2009 Spartan Preview – The Secondary

Inside Sparta continues its series on the evaluation of the defensive units. In this segment Associate Editor R.P. Cotta, Jr., take a look at the secondary.

There's no recession in the San Jose State defensive backfield, as the switch to a scheme featuring just two linebackers and five defensive backs has created plenty of jobs in the secondary. Expected to fill those jobs are:

Cornerback No. 1

  1. Alex Germany, Sophomore, 5-foot, 9-inches, 160-pounds
  2. Ralph Johnson, Sophomore, 5-foot, 10-inches, 175-pounds

Cornerback No. 2

  1. Peyton Thompson, Sophomore, 5-foot, 11-inches, 175-pounds
  2. Austin Carter, Senior, 5-foot, 10-inches, 170-pounds*

Free Safety

  1. Devin Newsome, Junior, 5-foot, 10-inches, 185-pounds
  2. Manu Ngatikaura, Junior, 6-foot even, 180-pounds


  1. Tiuke Tuipulotu, Sophomore, 5-foot, 10-inches, 195-pounds
  2. Billy Ring, Senior, 5-foot, 8-inches, 185-pounds


  1. Duke Ihenacho, Junior, 6-foot, 1-inch, 210-pounds
  2. Tanner Burns, Sophomore, 6-foot, 1-inch, 185-pounds

    *Carter is injured so look for freshman Ronnie Yell to fill this spot

Look at all the sophomores!  And only two seniors among the ten.  Coach Tomey is quoted in the 2009 Media Guide as saying this season will be a "baptism of fire" for our defensive backfield, and I can't think of a better term. The departure of Coye Francies and Christopher Owens has given these young players the opportunity to make an impression.

A couple of juniors should be familiar.  Duke Ihenacho was a first-team All-WAC linebacker in 2008, and led the WAC with five pass interceptions. In the 4 – 2 – 5, Ihenacho will be listed as a "safety," but will be a "Rover" back – he'll line up at different depths, moving left or right, up or back, depending on the offensive formation, down, or as his whims dictate. His basic assignment is to wreak havoc on opposing offenses, and he is well-equipped for it. Starting all 12 games in 2008, he made 31 solo and 35 assisted tackles, forced a fumble, and recovered one.  He's gained ten pounds from last season, and I doubt it's flab.

Backing up Ihenacho will be sophomore Tanner Burns.  (Yes, he is Defensive Coordinator Keith Burns' son). Burns got into ten games in 2008, made four unassisted tackles, and one pass interception.

Junior Devon Newsome, our most experienced defensive back, is slated to start at safety, but may line up as a cornerback at times.  Newsome started all 12 games in 2008 at safety, and notched 59 tackles on the year (27 solo), and grabbed two interceptions.

Newsome will be seconded by Manu Ngatikaura -- not bad for the walk-on who joined the Spartans during 2009 Spring practice! He's a graduate of Hawai'i's Kahuku High School, played wide receiver at San Jose City College, and was a sprinter on the track team. Keep that last thought in mind – "sprinter" – because speed is a common element in this backfield.

Filling out the safety corps will be Tiuke Tuipulotu, who got into all 12 games in 2008, making a total of 11 tackles, nine unassisted. Backing him up will be Billy Ring, who joined the team out of College of San Mateo in 2008. Ring was a special team player and reserve in 2008, and made five tackles (two solo).   Personally, I hope Ring gets a little more playing time this year, and that he does well. Call it a Bay Area tradition.

At one corner is expected to be Peyton Thompson, who got into 11 games in 2008, on special teams and as a cornerback, and notched five tackles. Backing Thompson may be Austin Carter, a senior, who walked on in 2005. Carter played in all 12 games in 2008, and is credited with 10 tackles (six solo). He's hurt and there's no indication of when he'll return, so look for freshman Ronnie Yell to fill this spot for the time being.

On the other side of the field, Alex Germany is listed as our starter.  Germany got into nine games for the Spartans in 2008, and returned two kicks for a total of 54 yards at Nevada.  I'm a bit concerned about a guy who is 5-foot-9 playing the corner. Potential mismatches with taller receivers make me wince.  But he must be doing something right, or Coach would never have penciled him in at the top of the chart. A former high school wide receiver, he is said to have good cutting ability and impressive speed. There's that concept again – speed.

Behind Germany will be Ralph Johnson, who got into 11 games in 2008, mostly on special teams, and has so far accumulated three solo tackles in his Spartan career.

Another Spartan who may get some game action in 2009 is Evan Taylor, a 6-foot-0, 192-pound red-shirt freshman. I would expect freshman Jason Simpson to be hitting more books than blocking dummies in 2009.

There has been much fan anticipation regarding junior college All-American cornerback Brandon Driver, who is recovering from the same kind of knee injury that felled Patrick Perry for two years. Though he may be "ready" by mid-season, I hope Driver takes all of 2009 to recover. I'd hate to see him reinjure his knee, I'd rather see him in a Spartan uniform for two whole seasons, and I think he'd play more effectively knowing he is 100-percent.

The biggest question about our 2009 defense has been how the Spartans would replace Coye Francies and Chris Owens. Now we know - with five guys. Most of them reputedly very speedy, and young. And a defensive scheme that will feature blitzes, stealth, misdirection, hard hitting, and proven ball-hawkers. If this works, the Spartan secondary looks to be set for the next three years.

But, it's untested. For this reason, I give it a unit grade of: B-. (I'm a tough grader.)

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R. P. Cotta, Jr., is an Associate Editor for Inside Sparta. You may contact R.P with any questions, comments, or tips at rpcottajr@insidesparta.com

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