Of course, the expected star on the D-line will be defensive end Carl Ihenacho, who played all 12 games in 2008, notching 47 unassisted tackles, 10 for loss, seven quarterback sacks (all solo), forced three fumbles, and had another 17 assisted tackles. He was Second Team All-WAC last year, and I believe will be First Team this year. Ihenacho seems to have been hitting the weights, as he is listed at 256 pounds, up 11 from last year. The NFL will be watching him.
At the other end of the line, Mohamed Marah will start. Marah appeared in 10 games in 2008, starting six of them. He registered 20 solo tackles, and 12 more assisted. I've gotten to be a Marah fan over the last couple of years, because this guy has done everything the Coach has asked of him, playing linebacker, defensive end, and even fullback. I expect he will be a leader on the field.
The Spartan Athletic Department made a special point of announcing that Kalvin Cressel is healthy this year, and that's a very good thing. At 6-foot-4, 282-pounds, we need his size and strength on the line. It looks like he has been nagged by injuries the last couple of seasons, and that has kept his production down. But I think a healthy Cressel starts over both Justin Willis and Pablo Garcia.
Our other starting defensive tackle will be Adonis Davis, who played in all 12 games in 2008, making 20 unassisted tackles, seven assisted. At Nebraska last year, he made one sack for an 8-yard loss.
Analysts vary on the number-twos, or who backs up which starter. I've put Liam Smith behind Mohamed Marah, because we have Ihenacho, at 6-3, at the other end of the line. Putting Smith, at 6-5, behind Marah gives some height at both ends, which can be important. Even if a D-lineman does not get to the QB, if they get their arms and hands up in the air, they can block passing lanes. A guy who is 6-5 can be expected to block a little higher than a guy who is 6-0.
Liam Smith, Justin Willis, Pablo Garcia, and Joe Nigos will all see plenty of playing time. Keeping the defensive line as fresh as possible is always a concern for the coaching staff, and all eight will rotate regularly. I'm particularly keen on Smith and Willis, each of whom are capable of jamming running lanes and making tough stops. Also, am I the only person who noticed that Willis is listed this year at 290 pounds, down from 305 last year? This is a good thing, I think. If he takes off a couple more he will gain in speed and agility, and still be a Mac Truck in the middle.
Coach has a well-stocked cupboard of young defensive linemen. A couple to watch for in 2009 are defensive ends Keenan Brown, a red-shirt freshman who, at 6-foot-4, 260-pounds, has grown an inch and added 15 pounds since joining the team last year; and Tracy Pugh, another red-shirt freshman who checks in at 6-foot-4, 235-pounds. D-tackle Judd Meadows, 6-foot-3, 245-pounds, may play some as well.
New recruits Travis Johnson at end, and Anthony Larceval, at tackle, will probably red-shirt. We seem to have picked up a freshman walk-on at d-tackle - Nick Finney, 6-foot-0, 275-pounds. Ray Rodriguez, at 6-foot-1, 270-pounds and listed as a red-shirt freshman on scholarhip, should see some playing time. He saw action in three games last season before being redshirted. Norman Romero and Pierce Burton have both moved over to the offensive line.
One mystery is why 2009 recruit Abasi Salimu, 6-foot-5, 245-pounds, from Los Angeles, is not showing up on any Spartan roster. I hope it's just a minor glitch that will be corrected before next season.
Unit Grade: B
R. P. Cotta, Jr., is a 1978 Journalism grad, and was awarded his MA in political science in 1986, both from SJSU. He is also a graduate of the Santa Clara University Law School, and is currently the public defender in Amador County.
R. P. Cotta, Jr., is an Associate Editor for Inside Sparta. You may contact R.P with any questions, comments, or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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