Fall Camp Preview: Defensive Front Seven
I know fall camp has already begun, but I just haven't had the time to finish these previews up. I will make the defensive ones short since camp has already begun.
Pat Hill has had some pretty good defensive lineman in his previous nine years. Alan Harper comes to many Bulldog fans' minds, as he was the program's first and only true dominant defensive tackle that required constant double teams.
Harper was a highly touted recruit out of SoCal in 1997, but didn't qualify academically and had to sit out the 1997 season. He got things in order and left school in 2001 as the most decorated defensive tackle to ever play at Fresno State.
In 2001 Harper was named AP 2nd team All-American, the highest Bulldog rated AP All-American since Henry Ellard in 1982. And was named WAC Defensive Player of the Year. Harper was also selected in the 4th round of the 2002 NFL Draft.
That very same spring, Hill signed a very promising defensive tackle that idolized Harper, Louis Leonard. Leonard chose to wear No. 98 because Harper was his favorite player. Unlike the somewhat undersized, 6'2" 280, Harper, Leonard came to Fresno State as a 6'4" 330 mammoth defensive tackle.
Leonard has taken time to develop. Harper was a force as a redshirt freshman in 1998, but Leonard has yet to make his mark. 2006 is his year to shine, and quite possibly could be a first day NFL pick with a big senior year.
Leonard will team with fellow 300 lb buffet buster Jason Shirley in the middle. Shirley is a very talented player, but his work ethic is not Bulldog worthy per se. He missed summer workouts, and from the look of the first days of fall camp he looks out of shape.
The good thing about defensive tackles, especially Shirley, is that they are run-stoppers and do not necessarily have to rush the quarterback. However, if he doesn't shape up sophomore Jon Monga is ready to assume his starting spot.
Monga was very impressive in spring, and has added some weight to his 6' 2" frame; he is around 280-290. 5'11" 270 Charles Tolbert is a menace in the middle and never gives up. His size hurts the team in terms of clogging up the middle, but is a decent pass rusher up the middle.
Kenny Avon is very fast for a defensive tackle, but needs to add some more weight. He should get some time in the rotation, but should be force next year. Ikenna Ike can play either tackle or end. Like Tolbert, Ike is an undersized tackle, 6'1 260, but has a great motor and is an effective pass rusher.
The defensive end spot is loaded. Tyler Clutts was one of the best defensive ends in the WAC in 2005, but quite possibly could be only the third best DE on the 2006 Fresno State team.
Jason Roberts is, physically, the best defensive end Fresno State has ever had. At 6'5 250, he has excellent speed off the corner, and will give the 'Dogs that coveted pass rusher they so desperately need.
Mike Stuart comes to Fresno State from USC via Moorpark College. Stuart was a Blue Chip tight end recruit in 2004, and made the move to OLB at USC. He switched to DE as a JUCO, and figures to get quality time in the DE rotation.
Now back to Clutts, there is no way he is not going to start. He is the leader of the defense and will take over departed Garrett McIntyre's role on the field and in the huddle. Clutts will record double-digit sacks because opposing teams will be forced to account for Roberts and Stuart's speed on the other end.
Marlon Brisco is so overlooked, it is just funny. All this kid did last year was start 11 games, and has been a solid contributor for the last two years. His presence gives the 'Dogs four solid defensive ends, compared to the one they had heading into last season.
And I am not even including the newly arrived Miami de-commit Chris Lewis.
Wilson Ramos is another young solid DE that had a good spring, but will be in a battle to get some playing time. Among the true freshman coming in, 6'6" 270 DE Andrew Jackson is a load. He may eventually need to make the move to DT, because of his size. 6'2" 300 lb Mark Roberts has a good chance to see some time, as well, but both are likely to redshirt.
Fans were quick to criticize the linebackers after last year's season-ending four game losing streak, but in reality injuries were to blame, not talent.
Seniors Dwayne Andrews and Alan Goodwin, along with, junior Marcus Riley have been the starting games together since mid-2004. However, when Riley went down with a season-ending knee injury at USC, the LB corps went down with him.
Andrews gets the pub, and rightfully so, there are few better run-stopping, clogging MLBs than Andrews. But it was Riley that manned the weakside and often shut down opponents running game to the outside.
Riley may not play in 2006, but unlike last year, the cupboard is not bare. After he went down, senior Manuel Sanchez took over the starting WLB spot, but Sanchez was no run-stopper. He was often out of place and missed assignments, as he was a passing down linebacker.
Ahijah Lance was injured and Quaadir Brown was just a raw true freshman, so Sanchez was all the team had last season Fast forward to fall camp 2006, not only is Lane healthy and Brown a bit more experienced, but the team also welcomes the talented JUCO Trevor Shamblee to the mix.
Shamblee was a track star in high school and junior college. He brings added speed to the OLB spot, and has great size to boot, 6' 1" 230. If Riley, sits the outcome will not be as grim as 2005.
Goodwin often gets the shallow end of the stick. He is not as fast as Riley or as strong as Andrews, but is a quality experienced OLB. He should have a great senior year and has proven to be a durable player that can make plays.
Ryan McKinley can play both MLB and OLB, and is the only experienced depth outside of Lane and Brown. Backup MLB Christian Carleson transferred to Portland State, but true freshman Nico Herron and Robert Schenck are players that can play right away.