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2009 Utah State Preview - Defense
Utah State LB Paul Igboeli
Utah State LB Paul Igboeli
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 12, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Utah State Aggie Defense

Utah State Aggies

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Utah State Preview | 2009 Utah State Offense
- 2009 Utah State Defense | 2009 Utah State Depth Chart
- 2008 Utah St Preview | 2007 Utah St Preview
| 2006 CFN Utah St Preview 

What you need to know:
For the third year in a row, the Aggies are experienced with loads of options and decent talent all across the board. Now it'll be up to new defensive coordinator Bill Busch to make it all work. Helped by having a head coach in Gary Andersen who knows defenses, there should be more production on sheer aggressiveness alone. With the press-man coverage scheme, the idea this offseason was to find the toughest playmakers and get them on the field. There's no size whatsoever, there isn't a sure-thing pass rusher and the secondary that was toasted way too often last year will likely have problems again, but seven starters are back and there's just enough overall quickness and athleticism to make this a plucky group that will throw itself around all over the field.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Paul Igboeli, 78
Sacks: Junior Keiaho, Antonio May, 2.5
Interceptions: James Brindley, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Paul Igboeli
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LB Kyle Gallagher
Unsung star on the rise: Junior NT Sean Enesi
Best pro prospect: Igboeli (as a safety)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Igboeli, 2) FS James Brindley, 3) DE Antonio May
Strength of the defense: Quickness, Overall experience
Weakness of the defense: Size, Pass coverage

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
:
The biggest loss up front is at tackle where star Ben Calderwood, a top interior pass rusher, has to be replaced. Ready to step in will be JUCO transfer Sean Enisi, a 5-10, 271-pound bowling ball who played on the O line for El Camino JC but moved over to the defensive side right away for the Aggies. He's a natural with tremendous strength and toughness.

Returning to the other tackle spot is 6-0, 252-pound junior Nathan Royster who made 17 tackles and two sacks. He didn't crank out a ton of stats even though he started in 11 games, and now he has to do more. He's a strong, physical player with excellent upside, but he has be more active and be a leader against the run.

6-1, 217-pound sophomore Bobby Wagner started the final nine games last year at linebacker finishing with 51 tackles with two tackles for loss. Extremely small for the end, he'll bring his speed to the left side and will be used as a pure pass rusher as a part of a rotation.

Senior Antonio May was originally expected to start on the left side going into spring ball, but he moved over to the right side and will start after finishing last year starting the final two games on the left. At 6-4 and 231 pounds, he's one of the team's biggest ends even though he's built like a linebacker. He made 26 tackles and showed good pass rushing upside with 2.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss. He's also decent in pass coverage with three broken up passes.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Alan Bishop started the final six games of last year and came up big with 37 tackles with a sack and 4.5 tackles for loss. At 6-5 and 281 pounds, he's the team's biggest presence on the inside and will end up being a spot starter. He's not a dynamic performer, but he's good enough against the run to play a big role.

Former JUCO transfer Casey Davis came in and produced right away as a key backup tackle with 17 tackles with a sack. At 6-3 and 281 pounds, he has good size, but he has to come up big this fall after being demoted this offseason. He'll end up as part of the rotation on the nose.

At 6-2 and 254 pounds, senior Darby Golden is the team's largest ends, but he needs to work his way back in the rotation. He made 26 tackles with two sacks and four tackles for loss as a key reserve, but with his combination of size and quickness he has the ability to do more.

Looking to play more of a role on the end is 6-3, 236-pound sophomore Quinn Garner, one of the team's bigger end prospects. He only made 15 tackles last year and didn't get into the backfield to make plays, but he'll be the No. 3 end in the rotation working behind May.

Watch Out For ... Wagner. The new coaching staff is looking for as many different options as possible to get into the backfield, and Wagner, who was a good-looking linebacker prospect, is an interesting possibility. He's not big, but he can move.
Strength: Options. This is a veteran line with good backups who can step in and produce at least as well as the No. 1s, for good and bad. There's plenty of quickness to play around with.
Weakness: Size. This is a way-too-small line missing a true anchor of a tackle who can eat everything up. The ends are linebacker-sized at best, safety-sized at worst.
Outlook: Head coach Gary Andersen's specialty is cranking out good defenses and strong lines, and he'll help make this promising group much better. Losing Calderwood is a killer, but there's plenty of decent athletes and there should be a good rotation.
Rating: 5


Linebackers

Projected Starters
:
The linebacking corps suffered a huge loss when leading tackler Jake Hutton, who was given an extra year of eligibility after suffering a foot problem, had a major set back in rehab and won't be able to play. Now it'll be up to sophomore Kyle Gallagher to fill the role after originally being considered a main option for the outside. Only 6-1 and 203 pounds, he's a kamikaze hitter who'll be all over the field after missing all of last year. He made 47 tackles two years ago.

The team's leading returning playmaker is Paul Igboeli after making 78 tackles with six tackles for loss with an interception. He made 95 tackles as a freshman and has been one of the team's best all-around players ever since. At 6-0 and 201 pounds, he holds up well for his size and has the speed and quickness to be all over the field. However, he's not enough of a disruptive force; he's not a pass rusher.

Working on the other side will be junior Maxim Dinka, a 5-11, 211-pound reserve who made 19 tackles last season. A safety by trade, he was expected to be the team's starter at strong safety before making the move. Now he has to use his speed and range to be a consistent pass defender.

Projected Top Reserves: Originally considered the main option in the middle going into spring ball, former running back Jacob Atkinson will now start out working behind Igboeli on the outside. At 6-1 and 208 pounds, he's a safety-sized defender who will need a little time to learn what he's doing, but he has too much speed and athleticism to be kept off the field.

At 5-10 and 239 pounds, sophomore Reuben Willis is a bigger option in the middle than the 203-pound Gallagher. The JUCO transfer made 72 tackles and seven sacks for El Camino JC and he should be a good hitter who can handle himself well against the run. While his size is needed on the inside, he's a good enough pass rusher to work on the outside.


Watch Out For ... Gallagher. After coming into the offseason as the likely backup behind Igboeli, he was aggressive enough and tough enough to be the main option in the middle. He's going to have to prove he can hold up, but he should be one of the team's leading tacklers.
Strength: Range. With a linebacking corps full of safety-sized defenders there had better be some speed and quickness to rely on. This group has it. Range won't be a problem, but everyone will have to work on gang tackling with no big bodies to count on.
Weakness: Size. With Hutton gone, there's no size whatsoever. The projecting starting threesome averages around 205 pounds per man. Anyone who wants to run with power should be able to wear down the corps by the fourth quarter.
Outlook: There will be plenty of aggressive, big hitters, but there needs to be a steady rotation with several young, relatively untested prospects flowing around Igboeli. Gallagher will be a good one, but it's Igboeli who'll be the star.
Rating: 5


Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
:
The secondary needs to work around senior safety James Brindley, the team's third leading tackler who made 75 tackles with three interceptions and 3.5 tackles for loss. The 5-11, 189-pounder spend last year at strong safety and was going to move over to free safety going into this year. However, he was too good a hitter and too tough against the run to be moved from strong safety. A corner by nature, he has good range to go along with his tackling ability.

With Brindley staying put, redshirt freshman Cache Morgan will work at free safety early on. The 5-10, 180-pounder isn't going to provide much of a pop, but he moves well and he showed off surprising tackling ability considering he was supposed spend the year developing at corner. Fast, he should be all over the field.

Senior Kejon Murphy is the team's top cover-corner moving from the right side to the left. He's only 5-9 and 155 pounds, and he gets beaten up by the more physical receivers, but he's tough for his size. Staying healthy has been the biggest issue over the course of his career, but he was able to play all 12 games last season making 30 tackles with two interceptions.

5-10, 176-pound junior Chris Randle was a spot starter last season making 28 tackles with an interception. He's a good tackler who won't miss much in the open field, but he hasn't done nearly enough when the ball is in the air. He not only has to use his speed and experience to pick off more passes, but he has to be able to prevent the big play.


Projected Top Reserves: Junior Curtis Marsh came to Utah State as a top running back prospect and ran for 185 yards and two scores last year. Now he'll bring his quickness and 6-1, 184-pound size to the secondary working behind Randle as a backup corner. With his size and all-around athleticism, he'll be a key player in nickel and dime packages.

With excellent quickness and a nose for the ball, redshirt freshman Sheldon Armstrong went from being a backup corner to the backup at free safety behind Morgan. The 5-11, 182-pounder won't miss many tackles and he has a way of being around the plays in practice, but he needs to be more consistent and he needs playing time.

Watch Out For ... Marsh. The former running back has desperately needed size and the speed needed to be a good all-around defender. However, he needs time to figure out what he's doing. With Randle set at corner, Marsh could see time at safety if needed.
Strength: Corner. While there were major problems on deep passes last season and they were shoved around by any receiver who has seen a weight room, Murphy and Randle have been around long enough to know what they're doing. They'll need help, but they have the quickness needed to be on an island.
Weakness: The scheme change. Yes, the corners might be the relative strength, but they'll be on their own more often than not in the press-man coverage the new coaching staff will employ. Can they handle themselves under the pressure? They weren't able to last year.
Outlook: There will be lots of playing around with the depth chart and the rotation to find defensive backs who can come up with plays against the better passing teams. While there are willing tacklers, there aren't a lot of big, intimidating options and there will have to be lots of tough open field stops to go along with the worries in the new pass defense. This will be a full-season work in progress.
Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
:
Junior Peter Caldwell, the big-time recruit of a few years ago, had a fantastic year hitting 10-of-12 field goals, but he didn't show much in the way of range topping out at just 42 yards. That's where big-legged Chris Ulinski comes in. The kickoff specialist nailed both his bombs highlighted by a 56-yarder.

Caldwell will also handle the punting duties again after averaging a terrific 41.9 yards per kick while putting 15 inside the 20. He's great at working with the coverage teams to keep returns to a minimum.

The kickoff return game needs work after finishing last in the WAC and 109th in the nation. Sophomore Chris Harris will get the first shot after averaging 20 yards per try, while senior Kejon Murphy, last year's top kickoff returner who averaged 24 yards per pop, will serve mostly as a punt returner after averaging 8.8 yards per attempt. 

Watch Out For ... Murphy to move back to kickoff returns soon. Harris is fine, but Murphy was fantastic when he got his chance.
Strength: Caldwell and the kicking game. Caldwell is one of the nation's best all-around kickers, while Ulinski has a proven cannon to be counted on from 50+ yards away.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage.  After allowing 28.1 yards per kickoff return two years ago, the Aggies were supposed to have a renewed emphasis on kickoff coverage going into last year. They allowed 28.1 yards per try.
Outlook: As long as the coverage teams are better and if there's a bit more oooomph in the return game, the special teams will be solid. Caldwell will be an All-WAC performer, while Murphy is a solid all-around returner.
Rating: 7