2008 Fresno State Preview - Defense
Fresno State LB Ben Jacobs
Fresno State LB Ben Jacobs
Posted Apr 23, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Fresno State Bulldog Defense

Fresno State Bulldogs

Preview 2008 - Defense

2008 CFN Fresno State Preview | 2008 Fresno State Offense
- 2008 Fresno State Defense
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2007 CFN Fresno State Preview | 2006 CFN Fresno State Preview 

What you need to know: The defense came up with a solid bounceback season after a lousy 2006, and while there's a slew of experienced players returning, it's not going to be a vastly improved group after losing star LB Marcus Riley and DE Tyler Clutts. Getting into the backfield won't be a problem with good quickness and pass rushing production from all four spots up front, but the secondary has to do more to pick off passes after coming up with just three of the team's four interceptions. The linebackers have the potential to be strong with Ben Jacobs a rising star in the middle and good athleticism on the outside.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Ben Jacobs, 81
Sacks: Jon Monga, 6.5
Interceptions: A.J. Jefferson, Jake Jorde, Moses Harris, 1

Star of the defense: Senior DT Jon Monga
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Ikenna Ike
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Chris Carter
Best pro prospect: Monga
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Monga, 2) LB Ben Jacobs, 3) SS Moses Harris
Strength of the defense: Experience, pass rush
Weakness of the defense:
Interceptions, run defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The line was fantastic at getting to the quarterback last year, and now, with Tyler Clutts gone, it'll be up to 6-3, 245-pound senior Ikenna Ike to become a force after missing the second half of last year with a wrist injury. Very quick with a nice upside, the former walk-on made 21 tackles and a sack before getting hurt, and now he has to prove he can be consistent in the backfield and that he can stay healthy. He suffered a knee injury two years ago.

Back on the other side is 6-5, 265-pound junior Wilson Ramos after making 27 tackles, three sacks, and seven tackles for loss. Big for an end, he's good against the run and was reliable over the second half of the year on the other side of Clutts. He's a natural pass rusher who needs to come up with a breakout year.

6-2, 280-pound senior Jon Monga was one of the few linemen able to stay on the field for a full season. Very strong and very tough, he was good against the run making 30 tackles, but his real strength was getting into the backfield from the inside with 6.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss.

Taking over on the nose is 6-3, 285-pound sophomore Cornell Banks, a good backup who got a start for Charles Tolbert against Hawaii and finished with 23 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. While not huge, he's strong enough to be a rock for the line for the next three years and quick enough to get to the quarterback on a regular basis.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Michael Stuart was originally a tight end, but the former USC Trojan will work in a rotation on the end, likely behind Ike. The 6-3, 245-pounder can move and should be a natural pass rusher.

One of the high risers this spring was 6-2, 220-pound sophomore Chris Carter, a good, quick end who should put up huge sack and tackle-for-loss totals. He made 15 tackles and two tackles for loss as a true freshman, but as the team's fastest lineman, he should be tremendous with a bit more time.

6-3, 245-pound sophomore Kenny Borg will get every chance to win a starting job at one end. A top recruit last year, he's always working and always active making nine tackles and 2.5 sacks as a reserve.

The tackle depth is thin, so 6-4, 290-pound sophomore Mark Roberts has to play a huge role after making seven tackles and a sack. Not really a nose tackle, he'll try to work into the rotation behind Monga on the inside.

Watch Out For ... The two transfers. Along with Stuart, the former tight end from USC, the line welcomes in former Miami Hurricane Chris Lewis, an undersized tackle who should add even more to the interior pass rush. These two might not be stars, but they'll provide interesting, quality depth.
Strength: Pass rush. Even without Tyler Clutts, the line should have few problems getting into the backfield with quickness at all four spots. Aggressive, aggressive, aggressive, this group should do even more after helping the D register 36 sacks.
Weakness: Tackle depth. There isn't much, so if something happens to Banks or Monga, the team will have to quickly scramble for bodies to form a rotation.
Outlook: Arguably the strength of the defense last year, the line was terrific at getting into the backfield but got shoved around way too often against the run. Expect more of the same as the revamped front four will hit plenty of quarterbacks, but will likely allow more than 175 rushing yards per game. The starting foursome should be excellent, and while there's depth on the ends, the tackles could be a problem.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters
The biggest shoes to fill will be at one outside linebacker spot where WAC Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Riley and his 132 tackles and 15 tackles for loss has to be replaced. Sophomore Nick Bates is only 6-1 and 210 pounds, but the former defensive back has good speed and decent upside after making 19 tackles, two sack and 4.5 tackles for loss as a true freshman. He's a good athlete and a strong pass rusher, but he might be at his best in a rotation.

Back in the middle is 6-3, 225-pound sophomore Ben Jacobs after he finished second on the team with 81 tackles, two sacks and six tackles for loss. He was supposed to be nothing more than a promising reserve, but he showed off too much speed and too much talent to keep off the field. While he won't fill Riley's lost production, Jacobs will be the leader of the corps.

Also returning to a starting spot will be junior Quaadir Brown, a 6-2, 215-pound speedster who came to Fresno State as a defensive back prospect before finding a home at outside linebacker. A good, sound veteran, he made 51 tackles and a sack with three tackles for loss, but with his experience he needs to start doing more in pass coverage. He has a few problems against the power running teams, but he can fly.

Projected Top Reserves: Looking to get back healthy from a torn ACL is 6-2, 215-pound junior Ryan Machado after making seven tackles in the first three games. Fortunately, it happened early enough that he should be ready to find a spot on the outside by the start of the season, but the former walk-on needs to get his defensive back range back.

Starting out in the middle, but likely to see most of his time on the strongside, is senior Ryan McKinley. At 6-2 and 225 pounts, he brings more size to the outside, but he's limited making just six tackles in six games of work. A decent athlete, staying healthy has been his problem.

Able to work inside or out, 6-3, 240-pound sophomore Nico Harron brings more size behind, possibly, Brown at one outside spot even though he'll likely spend most of his time in the middle. He made two tackles in a reserve role, but after a strong spring he could be one of the breakout players among the reserves.

Watch Out For ... Jacobs to blossom into a superstar. He was overshadowed by Riley's tremendous season, but this will be the year Jacobs takes over as the signature star of the linebacking corps. He'll be in on every tackle.
Strength: Experience. Even after losing Riley, the corps is more experienced with Machado coming back healthy (at least that's the hope) along with several other decent veterans.
Weakness: Run defense. The line didn't exactly help the cause, but even with great years from Riley and Jacobs the linebacking corps struggled against the better running teams. There were hits and tackles, but too many of them came five yards down the field.
Outlook: The smallish linebacking corps full of defensive backs, and Jacobs, will be effective, but can it be consistent? It didn't do enough against the pass and struggled to come up with stops against the better running teams. It's not a stretch to call this the team's make-or-break unit. If this group is great, the defense will be, too.
Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
Step one is hoping for junior Damion Owens to be the type of shut-down corner who can take away everyone's number one target. He had a nice first season as a starter, at least after he took over in the fourth game of the year, making 42 tackles with an interception and four tackles for loss. At 6-1 and 185 pounds he has good size to go along with tremendous athleticism. He has the skills.

On the other side will be senior Sharrod Davis, a former JUCO transfer who came in and made 16 tackles with four broken up passes and two tackles for loss as a key reserve. The former Oregon Duck has nice size at 6-0 and 185 pounds and great speed. Used mostly on kickoff returns at Oregon, he'll now need to grow into a ball-hawking playmaker on the other side of Owens.

Junior Marvin Haynes is back at free safety after finishing third on the team with 65 tackles  with 2.5 tackles for loss. While he has the 6-1, 205-pound size and great range, he was mediocre against the pass. He needs to come up with more big plays and do more than be strong against the run. Basically, he played like a strong safety at the free safety spot.

Returning to his spot at strong safety is fifth-leading tackler Moses Harris, a 6-1, 200-pound junior who is one of the team's speedier defensive backs. After making 62 tackles and an interception, with five broken up passes, and with two years of starting experience under his belt. He's expected to take the next step up in his production and become a legitimate pro prospect.

Projected Top Reserves: Is A.J. Jefferson ready to be more than a kickoff returner? An All-America return man who averaged 35.8 yards per try last season with two touchdowns, the 6-1, 190-pound junior has tremendous wheels and the type of athleticism that should translate well at corner. While he made 37 tackles and broke up three passes, he can do more. He has the potential to be great.

Working behind Harris at strong safety will be 6-1, 195-pound senior veteran Jake Jorde, a former wide receiver who made 23 tackles and a pick. Fast like a corner, and built more like one, he'll work again on special teams and occasionally as a nickel and dime defender.

Providing more depth at corner is 6-0, 195-pound senior Will Harding, a serviceable backup who made 17 tackles and a sack with two broken up passes. The former JUCO transfer made the transition from running back to corner, and he'll be good enough to step in and play an even bigger role this year.

Watch Out For ... Harris to grow into more of a leader. He has been around long enough to know what he's doing, and with his combination of skills and experience, he should grow into a star for the back seven.
Strength: Experience. With three returning starters and Davis having played at the JUCO level, this is a veteran group that should be more productive as long as everyone stays healthy.
Weakness: Interceptions. This has been a major issue for the last few years as the secondary picked off three passes in 2006 and a mere three of the team's four interceptions last year. There's too much experience, athleticism and talent to not force more turnovers.
Outlook: On sheer athleticism, the Bulldogs should be decent, but they haven't been a rock against the better passing games. By comparison, Fresno's secondary was better than most in the WAC, but there weren't enough picks and not enough stops. The teams that could throw the ball had few problems doing. This will be a good secondary, but even with potential all-stars like Harris and Haynes, it's not likely to be special.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
The special teams took an about-face after a lousy 2006 with a tremendous season. Gone is PK Clint Stitser after a nice career, and while he had good range and a big leg, so does redshirt freshman Kevin Goessling. After a decent spring, the left-footer appears to be a more than adequate replacement.

The punting game was fine, but nothing special as Kyle Zimmerman averaged 39.7 yards per kick with 21 put inside the 20. Sophomore Robert Malone got in two kicks averaging 36 yards per try putting both inside the 20. He won't have to air it out, but he'll need to be consistent.

The return game is special. A.J. Jefferson averaged a whopping 35.8 yards per kickoff return with two touchdowns on his way to an All-America season. Junior Marlon Moore will handle most of the punt return duties from Clifton Smith, who averaged 14.4 yards per try. Moore got two chances and ran one for 17 yards and one for -1. He'll be fine.

Watch Out For ... Goessling. Stitser nailed a 52-yarder last year and 10 of 14 kicks from beyond 40 yards. Goessling doesn't have to be that good, but he should be solid from mid-to-short range, while hitting a 50+ yarder of his own once in a while.
Strength: Jefferson. He'll be a marked man this year, but he'll still be a weapon who'll bring the fans to their feet every time he touches the ball.
Weakness: Punting. The coverage team was mediocre allowing 12.1 yards per try, while Zimmerman was merely average. Malone might not be a big upgrade. The punting game will be fine, but nothing special.
Outlook: The special teams took a big, positive step forward last season and now they should be solid if the kicking game doesn't fall off. It's asking a lot of Goessling to be Stitser, and it's asking even more of Jefferson to do that again, but thhis won't be the weakness it was two years ago.