2007 Fresno State Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 16, 2007

Preview 2007 Fresno State Bulldog Defense Preview

Fresno State Bulldogs

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Fresno State Preview | 2007 Fresno State Offense Preview
- 2007 Fresno State Depth Chart
| 2006 CFN Fresno State Preview 

What you need to know: After a tremendous 2005 season when the defense dominated, last year was a step back, especially in the secondary. Enough overall experience returns to be better, but the line has to do more to get into the backfield and the corners have to pick off more passes after taking away just three. There's plenty of speed and athleticism in the linebacking corps to swarm to the ball, and there's size and pass rushing ability from the front four, but there have to be more big plays and more takeaways.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Ahijah Lane, 64
Sacks: Tyler Clutts, 5
Interceptions: Damon Jenkins, 3

Star of the defense: Senior DE Tyler Clutts
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Damion Owens
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Jason Roberts
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Jason Shirley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Clutts, 2) LB Ahijah Lane, 3) CB Damon Jenkins
Strength of the defense: Speed and athleticism in the back seven
Weakness of the defense:
Interceptions, linebacker size

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
6-2, 245-pound senior Tyler Clutts had a nice year on the end making 37 tackles and led the team with five sacks, and now he'll have to do even more as the star of the line. While undersized, the former linebacker is a quick pass rusher who'll have to deal with even more attention.

Also undersized, 5-11, 265-pound senior Charles Tolbert is a tough defender who started the last four games of last year, finishing with 16 tackles and two sacks with two forced fumbles. He's strong for his size and provides a quick interior defender for the rotation.

As part of a rotation on the nose, 6-2, 280-pound junior Jon Monga has emerged as a possible starter after making 17 tackles and four sacks as the the team's best interior pass rusher. Very strong and very tough, he could grow into one of the team's most reliable linemen.

Taking over for Marlon Brisco at the open end job will be 6-5, 250-pound sophomore Jason Roberts after a decent ten tackle season as a reserve. The former Washington State transfer has a ton of potential with excellent athleticism, but he has to prove he can be solid against the run game in and game out.

Projected Top Reserves: Even though Monga is emerging up front, 6-5, 330-pound senior Jason Shirley, a starter in seven games last year, will be in a number one spot on the depth chart by the time the season starts as the big, space-eating body on the nose. He's grown into a stronger player who can clog things up with 20 tackles, two sacks, and three career blocked kicks.

Quickly emerging as a difference maker is 6-3, 255-pound Ikenna Ike, who'll start out behind Roberts and should be the team's most productive backup end. He cranked out 31 tackles with 2.5 sacks, and has proven he can step in and start if needed, but first he has to return from a knee injury suffered halfway though spring ball. The former former walk-on has a non-stop motor.

Watch Out For ... Monga. While he's 50 pounds lighter than Shirley on the nose, he's a quick defender who could also see time at the other tackle spot.
Strength: Pass rush. While the line didn't do a good enough job of getting into the backfield, it wasn't bad at hitting the quarterback. Clutts is a strong pass rusher to build around, while all the tackles are quick enough to make plays.
Weakness: Tackles for loss. The line might be able to get to the passer, but it didn't do enough to disrupt things behind the line. As quick as the group is, it needs to do more.
Outlook: This should be the strength of the defense with a good rotation at all four spots and a strong group of tackles that should be stronger against the run. Nothing special last season, this could grow into the league's best line if everyone plays up to their potential, and is Jason Roberts and Ike emerge as viable weapons on the other side of Tyler Clutts.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters
Losing leader and top tackler Dwayne Andrews from the middle hurts, but 6-1, 225-pound Ahijah Lane could be more disruptive and a great stat-sheet filler. He started every game last year on the outside making 64 tackles, and while he's a bit undersized for the middle, and 15 pounds lighter than Andrews, he has great range and should be good at getting into the backfield.

With Lane moving inside, and the loss of third-leading tackler Alan Goodwin, the Bulldogs are breaking in two new starting outside linebackers. 6-2, 220-pound Marcus Riley is built like a safety, and he runs like one. He wasn't even close to being ready last year after suffering a knee injury in 2005, but now he's back, healthy, and ready to shine. Making 52 tackles two years ago, he has experience, and he has the speed to become a star pass rusher, which he was becoming before he got hurt.

Moving in on the other side will be 6-2, 220-pound sophomore Quaadir Brown, who, like Riley, missed the year hurt. A defensive back by trade, he moved to linebacker early on in his career making 16 tackles in 2005. On the strongside, he'll have problems against bigger running teams, but he can fly.

Projected Top Reserves: Battling Brown for time on the strongside will be 6-2, 220-pound junior Ryan McKinley, who came up with ten tackles as a backup. He has a ton of talent with tremendous hitting ability and good athleticism, but he's had a hard time staying healthy throughout his career.

Adding even more athleticism on the outside will be 6-1, 220-pound sophomore Ryan Machado, who came up with seven tackles, mostly on special teams, while 6-3, 225-pound redshirt freshman Ben Jacobs, who'll quickly become one of the team's top defenders, will see time in the middle.

Watch Out For ... Lane to shine in the middle. He started to play well on the outside as last year went on, and now it'll be a shock if he's not one of the team's top three tacklers.
Strength: Athleticism. The linebacking corps might lose 153 tackles of production from Dwayne Andrews and Alan Goodwin, but they'll be faster with Riley and Brown playing bigger roles. Lane is a far quicker middle linebacker than Andrews.
Weakness: Tackles for loss. The line might be able to get to the passer, but it didn't do enough to disrupt things behind the line. As quick as the group is, it needs to do more.
Outlook: On the surface this would seem like a problem area, but it won't be as long as all the smallish linebackers can hold up against the better running teams. In the WAC, having speedy defenders who can cover a ton of area is a must, and while the overall numbers might not be out of this world, this will quietly grow into an effective group.
Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
The secondary was inconsistent in the best of times, and awful at the worst, despite having a top NFL prospect like Marcus McCauley at corner. He had a lousy year, and was benched for a time opening up a chance for 5-11, 180-pound senior Damon Jenkins to step in and start late in the season after getting the call in the first five games. A superstar recruit, he hasn't yet broken out and become the player many thought he'd be. Even so, he was the team's leader in interceptions picking off three passes to go along with 32 tackles.

Starting on the other side will be 6-1, 185-pound sophomore Damion Owens coming of a four tackle season. With good skills and decent size, he should grow into a top corner after he takes his lumps as a starter.

Sophomore Marvin Haynes is back after free safety after stepping in an taking over the starting job late last years. He was expected to quickly grow into one of the team's top defensive backs, and he showed great promise with 16 tackles in a limited role. At 6-1 and 205 pounds, he has the size to play strong safety if needed.

Josh Sherley was second on the team with 82 tackles, and now it'll be up to 6-1, 200-pound Moses Harris to take over after making nine tackles as a little used reserve. Even with his limited playing time, he broke up three passes. With some of the best wheels in the secondary, and with his size, he should grow into a legitimate pro prospect by the time his career is up.

Projected Top Reserves: Almost certain to find a starting spot somewhere in the defensive backfield will be 6-0, 185-pound junior Sharrod Davis, a JUCO transfer who started his career with Oregon. He's one of the team's biggest corners, and he has the speed and skill to grow into a role.

Also in the hunt for a starting corner spot is sophomore A.J. Jefferson a talented prospect who saw a little bit of time last year to get his feet wet. He had a great spring and will, at the very least, be a key reserve behind Owens with great speed and ball skills.

Pushing for the starting strong safety job will be 6-1, 195-pound junior Jake Jorde, who saw a little bit of time last season making six stops. The former wide receiver has excellent speed and athleticism, but he's still working on becoming a pure defensive back and will see most of his time on special teams.

Watch Out For ... Davis to put hard for a starting job. Owens and Jenkins are hardly irreplaceable and will need to keep pushing all fall to keep their gigs.
Strength: Speed. Everyone can run. There's plenty of athleticism at all four spots as well as among the reserves. Few receiving corps will be able to blow past this group.
Weakness: Interceptions. Fresno State's secondary came up with three last year and gave up 26 touchdown passes. Damon Jenkins came up with all three picks.
Outlook: On sheer athleticism, the Bulldogs should be decent, but now they have to cover someone. There secondary allowed fewer than 150 yards in only two games (Utah State and Idaho) and only gave up fewer than two touchdown passes in three games. If you can't be at least mediocre against the pass in the WAC, you're not going to be in the hunt for the title.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
The only positive among the special teams was senior Clint Stitser, who nailed 11 of 16 field goals with four of his misses coming from beyond 40 yards.
He's the strongest kicker in FSU history benching 365 pounds and squatting 500, but he has to show better range. Senior punter Kyle Zimmerman didn't bang the ball well enough averaging just 36.8 yards per kick, but he only gave up two touchbacks, put 15 inside the 20 and forced 11 fair catches.

Watch Out For ... more from the coverage units. They can't be any worse than last year after allowing 15.8 yards per punt return and 22.3 yards per kickoff return. This was a sore spot last year that needs to be addressed.
Strength: Stitser. 21 of 28 field goals in the last two years is good no matter how it's cut. He's as reliable as they come.
Weakness: Everything other than Stitser. The FSU special teams were a disaster and need an upgrade in almost all areas.
Outlook: The overall talent is there to be far better and far more productive, but now it has to happen. This was a major weak spot that needs to be upgraded to have any hope of challenging for the WAC title.


Related Stories
2007 Fresno State Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 16, 2007
2007 Fresno State Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 16, 2007
2007 Fresno State Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 16, 2007

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