2009 San Diego State Preview - Defense
San Diego State DE J.J. Williams
San Diego State DE J.J. Williams
Posted Jul 1, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - San Diego State Aztec Defense

San Diego State Aztecs

Preview 2009 - Defense

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2009 SDSU Defense
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What you need to know: The defense was an utter disaster finishing 113th in the nation in both total defense and scoring, but there could be a major change right away with the addition of defensive coordinator Rocky Long, the former New Mexico head coach who should be terrific now that he only has to concentrate on the D. He'll change things up to a 3-3-5 alignment and will turn the back eight lose to be more disruptive and try to make more big plays, but the improvement on the defense is up to the line. The Aztec front three has the talent with B.J. Williams and Jonathan Soto two big ends working around Ernie Lawson in the middle. They need to hold up better against the run and there has to be far, far more production into the backfield, but in the new system they should shine. The linebackers have promise, while the secondary will get plenty of opportunities to make big plays.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Luke Laolagi, 99
Sacks: B.J. Williams, 3.5
Interceptions: Jose Perez, 2

Star of the defense: Junior DE B.J. Williams
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Ernie Lawson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Miles Burris
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Jonathan Soto
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Williams, 2) Soto, 3) LB Luke Laolagi
Strength of the defense: Experience, Line
Weakness of the defense: Run Defense, Pass Defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: In the new 3-3-5 alignment, the Aztecs need an anchor on the nose to work around. 6-3, 300-pound junior Ernie Lawson brings the bulk the line needs, but he has to be 100%. He missed all of 2006 hurt, made 17 tackles as a reserve two years ago, and had various problems from and ankle injury to an illness that limited him to six games last year. He made ten tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss and was fine when he's on the field. A leader and a hard worker, he'll be great if he can last.

6-3, 270-pound senior Jonathan Soto is built perfectly as a 3-4 end. He was a spot starter last year at the end and was one of the team's most productive defenders making 57 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. He's not a pure pass rusher, but he's quick off the ball and is good at getting to the ball. He should flourish in the new alignment. 

Junior B.J. Williams was good two years ago making 45 tackles, and he showed even more promise last year with 74 stops with a team-leading 3.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. The 6-3, 250-pounder is the team's most dangerous pass rusher with speed into the backfield and always gives a good effort. A solid prospect with the athleticism and tools to do even more, he might get stuffed a bit in the new alignment but should still be the team's best lineman.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-2, 295-pound sophomore Neil Spencer got a start as a true freshman in 2007, finishing with 28 tackles, but he redshirted last year and now will be a bit part of the tackle rotation. A top recruit, he can play tackle in a 4-3 and is strong enough to hold his own in the new alignment. He's active enough to get into the backfield.

Sophomore Jerome Long was thrown to the wolves as a true freshman and did a nice job making 37 tackles, but he didn't do much to get into the backfield. A tall, rangy 6-5, 250 pounds, he has worked to put on more weight but he's still extremely quick. He made just one sack with two tackles for loss, and he'll have to get to the quarterback on a regular basis to see more playing time behind Williams.

Watch Out For ... a massive improvement. This is the area that improved the fastest with the coaching change, and it should only get better with four returning starters able to rotate in. This group will do far more to get into the backfield and should be far more consistent.
The 3-3-5. This would be a stretched-thin line in a 4-3 but it's a solid group with only three defenders up front. Everyone should be fresher and there should be more overall production. 
: Production. The line was among the least productive in America over the last three seasons doing nothing to get into the backfield and less than nothing against the run. The line should be better, and there were some decent tackle totals from players like Soto and Williams, but there's nowhere to go but up after the Aztecs finished 108th in the nation in sacks, 100th in tackles for loss, and was 118th against the run.
Outlook: Awful, awful for years, the defense needed to undergo a radical change up front and this is it. There's a ton of experience up front and there's more talent than the stats might indicate. This won't be a brick wall of a front three, but it'll be improved.
Rating: 5


Projected Starters: Good luck replacing Russell Allen. He would've received far more national attention if he was on a team that did anything and he'll be missed on the strongside. The team's best returning outside linebacker will be Miles Burris, a 6-2, 245-pound athlete who has unlimited range and upside. While he spent last year working mostly on special teams, but he saw plenty of action on defense making 19 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss. He was fantastic this offseason and could be the new leader of the linebacking corps.

Returning to the middle is 6-1, 230-pound senior Luke Laolagi after he finished third on the team with 99 tackles and four tackles for loss. One of the team's most experienced players with 34 games of experience and 24 starts, he knows what he's doing on the inside with good size and nice speed, but at some point in his career he has to start making more plays at the point of attack and not seven yards down the field.

5-10, 230-pound senior Jerry Milling got two starts last year and will get the start on the weakside after spending the last two years trying to stay healthy. He has great size for the position, but he suffered a broken foot two years ago and missed most of last year hurt after making 28 tackles and a tackle for loss in four games. He has it all with toughness to play on the inside and the speed to do more in pass protection.

Projected Top Reserves: If it's not Milling on the outside it'll be Andrew Preston, a 20-game career starter who made 82 stops with a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss. At 6-1 and 225 pounds he's not one of the team's bigger linebackers, but he's a great athlete and a big hitter. Now he has to do a better job of getting to the ball at the line and making more big plays.

At 6-2 and 245 pounds, Marcus Yarbrough is a big, tough hitter who can play on the strongside or on the inside. The junior will work in the middle behind Laolagi and will see plenty of action as more than just a backup after making 28 tackles and being tough against the run. He doesn't have the best range, but he's tough against the run.

Watch Out For ... Burris. He's not going to be the guided missile that Allen was, but he should be the team's best all-around linebacker. He has the ability to be an All-Mountain West star sooner than later.
Size. This is a nice-sized group that can run with almost all the key stars at around 230 pounds or more. There should be more production against the run with a group this size, at least in theory, but ...
Production. The Aztec linebackers will come up with plenty of sacks, but they don't do enough to make plays in the backfield and most of their stops come after big gains. There's a lot of room for this group to improve.
Outlook: The linebackers will have to do even more in the new 3-3-5 alignment and will have to show they can hold up better against the run. The starting trio of Burris, Laolagi, and Milling should be good enough to play with anyone in the conference, and they'll have to be stars right away for the defense to show any real improvement.
Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The team desperately needs a tough, lock-down cover-corner, and senior Davion Mauldin is it. The former JUCO transfer stepped in and saw time in nine games, giving a start against Colorado State, finishing with ten tackles. While he didn't set the world on fire, the 5-10, 175-pounder has tremendous speed and will be more than just a factor in the return game.

Is Kwincy Edwards ready to shine in his final season? The 5-11, 165-pound speedster has spent his career on special teams, and on the bench, making a mere three tackles last year. However, he was excellent this spring and the new coaching staff made him a starter on the corner. He's not going to hit anyone, but he has the wheels to stay with just about anyone.

At the A position in the middle of the secondary will be Nick Sandford, a 6-2, 210-pound senior who's one of the team's smartest players and has the athleticism to potentially be all over the field. He got seven starts last year before getting hurt making 44 tackles with two tackles for loss. Mostly a special teams star so far, he should blossom into a stat-sheet filler if he can stay on the field. Staying healthy has been a problem throughout his career.

At one of the W positions will be Romeo Horn, a corner by nature who should show good range and be one of the team's bigger playmakers against the pass once he figures out what he's doing. The 6-0, 185-pound junior was a superstar recruit a few years ago but hasn't broken out yet with just 11 career tackles. He has the talent to do far, far more.

At the other W spot will be 6-2, 185-pound sophomore Brandon Davis, who got his feet wet as a backup in his first season making five tackles. A tall, rangy defender who was one of the team's top recruits in 2007, he has good tackling ability and the speed and quickness to always be around the ball. He not only saw a little time on defense, but he got a few carries on offense.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Aaron Moore started most of last year at corner and has 24 career starts under his belt, but he was pushed out of a spot in spring ball and will have to be better to get back into the mix. He was fine last season making 48 tackles with an interception and six broken up passes, but he got beaten way too often and wasn't strong against No. 1 targets. At 6-0 and 195 pounds he has decent size and enough experience to be on the field somewhere.

6-1, 215-pound junior Martrell Fantroy was supposed to be a starter at strong safety, but he got hurt and missed the entire season. He made 17 tackles with three picks two years ago showing off great athleticism and tremendous ball-hawking ability. When he's ready to go, he'll battle with Sanford for one of the safety jobs.

Eric Pinkins was the team's top recruit with 6-3, 177-pound size and track star speed. A safety prospect who should fit in perfectly in the new defense, when he's ready to go, he'll be turned loose as a pass rusher and a possible playmaker when the ball is in the air. He's great in space and packs a punch when he gets to the play.

5-10, 160-pound Nate Berhe is undersized for a safety and could end up being used at corner, but he's one of the team's top prospects and good enough to be thrown to the wolves right away. A tremendous tackler for his size, to go along with excellent quickness and straight-line speed, he has the raw ability to upgrade the secondary.

Watch Out For ... one safety to emerge as a superstar in the new scheme. And that player will be ... ? Sandford is in the right spot to be the main man, but the chances will be there for Horn and Davis to shine in the new alignment.
The Rocky Long defense. The defensive backs were the stars of the show in the New Mexico defense, and now this group will get a chance to fly around and hit people. There might be a slew of problems against the better deep passing teams, but if any of the safeties like to unload on receivers and come up with highlight reel shots, they'll be able to.
: Production. The overall pass defense numbers aren't that bad, giving up 213 yards per game last year and 21 touchdowns, but there were only nine interceptions and there were way too many big plays allowed. SDSU was 112th in the nation, and last in the Mountain West, in pass efficiency defense.
Outlook: There was no help whatsoever from the defensive front in terms of a pass rush, but it's not like the secondary came up with any plays when they had their chances. This year, in the 3-3-5 alignment, there will be plenty of room to roam and lots of help for the corners. It'll be tougher to get the ball deep on this group, but there will also need to be more done against the run.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Lane Yoshida had a decent first year as the top kicker hitting 8-of-12 field goals. He missed a few chippies, but he showed off a nice deep leg hitting three kicks from beyond 40 yards including a 49-yarder against BYU.

The net punting numbers were awful, but the coverage team had a lot to do with that. Sophomore Brian Stahovich averaged 39.5 yards per punt, but he was able to force 19 fair catches and put 14 inside the 20. He has the blast to crank out a few 60 yarders, but he needs more help.

Senior Mekell Wesley was a washout as a receiver prospect, but he's been a decent returner averaging 7.8 yards per punt return. A speedy athlete, he has the ability to do more if he gets a little room to move. He also averaged 20.4 yards per kickoff return, while safety Davion Mauldin averaged 22.6 yards per try with a 93-yard return for a score against Colorado State.

Watch Out For ... more from the return game. Brady Hoke's Ball State team was fifth in the nation in punt returns last year and 31st in kickoff returns. He'll make sure his veteran returners have chances to shine.
Experience. Both kickers are back along with the top returners. There wasn't any one area that was special, even though the kickoff coverage was fine allowing 19.7 yards per try. The potential is there for this to be a major area of improvement.
: Punt coverage. Of all the areas that need improving and need work, the punt coverage team might be No. 1 after allowing a whopping 12 yards per try.
Outlook: The rest of the team needs so much work and attention that the special teams are likely to suffer a little bit, but the new coaching staff is placing an emphasis on improving the return games. The kicking game will be fine and the return game can't help but be a bit better. 
Rating: 6.5