2008 San Jose State Preview - Defense
San Jose State DT/DE Jarron Gilbert
San Jose State DT/DE Jarron Gilbert
Posted May 16, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - San Jose State Spartan Defense

San Jose State Spartans

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN San Jose State Preview | 2008 SJSU Offense
- 2008 SJSU Defense | 2008 SJSU Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN San Jose State Preview | 2006 CFN San Jose State Preview 

What you need to know:
The Spartan defense wasn't bad last year, but it was disappointing considering all the good strides made in 2006. This should be a good D, but it needs to be dominant in one area. While the linebacking corps takes an irreplaceable hit losing 251 tackles of production from Matt Castelo and Demetrius Jones, and All-WAC star CB Dwight Lowery is gone, two new faces to the mix, USC transfer Jeff Schweiger on the end and Oregon State transfer Coye Francies at corner, give the team two of its most talented players in years. Francies joins Christopher Owens to form the WAC's best corner tandem, while Schweiger allows Jarron Gilbert to move to tackle providing more of a pass rushing boost to all four spots.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Christopher Owens, 75
Sacks: Carl Ihenacho, 5
Interceptions: Christopher Owens, 6

Star of the defense: Senior CB Coye Francies
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LB Justin Cole
Unsung star on the rise: Senior DE Jeff Schweiger
Best pro prospect: Francies
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Francies, 2) CB Christopher Owens, 3) Schweiger
Strength of the defense: Cornerback, line
Weakness of the defense:
Linebacker, pass rush

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The defensive front didn't do nearly enough to get into the backfield, and now it'll be up to USC transfer Jeff Schweiger to change things up. A former tight end, the 6-5, 285-pound senior has athleticism and size on the edge. Dominant this off-season, he has the potential to be an All-WAC performer from the word go with too much speed for the slower tackles and good bulk against the run. The expectations are sky high.

Starting on the other side is 6-3, 245-pound junior Carl Ihenacho, a solid starter last season who made 30 tackles and a team-leading five sacks. Extremely raw, he's a great athlete who's just now becoming a top-shelf football player. He only started playing organized sports three years ago, but he's improving and he started to look more like a finished product this spring.

Former defensive end Jarron Gilbert will move to tackle with the emergence of Schweiger on the outside. The 6-6, 280-pound senior made 39 tackles and four sacks with 7.5 tackles for loss in a good, but not dominant season as the starter. A second-team All-WAC performer with the skills to put together a huge final season, he should thrive with the attention paid to the rest of the line.

6-4, 282-pound junior Kalvin Cressel will be part of the rotation at tackle after making nine tackles as a key backup. A top reserve two years ago, making 24 tackles, he has been around the system long enough to be a steady factor against the run, and he has just enough quickness to make a few big plays in the backfield.

Projected Top Reserves: There will be a steady rotation at tackle with juniors Justin Willis and Adonis Davis providing more bulk. The 6-1, 305-pound Willis made 22 tackles and a sack as a spot starter last year, while the 6-1, 295-pound Davis started eight times last season and made 15 tackles with three tackles for loss. Both are good veterans, but they have to do more to play up to their size and clog up the middle. These two should be foundation players, and they haven't been so far.

Looking to make an impact on the outside is 6-5, 250-pound junior Liam Smith, a good JUCO pass rusher who made nine sacks and 43 stops for Santa Monica College. A smart, tough defender, he'll look to rotate in with Schweiger.

Adding more experience inside will be 6-3, 290-pound Aaron Gilbert, a decent junior who made nine tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in a reserve role. He'll work behind Jarron Gilbert and could see starting time if Jarron moves back to end.

Watch Out For ... Schweiger. The Spartans were fine on the end before, but if Schweiger is the star he appeared to be this spring, the line goes from decent to fantastic.
Strength: Talent. With Schweiger in the fold and Gilbert and Ihenacho each in the hunt for all-star honors, to go along with depth across the board, this could be the best line San Jose State has ever had. The potential is there to be the WAC's best line.
Weakness: Proven pass rush. This has been a problem for the last few seasons, and the pass rush was supposed to be better last year, and while Jarron Gilbert and Carl Ihenacho combined for nine sacks, there needs to be more from all four spots. There should be with Gilbert moving inside.
Outlook: Last year's line was full of experience and upside, and it underachieved failing to do enough against the run and was a disaster at times when it came to getting into the backfield. This year's line is full of experience and upside, and now it has three possible all-stars, plenty of depth, and the potential to be fantastic. It'll be a big-time disappointment if this isn't one of the team's strengths.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters
And here's the problem. The linebacking corps has to replace tackling machine Matt Castelo, who made 406 tackles over the last three years as the star in the middle. 6-1, 220-pound junior Travis Jones will get the first look to fill the shoes after making 24 tackles in a reserve role. A special teams star, he has good speed and is tough, but it's asking way too much for him to be Castelo.

It's possible 6-3, 240-pound junior Justin Cole takes over on the inside for Castelo, but he might end up starting out the outside. A big hitter who came up with 36 tackles, a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss as a defensive end, getting nine starts, he'll be used to be a run stuffer. Does he have the wheels to be a factor in pass coverage? He's quick, but he doesn't have Castelo's range. Even so, he'll likely be used as a pass rusher.

6-1, 200-pound sophomore Duke Ihenacho is a pure weakside defender with 4.55 speed and good toughness. Part linebacker and part safety, he made 32 tackles with four broken up passes as a starter for most of the year moving back and forth between the secondary and linebacking corps. He has the speed to be sent into the backfield on a regular basis.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Ryno Gonzalez was looking like a star making 26 tackles in six games, and then he missed the second half of the year hurt with a foot injury. At 6-1 and 230 pounds, he has good size, decent speed, and good instincts against the run. It he's healthy, the former running back will likely grab one of the outside jobs.

6-0, 216-pound sophomore Jason Swisher stepped in and produced as a key backup making 21 tackles. He didn't do anything against the pass and he wasn't used to get into the backfield, but he has the quickness to be a fast option behind Jones in the middle.

Junior Mohamed Marah spent last year as a fullback, catching two passes for eight yards, and now he'll combine with true freshman Kyler O'Neal behind Cole. Marah has the 6-0, 242-pound size to hold up against the run, while the 6-0, 213-pound O'Neal might be the team's fastest linebacker. He was a top high school sprinter.

6-0, 190-pound senior Dimitrious Chattman is a safety playing linebacker. A nice reserve who can be moved around where needed, he made 13 tackles and three tackles for loss. He could find a specialist role as a pass rusher behind Ihenacho.

Watch Out For ... a ton of changing around in the lineup throughout the first part of the season. Is Cole better for the middle or the outside? Is Ihenacho more of a role player who'll be used as a terror in the backfield, or can he hold up as a starter? There will be plenty of shifting.
Strength: Various talents. Cole is a defensive end, Ihenacho is a defensive back, and others like Jones, Chattman, and Swisher are sort of mutts who all should be able to become productive tacklers. There are lots of different athletes to play around with.
Weakness: Castelo and Demetrius Jones. These two combined to make 251 tackles last season. They cleaned up all the messes the line couldn't handle, and they were great rocks for the defense to work around. There might be good prospects ready to fill in, but it's asking a lot to replace playmakers like Castelo and Jones.
Outlook: This will be the make-or-break unit on the defense, and maybe the team. It's a mish-mosh of players looking to be active and be stoppers against the run, but there isn't a sure-thing star linebacker to work around. The statistics will be there, but will they be meaningful? 
Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
Gone is all-star playmaker Dwight Lowery, but the corners might even be better. Senior Christopher Owens led the team with six interceptions and finished fourth with 75 tackles as everyone tried to pick on him to stay away from Lowery. At 5-10 and 170 pounds, Owens isn't all that huge, but he plays like a safety against the run and is a dangerous ball-hawk. The second-team All-WAC performer will be an all-star again.

Replacing Lowery will be Oregon State transfer Coye Francies, a likely All-WAC performer who has the 6-1, 185-pound size and the speed and quickness to project to be a top punt returner. Dominant as a scout teamer, he goes 100% all the time and has the type of skills the program hasn't seen in a corner, perhaps ever. A hard-hitter, he's great at forcing turnovers, and he has the skills to be a No. 1 corner who can erase everyone's top receiver.

With Duke Ihenacho moving to linebacker, 5-10, 165-pound sophomore Devin Newsome will move into a starting spot after making 15 tackles as a nickel back. While he's not necessarily big enough to be an intimidating hitter at safety, he has the speed to play corner and should show decent range in pass coverage.

6-0, 195-pound senior Andrew Ryan was a good JUCO transfer last year who looked like a star in 2007 spring ball. He was excellent once he took over a starting job midway through the season making 51 tackles with two interceptions and three broken up passes. While he's decent against the pass, he's terrific against the run and should be one of the team's leading tacklers at strong safety.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Austin Carter has waited for his turn in the corner rotation, but he was moved out of a spot with the emergence of Francies. Considered one of the team's top reserve defensive backs, he made eight tackles in a limited role and he could be used as a nickel back.

Able to play linebacker if needed, but to be used mostly as a key backup safety, will be 6-0,200-pound sophomore Pompey Festejo, one of the team's biggest defensive backs. A good hitter, he made five tackles in just six games of work, and now he'll combine with sophomore Jay Atkins in a rotation behind Ryan.

Watch Out For ... Francies. Yeah, he's that good. He'd likely be a starter for every Pac 10 team, including USC, with size, speed, and hitting ability.
Strength: Corners. The tandem of Francies and Owens should be the best in the WAC by far. These two can do it all.
Weakness: Proven depth. While there are some nice options to play around with, the difference between the ones and the twos is five miles wide. The depth is better at safety than corner.
Outlook: The secondary wasn't necessarily a rock, but it didn't get any help from a pass rush and considering the high-octane passing teams it faced, it wasn't all that bad. Now with Francies taking over for Lowery, and with Owens a seasoned veteran, the corners will be a nightmare to throw at, while the safeties will hit everything in sight. The overall production should be better than the stats.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Senior PK Jared Strubeck got far better as last season went on, but was a disaster for the first nine games. He ended up nailing eight field goals in the final three games to save his season and finished hitting 10 of 20 field goal attempts. He had little range, topping out at 42 yards, after showing a big leg as a sophomore when he hit four of five shots from beyond 40. He's better than he was last year.

The punting situation was the worst in America finishing dead last averaging 30.33 yards per kick. To be fair, Waylon Prather put 24 inside the 20 and had no help whatsoever from a horrific punt return team. Unfortunately, Prather's replacement, redshirt freshman Shaheen Pourfallah, wasn't exactly Ray Guy this off-season, leaving the door open for JUCO transfer Phillip Zavala to take over. Zavala doesn't have a monster leg, but he hangs it high.

Dwight Lowery was one of the nation's best punt returners, averaging 14.4 yards per try, but Coye Francies should be more than fine in his place. The former Oregon State Beaver averaged 36.8 yards per kickoff return and 17.4 yards per punt return for American River College. WR Josh Harrison is a former star high school sprinter and should be solid as the main kickoff returner.

Watch Out For ... the kicking game to be the best in the WAC. Strubeck and Prather have great legs and can do it all.
Strength: The veteran kickers. The coaching staff won't have to rely on the kicking game as long as Strubeck remains consistent and if Prather can combine his big boots with the accuracy he showed off two year ago when he put 27 kicks inside the 20.
Weakness: Kickoff returns. The Spartans only averaged 17.8 yards per return last season with the longest return a mere 35 yards. This is the one chink in the special teams' armor.
Outlook: As long as a steady punt returner can be found for James Jones (possibly Dwight Lowery or Patrick Perry), and if there can be a bit more pop on kickoff returns from Dominique Hunsucker, this should be among the team's biggest strengths. The field position battle should belong to the Spartans game in and game out.


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2008 San Jose State Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 16, 2008
2008 San Jose State Preview – Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 16, 2008
2008 CFN San Jose State Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 16, 2008

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