2008 New Mexico State Preview - Defense
New Mexico State CB Davon House
New Mexico State CB Davon House
Posted May 9, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - New Mexico State Aggie Defense

New Mexico State Aggies

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 NMSU Preview | 2008 NMSU Offense
2008 NMSU Defense | 2008 NMSU Depth Chart
2007 NMSU Offense Preview | 2006 CFN New Mexico State Preview 

What you need to know:
Last year the idea was to generate more big plays and create more problems. It didn't happen as the defense was one of the worst in America and did nothing to force pressure or turnovers. That should change, for good and bad, under new defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn, whose 3-5-3 scheme will send the linebackers into the backfield early and often, while also asking them to drop back into pass coverage. That means the corners will more often than not be on an island, while the defensive line's job will be to hold up against the run. The secondary should be a strength with corners Davon House and Chris Woods, along with safety Derrick Richardson, all decent, while the line will be a work in progress. In this defense, it's all about the linebackers, and the JUCO transfers, led by Nick Paden, have to be ready to roll from the start

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Derrick Richardson, 108
Sacks: Chris Nwoko, 3
Interceptions: Davon House, 4

Star of the defense: Senior FS Derrick Richardson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Chris Woods
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Nick Paden
Best pro prospect: Paden
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Richardson, 2) CB Davon House, 3) Paden
Strength of the defense: Corners
Weakness of the defense:
Production, defensive line

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
In the new system, it'll mostly be up to the linebackers to make the big plays, but the front three has to hold its own. It'll start with the one returning starter, 6-4, 280-pound junior Ryhan Anderson, a former walk-on who's now on scholarship. A transfer from Miami, he ended up starting every game at left end making 12 tackles and two tackles for loss. He's not a pass rusher, so he has to use his bulk as more of a run stopper.

One of the defense's most important players could be junior Sioeli Fakalata, a 312-pounder who saw time in every game behind Ray Manuamaleuna on the nose. He had a nice year making 20 tackles with two sacks and three tackles for loss, and while he'll be a decent interior pass rusher now that he has a bigger role, his job will be to anchor the front seven.

The right end spot, previously manned by Brandon McKinney, will be open, but the best option could end up being 6-4, 257-pound Chris Romero, an undersized tackle by trade who was a decent pass rusher for Snow College over the last two seasons. He'll have to be able to do more against the run, but he has the potential to make an instant impact.

Projected Top Reserves: The depth is thin at defensive end, so it'll be up to 6-2, 245-pound senior Oren Long to play more of a role after making five tackles and a tackle for loss. He wasn't used much, but he's one of the few backups with any appreciable experience. Sophomore Kawika Shook, a 6-3, 260-pounder, is one of the only other ends on the roster, but he has yet to see the field.

6-3, 256-pound Jonathan Davis comes from the JUCO ranks and needs to be a factor right away as a pass rusher. For a defense that couldn't get into the backfield, the former Feather River College star has to be a force at getting to the quarterback.

While end is an issue, the Aggies are more solid at tackle with several prospects able to move in and out between the nose and what's called an end, but is really a tackle spot in the new defense. That means 5-9, 310-pound bowling ball Ana Tuiasosopo has to play a big role after redshirting last season.

Watch Out For ... a steady rotation of players to find the right combination. Any sacks or tackles for loss from this group would be gravy, but there might not be enough sheer size to be the run-stuffing front three the D needed it to be.
Strength: Versatility. Because of what the Aggies do with their defensive front, outside of the pure nose tackles, several players can step in and play inside or out.
Weakness: Getting into the backfield. Unless someone comes from out of the blue, like JUCO transfer Jonathan Davis, and turns into a pass rusher, there won't be a whole bunch of pressure from this group.
Outlook: The line was night-and-day better last season than it had been in several years, but that was because of experience. Not only were there steady starters, but plenty of quality backups to count on. No, it wasn't a brick wall and it didn't do enough to get into the backfield, but considering how abysmal the line was for so long, last season was a big improvement. This year's front three needs to find consistent playmakers with only one proven player, Ryhan Anderson, returning, and he's an average talent at best. This will be a major work in progress all season long.
Rating: 3.5


Projected Starters
It's all about the JUCO transfers to run Joe Lee Dunn's 3-5-3 system. The star of the show should be Nick Paden, a 6-3, 235-pound hitting machine who made 71 stops with five sacks and ten tackles for loss for Butte Junior College. Able to play any linebacker position, he's active enough to wreak havoc on the outside, and strong enough stuff things up inside. With his 4.5 speed, he's more likely to be turned loose as a pass rushing hybrid of defensive end and outside linebacker.

While not nearly as heralded as Paden, Jason Scott was another nice JUCO pickup who'll be asked to pay immediate dividends. He's a safety-sized 5-10 and 200 pounds making 88 tackles for Pasadena CC last year, and while he might not be huge, he's a sure-thing open-field tackler who'll find a role somewhere in the mix early on.

Senior Jamar Cotton started out the year on the outside, and then he was limited by an ankle injury that limited his role over the second half of the season. He finished with 35 tackles, but he showed tremendous pass rushing ability coming up with five quarterback hurries. Now that he's healthy, he'll be asked to come up with a big season doing a little bit of everything.

Back for a role of some sort is 6-4, 253-pound senior La'Auli Fonoti, a good-sized outside defender who made 63 tackles two sacks and seven tackles for loss. While he has the size to be a playmaker against the run, he also has the athleticism to be decent in pass coverage and an occasional pass rusher.

Also returning is 6-1, 230-pound senior Chris Nwoko, who played most of last season in the middle but can also see time on the outside. Never healthy over the second half of last year, he still finished fourth on the team with 67 tackles and three sacks with five tackles for loss. With his combination of side, quickness and experience, he should flourish in the new system.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-1, 221-pound Justen Alford comes in from Feather River College after making 78 tackles last year. He's good in pass protection and should be used as a pass rusher from several different spots, but he's not going to be a top hitter against the run. Even so, he'll be in on more than his share of tackles.

It's time now for last year's top recruit, Jeff Lucas, to become a star. While he's only 6-1 and 215 pounds, he's a good prospect who had several other options out of high school. He made 125 tackles his senior year and was ranked by most scouting services as a top 75 linebacker prospect.

An interesting prospect still waiting to hit the field, former JUCO transfer Derek Hinkley has size, tremendous speed, and the potential to put up big numbers. After starting out his career at the University of San Diego, he got hurt, moved on to Grossmont College, and became a star for the JUCO national champion. Able to play inside or out, he'll be a versatile defender who'll get a long look at several spots.

Watch Out For ... the dogs to be turned loose. Joe Lee Dunn's defense is all about sending the linebackers from all angles, while asking them to do plenty in pass coverage. If nothing else, this group will be active.
Strength: Versatility. With four to five linebackers on the field in some role, the more options to play around with, the better. The coaching staff will use the entire off-season to figure out where to put the pieces, and fortunately, almost all of the prospects can play inside and out.
Weakness: Veterans. The JUCO transfers will provide immediate experience, but not at the FBS level. The D losses 124 tackles, four sacks and 12 tackles for loss with the graduation of Dante Floyd in the middle, and losing Michael Brewer doesn't help. Forget about any experienced depth.
Outlook: The linebackers will be the statistical stars of the defense, but can any of them actually play? The lack of big-time talent will be made up for with one of the WAC's most aggressive defenses that'll make the linebackers do a little bit of everything. The key will be finding the right combination early on, but it could take a few games before the five players are found for the Joe Lee Dunn system.
Rating: 4

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
The corners will be under intense pressure in the new defensive system, meaning sophomore Davon House and junior Chris Woods have to come through with big seasons. Woods started every game at right corner breaking up seven passes while becoming a steady tackler. Even though he's only 5-10 and 180 pounds, he's a good hitter making 57 stops last season, but he won't be asked to make as many plays against the run. Left on an island, he has to do more when the ball is in the air.

The 6-0, 168-pound House took over the starting left corner job in the second half of the year and had a nice true freshman season making 37 tackles with a team-leading four interceptions and eighth broken up passes. Against Idaho, he took a pick 100 yards for a score in the 45-31 win, and later took an interception 64 yards. He's going to be the team's number one corner, and he needs to play like it with little safety help coming his way.

Back for his third year as the starting free safety spot is senior Derrick Richardson, who made 71 tackles as a sophomore and was second on the team with 108 tackles last year. With tremendous athleticism and great range, he'll be in charge of doing even more against the pass while getting the freedom to roam against the run. While he's not that big at 5-11 and 190 pounds, he can hit.

Projected Top Reserves: Pushing for time at both corner spots will be will be true sophomore Alphonso Powell, who spent last year as a key backup and special teamer making eight tackles and breaking up a pass. He's only 5-9 and 176 pounds, but he can move with the quickness to step in and be a factor at either job.

Senior Vince Butler is a veteran backup who saw five starts at corner finishing with 29 tackles with a sack and a broken up pass. He was excellent in the loss to Auburn, but overall he didn't do enough against the speed receivers and got pushed around a bit. Even so, he'll be a key factor in the rotation.

A big hitter and a good athlete, sophomore Kenny Evora is due to be a huge playmaking safety. More of a strong safety than a free safety, he's 6-4 and 218 pounds with the size to move to one of the hybrid linebacker spots, while he has the speed to be a playmaker against the pass if he gets a little time to develop. The former wide receivers was hurt in 2006, only got on the field once last year, and now has to live up to his potential.

Watch Out For ... the lineup to change several times and several ways. This is a young group with a slew of unproven players like Ben Bradley, Baer Philipbar and Marvin Betts, and a career special teamer in Brennan Baiamonte, who'll rotate in depending on the situation.
Strength: Corner. The secondary got roasted last year, but there wasn't any pass rush and Davon House was a freshman and Chris Woods a sophomore. These two form a potentially strong tandem who'll grow into their jobs over the next few years.
Weakness: Youth. The coaching staff didn't recruit for the secondary, so it's all about the youngsters to step up and become factors. The pass defense hasn't done much of anything over the last few years, and that's a huge issue in the WAC.
Outlook: The pass rush hasn't been there for the last several years to provide any sort of help, and now that shouldn't be a problem with the new scheme certain to generate more pressure. Now the problem will be a general lack of help for the corners, with linebackers being asked to drop back in coverage on the short to midrange passes and the corners to handle the deep passes. While there should be more production, the secondary will also give up more than its share of really big plays, even with three decent veterans in Chris Woods and Davon House on the outside, and good-tackling Derrick Richardson at safety.
Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
The Aggies were looking for kicking help over the last few years, and they finally got it in junior Paul Young, who connected on 12 of 18 field goals with two getting blocked. He doesn't have a huge leg, but he's decent from inside 40 yards.

The punting game was lousy netting 32.92 yards per kick, but Jared Kaufman wasn't bad averaging 41.1 yards per kick and putting 11 inside the 20. Sophomore Kyle Hughes, an option at placekicker, has a good-sized leg and will get every shot to take over the starting punting job.

Sophomore Wes Neiman will get a shot as the main return man, but WR Chris Williams will be in the mix for punt returns. Neiman only got three of punt return chances averaging seven yards per try, and averaged a mere 14.8 yards per kickoff return.

Watch Out For ... Chris Williams to be in the mix as a return man again. He averaged 23.2 yards per kickoff return and 15.3 yards per punt return as a sophomore, and he averaged 16.7 yards per punt return and 23.2 yards per kickoff return last year before getting hurt. However, he might be too valuable as a receiver to use as a full-time returner.
Strength: The potential of the return game. Williams has All-America return ability, but ...
Weakness: ... will he get a shot? The Aggies only forced nine punts last season, compared to 28 boots from the Aggie. The kickoff coverage team was solid, but the punt coverage was lousy.
Outlook: The special teams have slowly but surely started to improve ... a little. The field goal kicking has gotten better, and the punt coverage has gotten worse. Considering the defense will always be an issue, it would be nice to get more from the punting game. As long as Chris Williams is returning kicks, the return game will be fantastic.