Spartan Unit Comparison - 2008 to 2009

With kickoff less than two weeks away, Spartan fans are eager to see how their football team develops this year, Coach Dick Tomey's fifth full year at the helm. Many expect the Spartans to be improved over 2008, but improvement will not occur across the board.

Some team units will decline from last year, but those declines should be offset by improvement in other areas. General improvement may not translate into more wins, either. The schedule this year is tough, and the Western Athletic Conference in general is expected to be better.

Despite improvement, the 2009 San Jose State team may have a season as difficult as 4 – 8, and only the wildest optimists expect much better than 7 – 5.  Improvement of a FBS college football team can not be measured strictly in terms of wins, though. The ability to compete with even its toughest opponents , to attract top-caliber athletes, to graduate its members, and to put fans in the stands are all aspects by which a program's improvement should be measured. In these terms, the Spartan football team and program are certainly showing year-to-year improvement since Coach Tomey's arrival, and that should continue through the 2009 season.

Here is a look at each unit:

Offensive Line: Will improve, perhaps significantly. No unit has taken as much heat as the O-line for last year's disappointing season.  Most starters return, and one or two from injuries.  If the line played poorly in 2008 because the players just aren't that good, we'll know soon. But I don't think that was the case. There is plenty of size and talent available. This year, some linemen have trimmed their weight down, the unit is doing wind-sprints at practice, and they seem to have been hitting the gym. It's a sure bet that nobody wants to see a better Spartan O-line more than the players themselves. I think this will be the most improved unit on the team in 2009.

Running Backs: Will improve significantly. In 2008, many looked forward to the return of tailback Yonus Davis from an ankle injury. But Davis did not have the kind of season he posted in 2006, when he rushed for 1,007 yards, and the Spartan ground game ground to a halt. This year, junior college transfer Lamon Muldrow joins a healthy/returning Patrick Perry and sophomore sensation Brandon Rutley in the Spartan backfield. Muldrow and Perry will pack punch, Rutley speed and agility. The Spartan running game will improve.

Receivers: The loss of Kevin Jurovich and Jalal Beauchman to injury/illness in 2008 left SJSU with one star wide-out, David Richmond. Jurovich and Beauchman are back this year, and will be joined by JC transfer Marquis Avery. All three have star potential. The training loss of Terrance Williams at tight end is a blow, but it may give red-shirt freshman Ryan Otten a chance to shine. JC transfer Avelino Valencia will also help fill the gap as well as newcomer Chris Bryant. Other Spartan receivers are waiting in the wings. The Spartan receiving corps, as a unit, is one of the two best on the team, and among the best in the WAC, and will be better in 2009.

Quarterback: While Kyle Reed may be more experienced, and healthy, he has yet to demonstrate an ability to see the field and check off on receivers. Myles Eden has been replaced as the likely Number Two by Jordan La Secla, who has a strong arm, but little experience. Perhaps new Quarterbacks Coach Terry Malley will work wonders, and the offensive line will provide the QB better protection and more time.  Until then, this unit ranks as "even".

Defensive Line: The loss of Jarron Gilbert and Jeff Schweiger will be telling. Carl Ihenacho will be a star, and there is good size and experience in the form of Justin Willis, Adonis Davis, and a healthy Kalvin Cressel. The D-line will be good, but it's hard to say it will be as good as last year's. It's safer to expect a bit of decline in 2009.

Linebackers: Justin Cole and Travis Jones are two of the best linebackers in the WAC. Ryno Gonzalez returns in 2009, and you know he wants to play. There are good back-ups, and no reason to expect any decline in the performance of this unit, which rivals our receivers in excellence. Because they were so good last year, it's hard to say they will be "improved," but "even" for the linebackers means "excellent".

Defensive Backfield: Like the defensive line, the Spartans lose two key players (Coye Francies and Chris Ownes) from 2008. The return of Duke Ihenacho and Devin Newsome at safety/rover, and this year's crop of promising sophomores, are some consolation. Coach Tomey has said, it will be a "baptism by fire" for this unit, and Spartan fans should not be disappointed if it shows a moderate decline from 2008.

Special Teams: Even. A timely field goal or two may have made a difference in a couple of games last year, and transfer placekicker Tyler Cope, along with freshman recruit Harrison Waid, will compete for the chance to provide improvement. Punter Phil Zavala could add five yards to his average distance, but the punting unit didn't get burned much in 2009. The same can be said of the kickoff squad. On returns, SJSU has a number of options to toy with this year, including Jurovich, and Rutley.

On the whole, this will be a better Spartan football team than our 2008 model.  Declines on the defense will be more than balanced by improvements on the offense.  If the special teams continue to play at a reliable level, and perhaps show improvement in making three-pointers, the overall team will be better, perhaps much better.  There is reason for optimism in Sparta.

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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

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