San Jose State
Preview 2008 - Defense
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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.
Christopher Owens, 75
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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.