2010 Fresno State Preview – Defense

Posted Aug 9, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Fresno State Bulldog Defense

Fresno State Bulldogs

Preview 2010 - Defense

- 2010 Fresno State Preview | 2010 Fresno State Offense
- 2010 Fresno State Defense | 2010 Fresno State Depth Chart
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What You Need To Know: A total disaster, defensive coordinator Randy Stewart's defense has to be far better and has to be far more disruptive after yet another disappointing season. The Bulldogs finished 111th in the nation against the run, second-to-last in sacks, and 98th in total D. The big key will be to force more turnovers after coming up with 15 takeaways and not doing nearly enough to hit the quarterback, and the potential is there to do far more with Chris Carter leading a veteran line full of good athletes. Ben Jacobs is one of the nation's better linebackers, and he'll be a strong leader for an improved group. The secondary has speed to burn, but it has to come up with more stops after getting ripped apart by everyone who could throw a forward pass.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Ben Jacobs, 106
Sacks: Chris Carter, 5
Interceptions: Phillip Thomas, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Ben Jacobs
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DT Logan Harrell
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Travis Brown
Best pro prospect: Sophomore CB Jermaine Thomas
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jacobs, 2) DE Chris Carter, 3) Brown
Strength of the defense: Speed, Jacobs
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Takeaways

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The Bulldog defense did next to nothing to get into the backfield, but senior Chris Carter worked to do his part carrying the pass rushing workload making five of the team's 11 sacks with 13 tackles for loss and 37 tackles. The 6-2, 245-pound veteran started off his career as a weakside linebacker and made 88 tackles in 2008, and then he moved up front and became a WAC all-star. He was able to produce despite a broken hand suffered early on, but now that he's healthy he's expected to be a better closer when he uses his speed and quickness to get into the backfield.

6-3, 260-pound senior Chris Lewis worked as an undersized tackle last year starting every game on the inside, making 20 tackles with an interception and 4.5 tackles for loss, and now he'll move to the outside to use his bulk as a defensive end in place of Kenny Borg. The former Miami Hurricane needs to always keep the motor running and he has the tools to be great with all the attention paid to Carter on the other side, but at the very least he'll be a physical run stopper with more room to move.

Senior nose tackle Cornell Banks got into the classroom, got eligible, and started the last five games of last year finishing with 30 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. At 6-3 and 300 pounds he's one of the team's biggest defenders, and he has the talent to shine on the nose. He needs to be more of a run stopper and has to hold up stronger against the tougher running games.

The one new starter up front, junior Logan Harrell , is a 6-2, 275-pound veteran who was supposed to get the starting call last year on the inside but ended up serving once again as a top backup making 17 tackles. A strong interior pass rusher, he came up with two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss showing great quickness off the ball while also dominating in practices. Now he has to be steadier during the season on the inside if he doesn't work as a big end.

Projected Top Reserves: Working in a rotation on the nose is 6-3, 285-pound junior Chase McEntee after seeing time in 11 games making 19 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. He's a bit tall for a nose tackle and doesn't necessarily look the part, but he's tough enough to hold his own and he's quick enough to cover both gaps without a problem. He's a more athletic option than Cornell Banks.

In an attempt to find some semblance of a steady pass rush, redshirt freshman Nat Harrison will be a part of a rotation on the end first working behind Chris Carter. Only 6-2 and 215 pounds, he's built like a safety and he moves like one. With great quickness, he looks like he's shot out of a cannon when he gets off the ball, and he has to be a disruptive force.

Only 6-2 and 250 pounds, redshirt freshman Andy Jennings is a way-too-small tackle, but he'll get his chances on the inside providing more athleticism for the interior. If he's in, he's supposed to get into the backfield and won't likely see the light of day against the power running teams unless he's move to end.

Watch Out For … Harrison. While he'll be the main backup behind Carter, there will be times when he works on the other side as the Bulldogs hope to bring the speed from both sides. If he can show he can get to the quarterback early on, he'll become a major factor throughout the season.
Strength: Experience. Carter, Banks, and Lewis were durable and fought through nicks and bruises to start throughout last year. Harrell knows what he's doing and should be fine at tackle.
Weakness: Pass rush. There's Carter, and … uh … a whole bunch of hope for Harrison and Lewis to produce. The Bulldogs finished 119th in the nation in sacks with 11. In one less game, only Western Kentucky had fewer with ten.
Outlook: The line has been a disaster over the last two years doing nothing against the run and failing to get into the backfield on a regular basis. Carter is a good one to start with and Banks and Lewis are veterans, but the experience and the potentially solid depth have to translate into production. Fresno can't be 111th in the nation against the run again.
Unit Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: Senior Ben Jacobs earned First Team All-WAC honors after making a team-leading 106 tackles with eight tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, three recovered fumbles and an interception. How active was he? His 60 solo stops alone would've made him third on the team in total tackles. The 6-3, 225-pound man in the middle is ultra-tough with great range and a nose for the ball with good speed and uncanny instincts. While he had to spend last year cleaning up everyone's mess, he'll get to focus more on just handling the middle with so much experience around him.

Back on the weakside is junior Kyle Knox , a 6-1, 215-pound junior who made 43 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss before being replaced over the final three games. While he's not all that big, he has limitless range and is a great athlete, but it has to mean more production against the pass. He didn't break up any passes and was mediocre and sticking with backs on short to midrange routes, and he needs to be more of a pass rusher.

Sophomore Travis Brown will take over for Nico Herron, a solid veteran who decided not to return for his senior year. The 6-2, 235-pound Brown is one of the team's biggest linebackers and he showed off a little bit of his skill and hitting ability last season as a true freshman making 24 tackles. He came on late in the year and was promising, and now he could be a top tackler on the strongside and a tone-setting hitter. He's a teeth-rattler who'll make several highlight reel shots.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Shawn Plummer filled in as a decent backup making 25 tackles with three broken up passes and three tackles for loss. He's always moving and he's always reliable making 25 tackles in 2008, too. At 6-0 and 200 pounds, he's not huge but he has the speed to be a bigger factor against the pass.

Next year, redshirt freshman Jeremiah Toma will almost certainly be the main man in the middle once Ben Jacobs graduates. The 6-0, 215-pounder was a leading tackler for California state champion team making 165 tackles in his final season. Extremely active with limitless range, Toma is the type of player who quickly fills up the stat sheet.

6-2, 215-pound redshirt freshman Patrick Su'a was an all-state selection as an active open field tackler, and now he'll get a chance to see time on the strongside. He doesn't miss stops and he's tough for his size, and the more he can do to get into the backfield and force turnovers the more he'll get in the rotation.

Watch Out For … Brown. The son of the late defensive coordinator, Dan Brown, looks the part and he could be one of the WAC's breakout defenders. He has the size, the smarts, the motor, and the instincts to become a star.
Strength: Jacobs. One of the nation's most underappreciated linebackers, he's an anchor to work an entire defense around. He tried to do everything by himself mostly because he had to, and while his stat total might go down a bit because others are going to step up their play, he's everything for the defense.
Weakness: Run defense. Jacobs did his part, but the rest of the linebackers didn't do enough to help out a struggling defensive front against the run. The outside defenders have to do far more to create turnovers and have to be far more consistent in all phases.
Outlook: The potential is there for this to be the best FSU linebacking corps in years. It all starts with Jacobs, and the hope is for Brown to grow into the star he has the talent to become and for Knox to use his experience to make more big plays. The backups have speed and athleticism, and swarming around the ball isn't going to be a problem.
Unit Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: With A.J. Jefferson gone, senior Desia Dunn is expected to be the team's No. 1 corner after finishing fourth on the team with 53 tackles with a team-leading six broken up passes. The former walk-on is a solid 5-10 and 200 pounds with a high motor and willing tackling ability in the open field. He's not a ball-hawker and he didn't pick off any passes, but he showed enough to hope he can emerge as a major playmaker who can take away most opposing top receivers.

Looking to take over on the other side of Bell will be sophomore Jermaine Thomas , a 5-11, 180-pound growing prospect who only made four tackles in his true freshman season, but he came up with a pick. The nephew of former NFL receiver, Ashley Lelie, have to fight to hang on to the starting spot earned this offseason, but he was a top recruit with the athleticism to possibly work as a returner and eventually be in the hunt for all-star honors.

Senior Lorne Bell fought through a hamstring problem to finish second on the team with 65 tackles with an interception and five tackles for loss despite missing two games. The 5-10, 200-pound veteran can play anywhere in the secondary, but he's at his best at free safety where he can use his range and smarts to get around the ball. A Second Team All-WAC performer, he'll be the leader of the defensive backfield once again.

Sophomore Philip Thomas emerged in his first year in the rotation as a strong reserve making 30 tackles with a team-leading two interceptions. At 6-1 and 205 pounds he's one of the team's bigger defensive backs, and he's a nice hitter who should hold down the strong safety job for the next three years. With his range and athleticism he could play at free safety if needed and he should be all over the field making big plays.

Projected Top Reserves: True freshman Ed Dillihunt is an elite talent who'll push for time right away as a nickel or dime defenders if he's not seeing action at strong safety. The 6-0, 190-pounder was a great receiver in high school as well as a defensive back, and he has all-star potential as a return man. The expectations and the upside are through the roof.

Pushing for time at corner is Isaiah Green , a 5-10, 180-pound sophomore who made 12 tackles and broke up two passes in his first year as a true freshman. Really, really fast, he was the anchor on the World Youth Championship gold medal 4x100 relay team and helped set the U.S. high school record for the fastest ever 4x200. He'll work behind Jermaine Thomas but could move around to several areas to get his wheels on the field.

One of the team's most versatile defensive backs, the 6-2, 200-pound Zak Hill saw time in every game and was a major factor on special teams. He finished with 12 tackles, but he has the size to do far more. Very smart and very tough, the sophomore will be great against the run, but he's not a pass defender and will get picked on whenever he's in.

Watch Out For … Thomas. Fresno State has hardly lacked for speedy athletes in the secondary in the Pat Hill era, and Thomas might be the speediest and most athletic of the lot. He has off-the-charts NFL measurables, and now he'll need to join Bell to form one of the WAC's best safety tandem.
Strength: Speed. Fresno State always has defensive backs who can move, but this secondary can really fly. Green is one of the WAC's fastest players, and could be in the hunt for the honor of being the nation's speediest player, Thomas has NFL skills, and Dillihunt can move. Getting around the field won't be a problem for this group.
Weakness: Interceptions. Fresno State just never, ever picks off passes, and this has been a problem for a few years. After making six interceptions in two years, the Bulldogs came up with eight last season. However, two of them came from linebackers and one came from a defensive end.
Outlook: The FSU secondary looks the part and has all the athleticism and talent to be effective, but that hasn't translated to the field. The pass defense gave up 200 yards or more nine times with three of the games when it allowed fewer (Boise State, New Mexico State, and Nevada) coming only because the run defense was getting destroyed. If there's more help from a pass rush, this group will be better.
Unit Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior Kevin Goessling had a nice freshman year, hitting 15-of-22 field goals with a 58-yarder, and then he was nearly perfect as a sophomore earning first-team All-WAC honors connecting on 15-of-16 field goals including a 52-yarder against Idaho and a 50-yarder against Utah State. The lefty has hit 22 of his last 24 attempts and will be in the hunt for the Lou Groza award.

The punting game was among the best in America with Robert Malone averaging 45.2 yards per kick, but Matt Darr could end up being even better with a little bit of time. The 6-2, 210-pound true freshman was going to USC before Pete Carroll left and with all the program's issues, and the Trojans' loss was FSU's big-time gain. Considered the top punting prospect in America by many, he's very smart, very tough, and he has a monster leg. He could've gone anywhere.

Wide receiver Devon Wylie is a shifty target for the offense, and he's a nice punt returner for the special teams averaging 8.9 yards per try. He'll get the first look again, while Rashad Evans will take over for all-timer kickoff returner A.J. Jefferson, who averaged 23.2 yards per try.

Watch Out For … Darr. While he's not being handed the punting job just because he's supposed to be great, with Andrew Shapiro getting a long look, Darr is one of the most interesting players to ever join the program with 4.0 classroom smarts, all-star track ability, and the linebacker toughness to be a real, live football player.
Strength: The kicking game. Goessling was terrific and there's no sign of slowing down. The punting game will take a step back even with a talent like Darr joining the club, but the production will be fine.
Weakness: Punting. Alright, so there can't help but be a step taken back. Fresno finished first in the WAC and tenth in the nation in net punting with Malone averaging 45.2 yards per pop with 17 put inside the 20. It'll be a major coup if Darr or Shapiro can come close to equaling the production.
Outlook: From the return game to the kicking to blocked kicks, Fresno State's special teams are always great. The coverage teams should be solid, Goessling should be in the hunt for All-America honors, and the return game will be more than solid. This should be one of the team's biggest strengths once again.
Unit Rating: 8

- 2010 Fresno State Preview | 2010 Fresno State Offense
- 2010 Fresno State Defense | 2010 Fresno State Depth Chart
- Fresno State Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006