San Jose State Preview: Defense

San Jose State has seven returning starters spread evenly front-to-back from last year's unit which was 21st nationally in total defense and tenth in the country in pass defense. Five of them were among the top eight tacklers on a hard-charging unit that was 11th nationally in QB sacks.

San Jose State has seven returning starters spread evenly front-to-back from last year's unit which was 21st nationally in total defense and tenth in the country in pass defense. Five of them were among the top eight tacklers on a hard-charging unit that was 11th nationally in QB sacks. Despite losing three starters to the NFL draft, this defense looks to remain at the top of the conference in 2009.

The defense's most prominent force is Carl Ihenacho (6-3, 256, SR), an absolute terror at DE. Ihenacho ranked among the top-10 players nationally in sacks, tackles-for-loss (TFL), and forced fumbles (FF) at different stages of the 2008 season. He was a second team All-WAC selection last year and has racked up 13 sacks and 27.5 TFL in his collegiate career. He is joined up front by three-year starter Adonis Davis (6-1, 295, SR) and Kalvin Cressel (6-4, 282, SR) at tackles and Mohamed Marah (6-0, 245, SR) at the opposite end. Cressel is coming off a very impressive spring and Marah seems to have finally found a home after experimenting at fullback and linebacker early in his career.

Travis Jones (6-1, 230, SR) led the 2008 team with 72 tackles and is considered the cornerstone of the linebacking unit. Justin Cole (6-3, 240, SR) is a 2nd Team All-WAC LB who is versatile enough to play DE when called upon. The Spartans will employ two LBs on normal down and distances and bring in a nickel to play inside the box or to prevent big plays down the field in the passing game. The flexibility of the nickelback is what makes Tomey's Flex 4-2-5 defenses special.

Carl Ihenacho's little brother Duke (6-1, 210 JR) is a first team All-WAC pick and was the conference leader in INTs while starting every game in 2008 at LB. This year, Tomey has asked him to join the secondary and looks for Duke to wreck havoc from the strong safety position. Duke appears to be athletic enough to succeed in this capacity, having picked off five passes last year while returning two of them for TDs. He finished with 66 tackles and was second on the team in pass breakups. He helps the Spartans replenish a depleted secondary that saw two of its members selected in last year's NFL Draft.

Cornerback is a position of concern heading into the season opener at the Coliseum. For the first time since coming to SJSU, Tomey is calling upon a set of young corners eager to match a recent legacy of excellence. Dwight Lowery (NY Jets), Christopher Owens (Atlanta Falcons) and Coye Francies (Cleveland Browns) have all moved on, so it's up to sophomores Peyton Thompson (5-11, 170) and Alex Germany (5-9, 170) to carry the torch. They will be tested right off the bat in 2009, as after the visit to USC, the Spartans host the Sugar Bowl champion Utah Utes before travelling to Stanford Stadium for a date with the Cardinal.

Special Teams

Philip Zavala is back for his senior season as punter after averaging 36.6 yards on 76 punts last year. New placekicker Tyler Cope is a transfer from Colorado. Jurovich was one of the better punt returners in the WAC in 2007 and Rutley averaged a healthy 26.7 yards per kick return last season.


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