McKay for the free safety spot with more size and tremendous
speed. The former receiver will, at the very least, be a key reserve in
Watch Out For ... big problems. This wasn't
exactly a rock of a secondary last year with several veterans and good
playmakers, and now the defensive backfield is starting from scratch.
Strength: Speed. The experience and leadership might not
be there, but the overall athleticism is. The goal will be to make up
for mistakes with raw speed, especially with an expected rotation
that'll be heavier than most teams.
Weakness: Veterans. There's Ray Bass, Aaron Moore has a little
bit of experience, and that's about it. The secondary is basically
starting from scratch. Considering how mediocre the secondary was last
year, starting over might not be a bad thing.
Outlook: The pass defense, technically, finished
second in the league, and 17th in the nation, but that was because
everyone was running the ball on the defensive front. Now it'll take a
while to figure out the starting foursome with the most competition at
corner. More big plays need to be made against short-to-midrange
passers, and more interceptions are a must.
Senior Garrett Palmer was fine, but nothing special connecting on
eight of 13 field goals with four of his misses coming from beyond 40
yards. He doesn't have the best range, but he's solid from 39 yards and
Senior punter Michael Hughes followed up a tremendous
sophomore year, when he averaged 44.8 yards per kick with 19 put inside
the 20, with a rough 2006 averaging 41.1 yards per kick with eight
inside the 20. His coverage unit didn't help as the Aztecs finished 96th
in the nation in net punting.
Watch Out For ... a battle for the return jobs up
until opening day. The Aztecs got nothing out of the return game last
year and will use a variety of players to find some sort of production.
Strength: Veteran kickers. Palmer and Hughes don't have
the biggest legs around, but they're good middle distance kickers who
should form one of the team's strengths.
Weakness: Return men. SDSU averaged 5.76 yards per punt return
(101st in the nation) and 17.5 yards per kickoff return (110th in the
country). Considering how much the offense struggled, this made things
Outlook: The team isn't good enough to struggle
again so much on special teams. Palmer and Hughes will have to be
weapons to rally around, while the return game can't be any worse. It'll
be an open casting call for the return men. The coverage teams have to
be far better to provide more overall help.