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2009 San Diego State Preview - Defense
San Diego State DE J.J. Williams
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - San Diego State Aztec Defense
Preview 2009 - 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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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
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.
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
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
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.
Strength: 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 ...
Weakness: 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
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.
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
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
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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.