2009 New Mexico State Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 28, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - New Mexico State Aggie Defense

New Mexico State Aggies

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN NMSU Preview | 2009 NMSU Offense
2009 NMSU Defense | 2009 NMSU Depth Chart
2008 NMSU Preview | 2007 NMSU Preview | 2006 NMSU Preview  

What you need to know:
At least the coaches are strong. Having a head coach like DeWayne Walker will instantly help a defense that wasn’t ignored under the old regime, but certainly wasn’t the main focus. Even so, last year’s defense wasn’t all that bad finishing third in the nation against the pass. There was no run defense and little pass rush, and both of those things will be addressed early on. The big problem will be the personnel; there are too many holes to fill from a bad defense. There’s absolutely no experience to count on from the front line, and there’s no depth whatsoever across the board. Making matters worse is the loss of star linebacker Nick Paden is out for the season with a knee injury. On the plus side, Jason Scott is a nice linebacker and Davon House is a solid corner.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jason Scott, 84
Sacks: Jamar Cotton, 3
Interceptions: Davon House, Alphonso Powell, 2

Star of the defense: Senior CB Davon House
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Sioeli Fakalata
Unsung star on the rise: Junior CB Lorenzo Caldwell
Best pro prospect: Senior LB Nick Paden (but he’s injured)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) House, 2) LB Jason Scott, 3) S Alphonso Powell
Strength of the defense: Versatility in the backfield
Weakness of the defense: Defensive line, depth across the board

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The defensive front needs to find a pass rusher who can consistently get into the backfield, but the bigger issue is in the middle. That’s why the coaching staff went out and got a big block for the inside in 6-4, 290-pound Vincent Federico, a JUCO transfer who was an all-star for Mt. Sac JC in California last year. While he still needs work, he has the toughness to hold up against the run and he’s a good interior pass rusher.
Is Sioeli Fakalata ready? The 6-3, 313-pound junior was the one player the defense couldn’t afford to lose last season, and it showed. Expected to bring desperately needed size and run stopping ability on the inside, the potential anchor suffered a shoulder injury and was out for the year. He took a medical redshirt, and now he’ll try to get back in the mix to build on a 20-tackle, two-sack season of two years ago. 

The only returning player with any semblance of experience is senior Justen Alford, a good backup last year who made 32 tackles with two tackles for loss. Way undersized at just 6-2 and 227 pounds, he’ll have to prove he can make more big plays in the backfield and he’ll have to get to the quarterback to be considered for a starting job.

Ready to make more noise is Pierre Fils, a 6-3, 230-pound sophomore who saw time in ten games making 12 tackles. A steady producer when he saw time, he has linebacker quickness in the body of a linebacker. Now he has to show he can use his athleticism to hit a quarterback.

Projected Top Reserves: Looking to see time right away on the inside is JUCO transfer John Finau. The 6-0, 290-pounder is a pure nose guard who could end up at either tackle spot. Extremely quick, he has the playmaking ability to get to the quarterback and come up with plays behind the line. He’s a non-stop worker who could be the spark-plug for the defensive front.

Part end, part tackle, 6-4, 276-pound Chris Romero came to NMSU looking to be a big end right away, but he ended up redshirting. A decent pass rusher for Snow College, he’ll rotate on the inside where he should add a boost of quickness.

Donte Savage was thrown to the wolves as a true freshman and made an impact right away. He only finishes with 11 tackles on the year with two sacks and three tackles for loss, and he has the potential to do far more. Only 6-1 and 229 pounds, he’s more like an outside linebacker than a true end.

6-3, 248-pound Kawika Shook has the quickness and he has a little bit of experience, but the sophomore only made six tackles on the year. He was a good recruit for the program, he had offers to go to a few Pac 10 schools, but he has yet to make an impact.

Watch Out For
this to be the coaching staff’s biggest concern. Fortunately there are good defensive coaches on the roster, but they have a lot of work to do to find starters.
Strength: A clean slate. DeWayne Walker will run an aggressive attack that relies heavily on the defensive front to hit the quarterback. Anyone who can get into the backfield will play.
Weakness: Even the slightest semblance of experience. The opening day roster will likely be far different than the one that closes things out, mainly because the coaching staff has to figure out who can play.
Outlook: While the idea will be to scrap the 3-4 defense of the Hal Mumme era, the Aggies might not have the defensive linemen to do it. There’s absolutely nothing here the new coaching staff can count on from day one with defensive line coach Jesse Williams needing to do a lot of work to figure out which live bodies can produce. The Aggies need to unearth a few playmaking ends, and they desperately need a steady tackle who can stop the run.
Rating: 3


Projected Starters
Senior Jason Scott was a good JUCO pickup last season and he paid off right away finishing third on the team with 84 tackles with two sacks and nine tackles for loss. More like a safety than a linebacker at 5-10 and 207 pounds, he plays bigger than his size and doesn’t miss any open-field stops. He’ll be a statistical monster on the outside.

A safety being used as a linebacker, 6-0, 218-pound Jamar Cotton turned in a nice season with 38 tackles, three sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss before suffering a season-ending elbow injury. He was a monster in the loss to San Jose State with 11 tackles, and if he’s able to find the right spot on the defense, he should be one of the team’s top tacklers.

Mostly a special teamer, 5-10, 212-pound senior Ross Conner also saw time in the defensive rotation making 18 tackles on the year. He was a good producer when he was able to get on the field and will now be needed for his experience and quickness. While he’s able to play on the outside, he’ll start out in the middle.

Projected Top Reserves: The star of the defense, and perhaps the team, will be senior Nick Paden … next year. A big-time hitter who came over from the JUCO ranks to make 71 stops and five sacks in 2007 and 107 tackles with two sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, and two interceptions last year, he’s out for the season with knee problems. At 6-3 and 235 pounds, he has decent size and excellent 4.5 speed. While he’ll be needed on the inside as the quarterback of the defense when he comes back, he could be a killer as a pass rushing hybrid.

Used mostly as a backup behind Nick Paden on the inside, 6-0, 223-pound Sam King might end up being used in a variety of roles. The senior came up with just 13 tackles on the year, but he has the quickness to be used on the outside as a pass rusher or on the inside if Paden moves to different spot.

Watch Out For ... this to turn out to be the team’s biggest strength. Thanks to Jason Scott and several nice prospects, this is one of the only areas that the team has rocks to build around. There are several linebacking prospects that’ll see time rotating around them.
Strength: Scott. The team’s No. 3 tackler will be the team leader in overall production. The new coaching staff can do several things with him.
Weakness: Depth. There are plenty of linebackers who have been around the program for at least a year, but there isn’t much in the way of proven production outside of Scott.
Outlook: The linebackers will be the ones the defense will have to revolve around early on. There’s good all-around speed and quickness, but there needs to be a few emerging playmakers who can come from out of the blue and produce.
Rating: 4.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
Davon House came up with a strong season under pressure. The 6-0, 172-pound junior corner started every game at the left defensive back position, hitting like a small safety while covering like a No. 1 defensive back. Extremely quick, he came up with six broken up passes and two interceptions while handling almost everyone’s top target.

It’s asking a lot for a newcomer to step in and become a key playmaker from day one, but that’s exactly what the coaching staff might be asking from Lorenzo Caldwell, one of the team’s top recruits. The JUCO transfer made 48 tackles and broke up three passes for Cerrios Junior College last year and he could become a lock-down corner. At 6-1 and 190 pounds he has great size and good enough athleticism to get by.

The biggest hole to fill will be at free safety where the 137 tackles of Derrick Richardson are gone. Sophomore Michael Zant saw time in every game last season and even got two starts at safety finishing with 28 tackles and two tackles for loss. While he’s only 5-9 and 171 pounds, he’s a good, tough hitter who’s a mature player; he was on a church mission for two years.

True junior Alphonso Powell was originally expected to be a key corner on last year’s team, and he turned out to be a good safety starting every game but the opener finishing fifth on the team with 71 tackles and two interceptions. He has been a star special teamer in the past, but he’ll be too important in the secondary to do much else. Only 5-9 and 182 pounds, he’s not all that huge, but he can move.

Projected Top Reserves: Chris Buckner was a decent reserve last year after figuring out what he was doing. The former wide receiver saw time in every game making five tackles with a broken up pass, and now the 6-0, 188-pound senior has to show he can be a steady cover corner.

Junior Stephon Hatchett turned into a key backup seeing time in every game and making 19 tackles. However, he was at his best on special teams as a star in punt coverage. The former wide receiver will be used more in the defensive backfield, but at 5-8 and 170 pounds he might not have the size to hold up for a full season.

5-10, 180-pound sophomore Mark Waters spent most of his time on special teams but he was also a backup safety. While he only made three tackles, he has the upside and the quickness to do a lot more as a reserve at several spots.
Watch Out For ... Caldwell. The secondary needs size and it needs another corner. In comes the JUCO transfer to bring both right away.
Strength: House. With no help from a pass rush, the secondary finished third in the nation in passing yards allowed. To be fair, that was also because most teams were able to run at will, but the secondary really was strong at times with House the team’s top corner.
Weakness: Safety experience. There’s no replacing with Derrick Richardson provided the team last year, and while Powell is a good safety to start with, a few more have to shine early on to come up with a decent rotation.
Outlook: One of the team’s biggest strengths last year should be decent again if Lorenzo Caldwell comes through at corner. Davon House has All-WAC potential and Alphonso Powell should be stronger with a year of starting experience under his belt. This group will be tested more than it was last year, but it should benefit with a better pass rush to help the cause. More interceptions are needed, with only nine last year, and a free safety has to shine in place of all-star Derrick Richardson.
Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Junior Kyle Hughes had a nice year punting the ball averaging 42.7 yard per kick with nine put inside the 20. He only came up with one touchback while he improved his hang time. With a great leg, he should be even better now that he has a year of experience. He needs to show a bigger leg as a placekicker after hitting just 1-of-3 shots from behind 29 yards. He has the distance, but he needs to be more consistent. Unlike last year, he’ll get the chances.

With Chris Williams gone, Marcus Anderson, one of the team’s top receivers, will handle more of the punt return duties after averaging 10.6 yards per try last year. He’ll also do more on kickoff returns after leading the way with a 23.7-yard average.
Watch Out For ... a battle for the placekicker job. Colin Lund was mostly a kickoff specialist last year, but if Hughes isn’t better, this could be an ongoing issue.
Strength: Anderson. He might not be as good an all-around returner as Chris Williams, but he was one of the best in the WAC. With more responsibility this year, he should shine and be an all-star in one of the two areas.
Weakness: Placekicking. Hitting 7-of-11 field goals might not seem that bad, but all but one were inside 29 yards. Part of the reason was the former regime’s belief to go for it as much as possible on fourth downs. This year, Hughes will get more chances and he has to prove he can handle it.
Outlook: The coverage teams struggled and the placekicking was spotty, but overall the special teams were a positive. Marcus Anderson should be a strong return man and Kyle Hughes has the potential to be among the WAC’s better punters.
Rating: 6


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2009 New Mexico State Preview - Offense
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