2009 Fresno State Preview - Defense
Fresno State LB Ben Jacobs
Fresno State LB Ben Jacobs
Posted Jun 8, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Fresno State Bulldog Defense

Fresno State Bulldogs

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Fresno State Preview | 2009 Fresno State Offense
- 2009 Fresno State Defense | 2009 Fresno State Depth Chart
- 2008 FSU Preview | 2007 FSU Preview | 2006 FSU Preview   

What you need to know: It was a disastrous season for the defense, and the on-field problems were minor by comparison. The loss of coordinator Dan Brown to a battle with cancer meant that several things had to change in the coaching staff as well as to the personnel. The Bulldogs got worse against the run as the season went on, and didn't get much of anything from the line when it came to getting into the backfield. The linebacking corps has Ben Jacobs back, but everyone else has to be more physical and do more against the pass. The secondary is experienced, but mediocre, while the line has big-time upside and could be the strength of the team with a little bit of time. First and foremost, the defense has to start making more big plays, has to force more turnovers, and has to get to the quarterback on a regular basis.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Ben Jacobs, 113
Sacks: Chris Carter, 3.5
Interceptions: Marvin Haynes, 2

Star of the defense: Junior LB Ben Jacobs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior SS Moses Harris
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Logan Harrell
Best pro prospect: Jacobs
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jacobs, 2) DE Chris Carter, 3) CB A.J. Jefferson
Strength of the defense: Speed, Line potential
Weakness of the defense:
Interceptions, Run defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
After seeing time at weakside linebacker along with his work late in the season on the end, junior Chris Carter will be a full-time lineman and he should be a breakout star. the 6-2, 230-pounder was second on the team with 88 tackles and made 3.5 sacks with 6.5 tackles for loss. He has too much speed to not do more as a pass rusher, and now he'll be turned lose into the backfield on a regular basis.

Taking over on the other side will be Kenny Borg after suffering a bad knee injury. The star recruit of a few years ago appears to be back to 100% after missing all of last season, and while he needs time and reps, he's not starting from scratch after making nine tackles and 2.5 sacks in 2007. The 6-3, 245-pound redshirt sophomore is a very quick, very active pass rusher with tremendous upside.

6-3, 285-pound sophomore Chase McEntee might not be huge, but he's strong enough to be an anchor on the nose. Not built like a nose tackle, he's still able to hold his own and has the quickness to get into the backfield from time to time. He made five tackles and a tackle for loss last year.

Starting at defensive tackle will be Logan Harrell after making 14 tackles as a key reserve. The 6-2, 275-pound sophomore is extremely quick off the ball and dominated the Bulldogs O line throughout the offseason. Fast enough to be a big end if needed, he'll move around where needed and in a variety of alignments.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Wilson Ramos has been a key spot starter throughout the last few years, making 27 tackles in 2007 and 15 last year despite missing half the season hurt. Big for an end, he's perfect for a 3-4 alignment but will start out working in a rotation with Harrell on the inside once he gets healthy from his leg injury.

Junior Chris Lewis, a former Miami Hurricane, should be a dangerous playmaker on the outside after kicking his work habits up a few notches. The 6-3, 260-pound junior has all the tools and he could be an All-WAC performer if he puts it all together, but he has to get the motor running full time after making just five tackles last season.

While 6-2, 225-pound redshirt freshman Matt Akers got that way by design to get faster and to become a more dangerous pass rushing option. He might not hold up well against the run if he's a full-time end, but he'll see action in a rotation with Carter on the outside.

Junior Mark Roberts will try to get back and be a steady backup this fall after missing time this offseason getting healthy. The 6-4, 270-pound senior brings good size on the nose and decent experience after making 24 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. 

Can Cornell Banks get to class? The 6-3, 300-pound junior was a key spot starter throughout this year making 32 tackles and three tackles for loss. He's ideal for the nose with good quickness to go along with his size, but he was suspended this spring with academic issues.

Watch Out For ... Carter. He was a great tackler last season wherever he was put, and now he should be a backfield terror. He's too quick for any tackle in the WAC.
Strength: Youth and upside. This might be a retooling bunch, but it's full of talent. Outside of Ramos, there aren't any seniors in the mix and this could be a special line as the year goes on. There's size, speed, and versatility to play around with.
Weakness: Proven production. The line got progressively worse as last season went on, and while there are some decent stat totals returning among the new starters, there isn't a lot of production that translated to wins. The Bulldogs have to find something it can do well up front.
Outlook: This was supposed to be one of the strengths of the team going into last year, but injuries and ineffectiveness made it a glaring weakness as FSU finished last in the WAC in tackles for loss, 96th in the nation in sacks and 108th against the run. That won't happen again. Carter and Borg should dominate on the outside, while McEntee and Harrell appear to be ready to shine with bigger roles to play.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters
Returning to his spot in the middle, maybe, is Ben Jacobs, a 6-3, 240-pound junior who can play on the strongside if another option is found for the inside. He led the team with 113 tackles as one of the few defenders who came up with plays throughout last year. Not just good against the run, he also broke up five passes to go along with a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss. He has too much speed and too much talent to not be an All-WAC performer if he stays healthy.

Can Nico Herron finally come through with a decent year? While he has all the tools to play inside or out, seeing time in the middle this offseason before settling back in his strongside spot, he was beaten up to often and didn't do enough against the pass. The 6-3, 240-pound junior is fast, has range, and came up 65 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss last season. Now he has to do more at the point of attack.

Working on the weakside again after taking over in the middle of last year is Kyle Knox, a 6-1, 215-pound sophomore who made 43 tackles with 2.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. While he's not all that big, he has great range and nice quickness on the weakside. With his athleticism he needs to start doing more in pass coverage and he has to show he can get into the backfield on a regular basis.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-0, 200-pound sophomore Shawn Plummer got in a little bit of work last year and made 25 tackles on the outside. While he's always moving and he has the speed needed to play on the weakside, he hasn't shown he can do much in pass coverage. At the very least he's a willing tackler who'll throw his body around

Working in the middle behind Jacobs will be 5-11, 210-pound sophomore Eric Brown after sitting out last year hurt. He missed all of spring ball as well, but with sideline-to-sideline range and good toughness, he can play anywhere in the linebacking corps.

Watch Out For ... Jacobs to move around where needed. The linebacking corps is full of good middle linebackers but there aren't many who can play like Jacobs. While the junior will be a star in the middle, he could see time on the strongside if Herron struggles again.
Strength: Quickness. Considering there's a little bit of size, there's plenty of speed and athleticism to go around. Everyone can get to the ball and everyone can move.
Weakness: Pass coverage. For all the speed and quickness there isn't nearly enough happening against the pass. There wasn't nearly enough done against the run, either.
Outlook: There isn't much in the way of depth, and the outside defenders have to do far more around Jacobs. There's enough speed to be turned loose and enough potential for plays to be made just by being active, but this group has to be far more physical and some surprise options have to emerge early on.
Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
A superstar kick returner who averaged 29.3 yards per try last season, senior A.J. Jefferson should be the team's best cover-corner. The 6-0, 190-pounder has no problems staying with any receiver, with next-level speed and cut-on-a-dime quickness, but he has to be more consistent. He made 31 tackles before getting hurt late in the year, and he only broke up two passes and failed to pick off a pass. With two years of experience at the position and with his skills, there's no reason he can't do far more.

Back on the other side after serving as a spot-starter is Desia Dunn, a 5-9, 190-pound junior who had some good moments making 43 tackles with four broken up passes and a pick. The walk-on doesn't have the size or the all-around skills to keep from getting picked on, but he's always around the ball and has a great motor. While he has enough experience to be a regular at one spot, he'll have to produce early on or he'll be quickly turned into a key reserve.

Moses Harris was third on the team with 75 tackles with a sack and five broken up passes, but he didn't come up with any picks from his strong safety spot. The 5-11, 205-pound senior has all the skills to be a pro prospect if he can come up with a whale of a final year. A starter for the last two years, he has to be a leader and more of a playmaker.

First Lorne Bell has to get over his hamstring injury, and then he has to start producing at either safety spot. The 5-10, 200-pound junior will start out at free safety if he can win back the starting job this fall after getting the nod for the final three games of last year. He made 41 tackles but failed to do much of anything when the ball was in the air.

Projected Top Reserves: With Bell out this spring, redshirt freshman Phillip Thomas was able to show what he could do. The 6-0, 205-pound redshirt freshman will make a big push for the starting free safety job and could push Bell to a nickel role. If he's not the starter, he'll be the first man off the bench and will be starting sooner than later.

6-1, 205-pound senior Marvin Haynes was the starting free safety two years ago making 65 tackles, but he was reduced to a reserve role last year making 25 tackles with two picks after suffering a slew of ticky-tack injuries. Even though he's fine, he wasn't able to push Harris for the starting strong safety job and isn't likely to be moved back to free safety.

The hope before last year was for Damion Owens to become the main man at corner after making 42 tackles with a pick, but he ended up making 35 tackles with a pick for a 68-yard score, the only touchdown, against Boise State. While he has never lived up to his potential, he'll have one last shot to produce as the backup behind Jefferson.

Watch Out For ... movement to try to find the right safety combination. after struggling to do much of anything right last year, the safeties will need to produce early on or the coaching staff will do some shuffling. Harris and Bell are decent options, but Thomas could quickly be the main man.
Strength: Looking the part. There's plenty of speed and decent size for all four spots. The raw skills are there to do far more if there's any semblance of a pass rush to help the cause.
Weakness: Interceptions. For whatever reason, over the last several years the Bulldogs don't pick off passes. The secondary came up with six interceptions in two years, and last year made five. the secondary has to be better at ball-hawking.  
Outlook: With all the returning experience and with backup options good enough to push the projected starters, the secondary can't help but be better after a disastrous year. There needs to be more from the defensive front to make quarterbacks hurry, but the DBs, particularly the safeties, have to do their part.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Sophomore Kevin Goessling turned around a struggling kicking game hitting 15-of-22 field goals and showing off an impressive leg with a 58-yarder against Utah State. The left-footer wasn't consistent early on, but he rallied to connect on seven of his last eight attempts.

The punting game was better than the net average might appear. Sophomore Robert Malone averaged 42.8 yards per kick and showed off an impressive leg while putting 20 kicks inside the 20. Now he has to do a better job of working with the coverage team to keep the returns to a minimum.

CB A.J. Jefferson is one of the nation's top kickoff returners averaging 29.3 yards per try after averaging 35.8 yards per attempt two years ago. He's a weapon that teams will have to avoid at all costs. Rashad Evans and Chastin West form a special punt return tandem. Evans averaged 13.2 yards per try, while West averaged 16.4 yards per attempt. Each scored.

Watch Out For ... teams to do everything possible to avoid the Fresno State return men. The Bulldogs have a special return game with game-breaking ability in all areas. The offense will benefit from great field position from conservative teams afraid of getting burned..
Strength: The return game and big legs. The return game is the best in America, while Goessling and Malone have cannons for legs. There won't be any problems bombing away, and the returners will be the team's biggest strength..
Weakness: Punt coverage. Fresno State was tenth in the nation in punt returns averaging 14 yards per try. The coverage team also allowed 14 yards per attempt.
Outlook: If the coverage teams can be just a little bit better, the special teams will be the best in the WAC. Everyone is back after a breakthrough year, and there's no reason to think there will be a step back.
Rating: 8.5