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
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
Strength of the defense: Versatility in the backfield
Weakness of the defense: Defensive line,
depth across the board
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.
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
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.
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
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
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