2009 San Jose State Preview - Defense
San Jose State DE Carl Ihenacho
San Jose State DE Carl Ihenacho
Posted Jun 5, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - San Jose State Spartan Defense

San Jose State Spartans

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN San Jose State Preview | 2009 SJSU Offense
- 2009 SJSU Defense | 2009 SJSU Depth Chart
- 2008 SJSU Preview | 2007 SJSU Preview | 2006 SJSU Preview  

What you need to know: While there's a bit of rebuilding to be done in certain spots after losing all-star DT Jarron Gilbert and NFL-caliber corners Coye Francies and Christopher Owens, the WAC's No. 2 defense of last year returns loaded. The safeties will shine with part-linebacker, part-safety Duke Ihenacho moving to more of a defensive back role in a modified 4-2-5, while Devin Newsome is a nice veteran who'll be a good tackler once again. The linebacking corps is loaded with tacklers led by Justin Cole and 2008's leading stopper, Travis Jones. While the line needs some revamping, the tackles are big and Carl Ihenacho should be the WAC's premier pass rusher. This might not be the dominant pass rushing D that last year's was, but it'll be athletic and active.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Travis Jones, 72
Sacks: Carl Ihenacho,  7
Interceptions: Duke Ihenacho, 5

Star of the defense: Senior DE Carl Ihenacho
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Mohamed Marah
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S Tiuke Tuipulotu
Best pro prospect: Carl Ihenacho
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Carl Ihenacho, 2) S Duke Ihenacho, 3) LB Justin Cole
Strength of the defense: Pass rush, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Cornerback, Sure-thing No. 2 pass rusher

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
With pass rushing superstar Jarron Gilbert gone, the onus to carry the pass rush will now fall more than even on the shoulders of senior Carl Ihenacho, a solid starter over the last three seasons who earned second-team All-WAC honors last season making 64 tackles with seven sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. The 6-3, 256-pounder is a big-time athlete who only started playing organized sports four years ago, and now he'll have to fight through a thumb injury to be the star up front. He'll have to be used to being double and triple teamed.

Working on the other side will be 6-0, 245-pound senior Mohamed Marah after starting nine games last season and making 32 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss. He occasionally saw time as a blocking back for the offense with fullback size and tremendous toughness. He was solid last year, but he has to be great with all the attention paid to Ihenacho on the other side.

Senior Kalvin Cressel has to get healthy to be a key part of the rotation on the inside. the 6-4, 282-pounder was a backup throughout last season, seeing time in ten games and making five tackles, but he has starting experience getting the call five times in 2006. He's big and athletic, but now he has to be productive.

6-1, 295-pound senior Adonis Davis is a long-time veteran, starting in every game last year and 26 games over the last three seasons, and now he has to be better against the run. He had his best season yet with 20 tackles with a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss. He doesn't have to get into the backfield on a regular basis, but he has to be an anchor.

Projected Top Reserves: Working in a rotation on the inside will be 6-1, 290-pound junior Justin Willis. A spot starter two years ago, he suffered a neck injury last year and missed the entire season. He has the size and the strength to clog up the middle playing behind Davis. 

6-5, 250-pound senior Liam Smith came over from the JUCO ranks to be an instant shot in the arm for the pass rush, and while he only made four tackles, he has great upside. He made nine sacks and 43 tackles for Santa Monica College, and he should do far more in a rotation behind Ihenacho.

Ready to play a bigger role is sophomore Pablo Garcia after a fantastic spring. The 6-2, 290-pounder only made seven tackles with a sack, but he has tremendous potential and he could be a do-it-all defender working in a rotation with Cressel.

Watch Out For ... the movement of Liam Smith. While he's not Jarron Gilbert, who made a similar move from end to tackle, Smith is a good talent who needs to find a role. He'll start out playing outside, but he could play some at tackle to use his quickness as an interior pass rusher.
Strength: Pass rush. Gilbert is gone, but Ihenacho is a tremendous pass rusher who'll take the heat off the rest of the line. A front four that did a great job of providing pressure into the backfield, and the production should continue.
Weakness: Jarron Gilbert. He went from being a good veteran to a future NFL star making 52 tackles, 9.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. The Spartans would take that from all the returning tackles combined.
Outlook: The underachieving disaster of a line that didn't do nearly enough in 2007 became dominant in 2008. Nevada was able to gouge the front four, but that was about it. This group got into the backfield against everyone and constantly harassed quarterbacks. It won't be as good a ling without Gilbert, but the tackles as a whole appear to be better and Marah is a good looking end on the other side of Ihenacho.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters
Senior Travis Jones had the unenviable task of replacing tackling machine Matt Castelo. While he didn't earn all-star honors, he led the team with 72 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss after serving as a superior special teamer. At 6-1 and 230 pounds he has beefed up, has great speed, and will be all over the place.

As good as Jones was, the star of the linebackers is Justin Cole, a second-team All-WAC performer who made 68 tackles with five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. He's a do-it-all playmaker who hits like a ton of bricks and is just as comfortable getting into the backfield as he is stuffing the run. He's quick, but not lightning fast, and he has excellent instincts taking an interception 62 yards for a score against Boise State. The 6-3, 240-pound senior will be an all-star once again. 

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Pompey Festejo came up with a tremendous year as a key reserve making 49 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Undersized, he was all over the field last year doing a variety of things for the defense. While he was never used as a pass rusher, he has the speed and quickness to start doing more in the backfield. A good hitter, he started out his career at safety and could move to the defensive backfield if needed.

Trying to find more playing time either as the third linebacker or in a rotation with Jones will be junior Ryno Gonzalez, a 6-1, 230-pound big hitter who appeared to have star potential two years ago before suffering a foot injury. He has good size, decent speed, and good tackling ability, but now the former running back has to get back in the mix after missing all of last year.

Watch Out For ... Cole to go ballistic. The coaching staff is going to use its linebacking star in a variety of ways, trying to making more of a pass rusher while having him do even more to get him in a position to make plays. He'll be a first-team All-WAC performer.
Strength: Tackles. Cole and Jones will get in on everything. These two are good veterans who know what they're doing, and they'll clean up everything funneled their way.
Weakness: Several other options. Either the backups like Gonzalez, Festejo, and Wade O'Neill have to be terrific, of the defense might have to use a safety, like Carl Ihenacho, as a third linebacker.
Outlook: The return of Gonzalez should be a big boost for the defense and he should turn out to be one of the team's leading tacklers whenever he's on the field. Cole and Jones are terrific, and Festejo is a playmaker whenever he sees time. This is a fantastic group that should make a ton of plays.
Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
Junior Duke Ihenacho earned first-team All-WAC honors after making 55 tackles with five interceptions and six broken up passes as a weakside linebacker. He's only 6-1 and 210 pounds, and now he's going to move to a hybrid role playing safety and linebacker as he gets to roam and make things happen. With 4.55 speed and good toughness, he'll do a little of everything and he should be a lock for the post-season mention again as he makes more tackles and becomes even more disruptive.

Taking over at one corner spot will be sophomore Peyton Thompson, a 5-11, 175-pound sophomore who had a great spring. He has tremendous speed and nice size, but he doesn't have much in the way of experience making five tackles. While it'll take him a while to lock down the job and establish himself, he should eventually grow into a No. 1 cover-corner.

5-9, 160-pound sophomore Alex Germany is a former high school wide receiver who'll need a little more time to learn what he's doing. He's not all that big, but he's a willing tackler, at least in practice, and a fantastic athlete with tremendous quickness and cutting ability.

Back at safety is do-it-all defender Devin Newsome, a 5-10, 185-pound junior has seen time as a nickelback and can work at corner it needed. While he's not a big-hitting intimidator, he has great ranged and he makes stops with 59 tackles. Now he has to do more when the ball is in the air after not breaking up a pass and coming up with two picks.

Able to be used as a linebacker or a safety will be Tiuke Tuipulotu after making 11 tackles as a reserve. At 5-10 and 195 pounds, he's build like a defensive back and has tremendous quickness, but he tackles like a much bigger player. He's a sure-thing tackler who should be great against the pass once he figures out what he's doing, but he could be more valuable as a pass rusher. 

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Austin Carter waited for years to become a starting corner, but he was knocked out of a spot by the addition last year of Coye Francies. Now he'll once again be a key backup after making ten tackles. He has to do more against the pass to earn more time as a nickel and dime back and at corner behind Thompson.

Looking to push for a starting corner job right away will by JUCO All-American Brandon Driver after coming up with 43 tackles with four interceptions and nine broken up passes for Santa Rosa College. He can also be used as a kick and punt returner with his quickness, and he could handle the bigger receivers with 6-0, 185-pound size. He's the cousin of former Maryland basketball star, Juan Dixon.

Watch Out For ... Ihenacho at safety. He'll really play the same role he did last year, only it'll technically be a safety. He'll do even more as a monster-hitting playmaker who'll do big things all over the field.
Strength: Safeties. Tuipulotu is a great tackler, Newsome is a good veteran, and Ihenacho is Ihenacho. The safeties will be extremely active and very good.
Weakness: Christopher Owens and Coye Francies. The Spartans had a special pair of corners who moved on to the next level after finishing second (Owens) and third on the team in tackles. It'll take a little while for to find productive corners.
Outlook: Helped by a tremendous pass rush, the secondary was excellent finishing tenth in the nation in pass defense and eighth in pass efficiency defense. There were only nine touchdowns allowed, and while the production won't be as good with a massive talent drop at corner, it'll still be a good group.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Sophomore Tyler Cope transferred over from Colorado and he looked like a natural this offseason. He has a great leg and is a good athlete who'll make a few stops on kick returns replacing decent veteran Jared Strubeck, who hit 13-of-22 field goals.

Senior Philip Zavala is back after averaging just 36.6 yards per punt. He put 20 inside the 20 and forced 15 fair catches, but now the former JUCO transfer has to boom the ball a bit more. He doesn't have a monster leg, but he hangs it up high.

Now that Kevin Jurovich is back, he'll get work as a punt returner to boost a punt return game that averaged 6.66 yards per try. Michael Availa will also get work after averaging 7.2 yards on four attempts.

Running back/wide receiver Brandon Rutley had a terrific season returning kickoffs averaging 26.7 yards per try. He's a gamebreaker who'll earn All-WAC honors as a return man.
Watch Out For ... Jurovich to be a boost to the punt return game. After the Spartans struggled so much, Jurovich should be a weapon. He might not be a gamebreaker, but he'll be good.
Strength: Field goals. Strubeck was fine last year, and Cope should be fantastic. He has a good deep leg and will hit a few bombs.
Weakness: Punting. The punting game was the worst in America three years ago, struggled in 2007, and was 90th in the nation last year. It's not going to be great, but Zavala will have his moments.
Outlook: The special teams will be fine, but they'll be inconsistent. The kicking game will be hit-or-miss, needing Cope to be consistent, while the return game should be great with Jurovich and Rutley at the helm.
Rating: 6.5