Five Team Weaknesses For 2009

Inside Sparta continues its series of articles, leading up to the start of the 2009 season. Each article in the series covers five aspects of the team. Previously we looked at five team strengths for this season. In this edition we take a look at five areas of the team that we believe to be weaknesses.

1. Overall Depth
With 53 returning lettermen on this year's squad, which is the most in Coach Dick Tomey's time at San Jose State, experience is not an issue for the Spartans. What is, and always has been, is overall team depth. In good years, San Jose State has often been able to match 1st team skill players with those of most opponents. Where they have not matched up well against top tier teams is with the 2nd and 3rd team players. Because San Jose State's roster has considerably fewer than the maximum 85 scholarship players allowed, it is difficult for the Spartans to match up against schools from BCS conferences, or even the top teams in the Western Athletic Conference. In non-conference games against BCS schools, the Spartans have often faded in the 4th quarter, once fatigue begins to set in.

As a season progresses, and injuries begin to accumulate, a team lacking depth will fade down the stretch. Often, the fortunes of even a very strong San Jose State team rides on Lady Luck's shoulders, and whether or not the injury bug bites hard. Such was the case in 2006, when only one starter was lost for the season. The Spartans stayed healthy, had a favorable schedule, and found themselves in the New Mexico Bowl. The past two seasons have not been as kind. Injuries during those seasons were key factors in keeping the Spartans out of the bowl picture. In 2007, six members of the offensive line were lost due to either injury or academics. In 2008, 10 players were out for either the entire season, or enough of the season to warrant a redshirt year, including two of the top wide receivers (Kevin Jurovich and Jalal Beauchman). This season sees the Spartans with approximately 72 players on scholarship. The team has experience at the offensive and defensive lines, linebacker, safety, and wide receiver positions.

The Spartans also have some of the best players in the WAC at those positions. However, with the exception of a few spots, the talent level and experience drops off considerably after the 1st string. It will be imperative for the Spartans to stay healthy if they are to stay in the hunt for a bowl game. Already, starting offensive lineman Jon Moreno has been lost for at least three months due to a torn pectoral muscle suffered even before fall practice has begun. Not a good omen. Until San Jose State is able to field a roster made up of 80-85 scholarship players, fingers will always be crossed that the injury bug stays away from San Jose.

2. Consistency at Quarterback
Kyle Reed began the 2008 season as the No. 3 QB on the Spartans' depth chart. By the 4th quarter of the first game, he was No. 1. He ascended to that spot because the two quarterbacks in front of him, Myles Eden and Jordan LaSecla, struggled mightily against Football CHampionship Subdivision (formerly D1-AA) opponent, UC-Davis. Reed shined spectacularly that night (14 compl in 18 atts, 132 yds, 2 TDs), leading the Spartans to a game winning final touchdown drive in the waning seconds. He carried that performance into the next week, with another strong showing for 3-½ quarters at Nebraska (20 compl. in 28 atts, 187 yds, one rushing TD) before being knocked out of the game with a concussion. Despite a few brief shining moments throughout the rest of the season, Reed never looked as strong as he did in those first two games, before suffering the injury in Lincoln.

In a number of games, Reed struggled to complete passes downfield, often settling for quick outs and dump off passes that helped his completion percentage but gained few yards. Reed completed 64% of his passes for the year, but in the remaining 8 games that Reed played in after Nebraska, he threw for only 7 TDs and had 5 passes intercepted. Against Boise State, in arguably the biggest game of the year, he completed 16 of his 29 passes, but only for a paltry 105 yards. Myles Eden started in place of the injured Reed on the road against Idaho, and led the Spartans to victory with an excellent showing (23 compl in 31 atts, 295 yards, 2 TDs). However, as strong as he played against Idaho, he looked equally as bad the following week at home against Louisiana Tech (3 compl in 8 atts, 11 yards) with two interceptions in the first half setting up scores for the visiting Bulldogs. The second interception was returned 50 yards for a touchdown, and ended Eden's night. The struggles of the Spartans' quarterbacks in 2008 can be attributed to many factors. Injuries to the wide receivers and offensive line, poor play selection by then offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo have all had fingers pointed at them. Certainly in Reed's case, the injuries he suffered as the season wore on played a large role in his struggles.

For the Spartans to be successful this year, the quarterbacks will have to be much more consistent from week to week than last season. At this point, whether or not that can be achieved is still in question.

3. Experience at Cornerback
With three cornerbacks drafted into the NFL over the past two years, that position has been one of the biggest strengths for San Jose State. This season, for the first time since 2006, the Spartans find themselves without a cornerback that has ever started at the Football Bowl Subdivision (Formerly D-1A) level. However, the two "green" starting cornerbacks in 2006 that had never started an FBS game, Dwight Lowery and Christopher Owens, turned out to be pretty good. Defensive backs coach Keith Burns is hoping he once again can find lightning in a bottle in the shape of two sophomores, Alex Germany (5-9, 170, 1V) and Peyton Thompson (5-11, 170, 1V).

While neither has ever started a game in their short careers at San Jose State, both saw extensive game action as freshmen last year. Thompson appeared in all but one game in 2008, predominantly on special teams, while Germany appeared in nine games. The coaching staff was pleased with how well the pair played during the spring, especially considering having to match up against the Spartans strong receiving corps. The coaches are currently holding back on moving junior Devin Newsome (5-10, 185, 2V) to corner from safety, hoping the sophomores come through. Newsome was a back-up cornerback in 2007. Junior College transfer Brandon Driver (6-0, 185), from Santa Rosa Junior College, will also get a strong look. If he has fully recovered from the knee injury suffered last year, he could be a factor. Unlike Dwight Lowery in 2006, Driver comes to San Jose State as a highly touted player, one that has actually played the corner position. Lowery, a safety while at Cabrillo College, did not come to San Jose State with much fanfare at all.

With USC and Utah to open the season, the San Jose State coaching staff is going to know pretty quickly where they stand in regards to the cornerback position. It appears that the coaches feel the talent level is there, whether or not the lack of experience becomes an issue is another question.

4. Blocking Tight End
The tight end position at San Jose State during the Dick Tomey era has predominantly been filled by players more suited to pass catching than run blocking. Seldom has any tight end weighing over 250 lbs contributed to the offense. Jeff Clark (2006 and 2008) weighed only 230 lbs his first season, as did Brian Elledge (2007) a converted linebacker. During the spring 2007 camp, then redshirt freshman John Konye, at 6-foot-4 and 270-pounds, looked to break the mold. But he was switched to offensive tackle by that fall.

This season the Spartans have gone even lighter at tight end by moving Terrance Williams (6-5 / 220) from the No. 3 wide receiver spot. Redshirt freshman Ryan Otten possesses tremendous pass catching ability. But, at 6-foot-5 and only 205 lbs, he (like Williams) is more of a TE/WR hybrid. Newcomer Avelino Valencia (6-5 / 250), from Fullerton Junior College, is the closest thing to a blocking tight end on the roster. For a team that professes a desire to be more physical, especially in the run game, it seems to lack a big presence at tight end that can help the team get tough yards on third down or in goal line situations, while also being a valid threat to catch passes in the flat.

5. Lack of pressure up the middle
The single largest shoes to be filled this season on the Spartans roster will be those Co-Defensive Player Of The Year Jarron Gilbert. As a defensive tackle for the Spartans last year, he recorded a school record 21.5 tackles for loss, including nine quarterback sacks. Gilbert, with his explosiveness off the line of scrimmage, created absolute havoc for opposing offenses. It's unrealistic to expect any one player on the current roster to step into those shoes. The Spartans do possess a talented, veteran defensive line. End Carl Ihenacho led the nation in sacks before suffering a thumb injury against Boise State.

As freshmen in 2006, Ihenacho, Mohammed Marah, Kalvin Cressel, Adonis Davis, and Justin Willis were all large contributors to San Jose State's bowl winning season. The Spartans could still be very adept at pressuring opposing quarterbacks from the outside. Ihenacho, Marah, and senior Liam Smith have proven pass rushing abilities. The Spartans should be improved against the run over last season. Justin Willis, who redshirted last year, weighs in at 305 lbs. Adonis Davis (290 lbs), Kalvin Cressel (282 lbs), will be joined by Pablo Garcia (290 lbs), who Tomey called the top defensive lineman during the spring drills. The biggest difference between this season and last year's defense is not having a tackle with the explosiveness of Jarron Gilbert. Of course, one could argue that no other school in the WAC has that type of player either. Still, if there is one weakness in this year's defensive line, it is having someone in the middle that forces teams to game plan against, and double team.

Having a player like that would allow Ihenacho to go one-on-one against offensive tackles, which are battles he would win the majority of. It remains to be seen if the departure of Gilbert results in an overall drop in quarterback sacks and tackles for loss. It's hard to imagine it won't.

Next up in the series: Five Breakout Players For 2009

Previous articles in the series:

Five Pressing Questions For Fall 2009 Camp

Five Team Strnghts For 2009



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Mike Morgan is a Senior Editor for Inside Sparta. You may contact Mike with any questions, comments, or tips at mike@insidesparta.com

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