2009 San Jose State Preview - Defense
San Jose State DE Carl Ihenacho
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - San Jose State Spartan Defense
San Jose State
Preview 2009 - Defense
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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
Star of the defense: Senior DE Carl Ihenacho
Travis Jones, 72
Carl Ihenacho, 7
Interceptions: Duke Ihenacho, 5
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE
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:
No. 2 pass rusher
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.