New Mexico State
Preview 2008 - Defense
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2008 NMSU Offense
2008 NMSU Defense
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2007 NMSU Offense Preview
2006 CFN New Mexico
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.
Derrick Richardson, 108
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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