2011 Colorado State Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Colorado State Ram Defense
Colorado State Rams
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
The defense returned nine starters last year, but it didn't matter. The run defense was flattened and blown past, the secondary didn't do much of anything, and production was non-existent way too often. There will be more shifting between the 4-3 and the 3-4 depending on the personnel and the matchup, and while there's little bulk, it's an athletic front seven led by possible Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, LB Mychal Sisson. The corners are deep and could be a strength, but someone has to make a play for the nation's 118th-ranked team in pass efficiency defense.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Mychal Sisson
Tackles: Mychal Sisson, 95
Sacks: Mychal Sisson, 4.5
Interceptions: Four with 1
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior NT Nuku Lutu
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Mike Orakpo
Best pro prospect: Sisson (as a safety)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sisson, 2) SS Ivory Herd, 3) LB Michael Kawulok (Inj.)
Strength of the defense: Experience, Athleticism
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Interceptions
State of the Unit: The line struggled to get into the backfield on a regular basis and struggled to do much of anything against the run. While there's hope for a quick fix on the inside, the Rams will miss Guy Miller, the team's top lineman and a fantastic interior pass rusher, along with Ty Whittier, who made 19 tackles. The returning ends have the speed to do more, and the new tackles should be athletic enough to be more active.
The big question is on the nose. Who's going to replace Guy Miller? 6-2, 300-pound senior Nuku Latu is a veteran who has been through it all as a big part of the rotation over the last three seasons, and now he's more than ready to take over the full-time role after making 10 tackles last year. He has the quickness to be a more disruptive force in the backfield, while former defensive end Zach Tiedgen is a 6-4, 274-pound option who missed all of last year recovering from a knee injury. The junior made 24 tackles as a true freshman, and after bulking up, should be able to work inside or out as a 3-4 end.
Back on the outside is Broderick Sargent, a 6-2, 237-pound junior who started out his career at tight end and saw some time at linebacker before moving to the outside. While he's a bit small for the spot, he's extremely quick and athletic with the upside to be an all¬-conference performer with more pass rushing production. He came up with a nice 37-tackle, two-sack, 6.5 tackle-for-loss season, but he has the athleticism to be far better.
Working on the other side of Sargent will be C.J. James, a 6-3, 241-pound junior who made 25 tackles with 1.5 sacks and four tackles for loss despite missing the first few games with a torn knee. A great recruit out of Orlando, he spurned Michigan and other BCS schools for CSU, and now he needs to live up to his skills.
In the rotation on the outside will be former defensive back Davis Burl, a 6-2, 237-pound junior who saw plenty of action throughout last year making 22 tackles with a tackle for loss and three quarterback hurries, but he didn't come up with any sacks. Burl is like a starter working as a key reserve, but inside, redshirt freshman John Froland could be one of the main men very, very soon. While he's only 6-5 and 260 pounds, he's extremely quick and could be a whale of a 3-4 defensive end when he's not working as a tackle.
Watch Out For … Lots of switching around between alignments. The Rams dabbled a bit with a 3-4 to go along with the base 4-3, and now there should be even more three-man fronts with good-sized ends to work around Latu.
Strength: Quickness. There's athleticism at all four spots, or possibly all three, to do more to make things happen behind the line. By design, the coaching staff has worked to bring more speed up front, and now it should pay off.
Weakness: Run defense. This should be an active group, but it needs to be stouter against the better running teams. Latu has to be a force on the nose, or there's little size to work around.
Outlook: The line isn't going to hold up against anyone who can pound the ball with any semblance of power, but it should be decent against the quicker spread attacks. There's little bulk for the interior, so a good rotation will be a must.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: Depending on the alignment, the Rams should be able to put their best players on the field when the linebackers get the most work. There are several tough tacklers who should be able to do more against the run, but the idea will be to get more speed on the outside to be able to handle the Mountain West's spread attacks.
The star of the show should once again be Mychal Sisson, a 5-11, 207-pound middle linebacker who'll move to the weakside. He'll be turned loose and told to make things happen, and he does on a regular basis with 291 career stops with 95 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 15 tackles for loss last year. More than anything else, he's the most disruptive defensive playmaker for a defense in desperate need of more takeaways. Sisson came up with seven of the team's 14 forced fumbles, and one of the four interceptions. Extremely physical for his size, he has to continue to hold up despite having past shoulder problems.
The biggest question mark will be to see who can step in for Ricky Brewer, a tremendous tackler who led the way with 107 stops and eight tackles for loss. Sisson will move into the spot, while 6-3, 231-pound senior Michael Kawulok was supposed to go from being a spot starter to the main man in the middle after making 42 tackles, but he'll redshirt after suffering a knee injury and will be back next year. One of the biggest options, he can play on the inside or can hold up well on the strongside.
Sophomore Mike Orakpo, brother of former Texas star and current Washington Redskin, Brian Orakpo, will step in on the strongside. While he's just 6-1 and 215 pounds, he's extremely tough, a huge hitter, and has the upside to be one of the team's top tacklers. He made 37 tackles with two sacks as a true freshman, and he should at least double the numbers this year.
Junior James Skelton got has seen starting time and has been a key reserve, and now he'll do even more working at all three sports after making 16 tackles with a sack. While he's not the playmaker that Sisson is, he's a good athlete who has been great on special teams and provides a nice pop. Also pushing for time, especially on the weakside, will be 6-1, 222-pound redshirt freshman Max Morgan, a defensive back recruit who was quickly moved to linebacker. Very quick and with good hitting ability, he should make his presence felt right away.
Watch Out For … Orakpo. Sisson is the best linebacker of the bunch and he'll earn all-star honors, and Kawulok will be one of the team's top three tacklers, but Orakpo is the one who could break out and be special. He had a great offseason and appears ready to be a major-league stat-sheet filler.
Strength: Tacklers. Sisson will account for 100 all by himself, and Kawulok and Orakpo should each be around the 75 mark. The linebackers are extremely quick, smart, and should always be around the ball.
Weakness: Big plays. Other than Sisson, who'll do whatever he can to make every big shot possible, the linebackers haven't done enough to come up with the key stop against the run or the game-changing play behind the line
Outlook: New linebackers coach Bernard Clark, a former Miami Hurricane star, has a lot of interesting athletes to work with. Depending on what type of alignment the defense goes with, a 3-4 could bring out four strong playmakers in Sisson, Kawulok, Orakpo, and Skelton, but there isn't the depth to stay out of the 4-3 for too long. There should be plenty of tackles and lots of swarming around the ball, but everyone has to hold up better against the stronger running tams and more plays in the backfield would be nice.
Unit Rating: 5.5
State of the Unit: A total nightmare over the last few seasons, the secondary has to be better, far better, or the Rams aren't going to make any sort of improvement. While there wasn't any help from a pass rush, the defensive backs didn't do their part with a mere three interceptions and almost no big plays. The Rams finished 118th in the nation in pass efficiency defense, but the corner situation is strong and there's plenty of experience all across the board to potentially be much, much stronger.
The big move this offseason was taking free safety Elijah-Blu Smith and making him a corner. The 5-11, 195-pound senior has shoulder issues and can't hold up if he has to hit on a regular basis, and after making 42 tackles in 11 games, but doing nothing against the pass, the spotlight will be on to see if he can get the job done on the outside. The speed and range are there, but he needs to become a ball-hawker.
Back on the other side is junior Gerard "Momo" Thomas, a 5-9, 183-pound veteran who made 13 tackles in just four games of work. A shoulder injury kept him out, but he caught a big break by getting a year of eligibility back. Extremely fast and athletic, he needs to show off his great wheels to do more against the pass after coming up with just one pick. If Thomas is still hurting and not effective, 5-11, 185-pound sophomore Shaq Bell will step in after seeing plenty of action in his first year making 39 tackles. However, like most of the other Ram defensive backs, he didn't do much when the ball was in the air. With good length and great speed, he has the potential to grow into a key defender.
With Smith moving over to corner, former wide receiver Austin Gray and sophomore Ezra Thompson will fight for the job. Gray is hardly new to the defense, playing safety in high school, and at 6-3 and 209 pounds with phenomenal leaping ability and great speed, the tools are there to shine right away. The 6-2, 201-pound Thompson has great size and is a strong tackler making 29 stops in his time in the rotation. He can play either safety spot.
5-11, 209-pound senior Ivory Herd has been one of the team's better defensive backs over the last few years finishing third on the team with 81 tackles with a pick and four tackles for loss. Injuries have been a problem in the past, but he has been a rock since taking over the starting job. He's a good hitter for his size, and he should be one of the team's best run defenders. Herd isn't moving from the job, but 21-year-old true freshman Drew Reilly will be a part of the strong safety spot very soon. Back from an LDS Church mission, he's ready to be a major factor after making 144 tackles in his final year in high school … in 2007.
Watch Out For … Dominique Vinson . With Momo Thomas's shoulder issue, Vinson, a lightning fast JUCO transfer with 6-0, 174-pound size, could be a big part of the corner rotation right away. He has sub-4.4 wheels and could be a nickel or dime defender if he doesn't take over a starting job.
Strength: Corner. With Smith moving over, and with the addition of Vinson and the healthy return of Thomas, the Rams have several excellent corners to form a nice rotation.
Weakness: Picking off passes. There were way, way too many big plays allowed and not nearly enough game-changing takeaways. The Ram secondary only came up with three picks a year after the team took away 11. There's a long way to go to simply be average.
Outlook: The pass rush was awful last year and needs to provide a little bit of help, but the secondary also has to start doing more considering all the speed, athleticism, and experience returning. There are plenty of options to play around with, and it might take a little while to find the right combination.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: The special teams haven't been all that bad compared to the problems in other areas, and a strength should be senior PK Ben DeLine, who's back after hitting 16-of-21 field goals in his first two years and connecting on 16-of-22 shots last year. While he doesn't have a huge leg and his range tops out around 45 yards, he mostly has to do more to get the ball up quicker. Blocked kicks were an issue.
Junior punter Pete Kontodiakos had a nice season averaging 43.7 yards per try putting 17 inside the 20 and forcing 17 fair catches in a Second-Team All-Mountain West season. With a strong leg and more consistency after a rough freshman season, he has the potential to be one of the nation's better kickers with a little more time.
Top RB Raymond Carter will get a long look for the main kickoff return job, but senior Derek Good should quickly be the star again after averaging 25.8 yards per pop. Corner Momo Thomas will handle the punt return job again after averaging a solid 11.4 yards per try on seven returns.
Watch Out For … The kicking game to be among the strongest in the Mountain West. DeLine might not be special, but he's good enough to rely on, while Kontodiakos is a terrific punter who's only getting better.
Strength: Besides the kicking game, Good is a tremendous kickoff returner who helped the Rams finish 19th in the nation and second in the Mountain West last year.
Weakness: Blocked kicks. The Rams struggled at times in key spots getting six kicks blocked. The kickoff coverage team was awful allowing 26.1 yards per try and a score.
Outlook: The special teams should be a team-strength if the coverage teams can be better. The return game is solid, the kicking game is terrific, and the potential is there for this to be an area that CSU can count on to be the difference in at least one close game.
Unit Rating: 7
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