2013 Wyoming Preview – Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 5, 2013


CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Wyoming Cowboy Defense


Wyoming Cowboys

Preview 2013 - Defense


- 2013 Wyoming Preview | 2013 Wyoming Offense
- 2013 Wyoming Defense | 2013 Wyoming Depth Chart
 
What You Need To Know: It was a struggle. The defensive front didn’t do nearly enough to get to the quarterback, and everything trickled down from there with the secondary getting roasted on a regular basis and few key stops to change games around. With all the starting defensive backs returning, and with some good new prospects coming in, it should be a tighter group, but only if the front seven does its job. The lack of side in the linebacking corps is a problem, and the consistent pass rush has to be there for everything else to work. With a slew of JUCO transfers coming in, there’s an influx of talent to help upgrade several spots, but overall, the Cowboys need defensive playmakers to emerge.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Blair Burns, 60
Sacks: Eddie Yarbrough, 4
Interceptions: Chad Reese, 3

Star of the defense: Junior CB Blair Burns
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior LB Devyn Harris
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Eddie Yarbrough
Best pro prospect: Burns
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Burns, 2) DT Patrick Mertens, 3) Yarbrough
Strength of the defense: JUCO Transfers, Secondary Depth
Weakness of the defense: Interceptions, Pass Rush

Defensive Line

The defensive line has to generate more of a pass rush, but sophomore Eddie Yarbrough tried to do in his first season with a team-leading four sacks with six tackles for loss and 42 tackles. The 6-3, 253-pounder is built like an outside linebacker, but he’s a good end with who held up well against the run. Granted, three of his sacks came against UNLV in a dominant performance, but he was decent against the run throughout the year and showed excellent upside. He’ll be backed up by 6-3, 242-pound senior Jeff Roueche, a veteran who made 11 tackles last season, but isn’t much of a pass rusher.

Germany native Justin Bernthaler held down the other job on the end last year after coming in from Fullerton CC making 22 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. At 6-2 and 245 pounds he’s a tweener for the Buck position, but he’s a high-motor defender who needs to come back after being out this offseason. 6-3, 247-pound junior Sonny Puletasi has the wheels tto become more of pass rusher from the outside after making two sacks with 4.5 tackles for loss and 20 tackles in a rotation. He can play either end spot, but at 6-3 and 247 pounds he’s a linebacker up front.

Anchoring the line is veteran Patrick Mertens, a 6-5, 287-pound senior who’s built like a 4-3 end but found a home at tackle making 34 tackles with 2.5 sacks. Quick off the ball more than a big run stuffer, he’s the veteran who has to be the one everything works around. At the very least, he has to be the most consistent defender in the interior, especially against the run. Next to Mertens will be redshirt freshman Uso Olive on the nose, who’ll have to use his 6-1, 300-pound body to hold up in the interior to let everyone else get into the backfield. While he’s quick, his job will be to his frame and base to get good leverage and hold his own. It’ll be tough for a while until he gets a little time, but he’s strong enough to be the man inside for the next four years.

Watch Out For … Troy Boyland, a 6-2, 310-pound JUCO transfer who’ll start out behind Mertens providing more bulk inside against the stronger running teams. Wanted by Texas A&M, he’s a ready-made run stopper with good experience.
Strength: Quick ends. There’s not much size outside, but the linebacker-sized defensive ends can all move and they should be able to get to the ball. Yarbrough showed upside late last year, and now it has to carry over.
Weakness: Plays behind the line. There wasn’t any pass rush whatsoever outside of Yarbrough’s big game against UNLV. On the year the Cowboys cranked out fewer than two sacks nine times and didn’t get to the quarterback against Texas, Air Force, Boise State, New Mexico or San Diego State.
Outlook: The line is hardly anything special and should need plenty of work and time. Mertens is the one veteran to work around, and Yarbrough has the potential to be good if he can be more consistent, but getting behind the line is Job One, and then hope for things to start working better from there.
Unit Rating: 4.5

Linebackers

Leading tackler Ghaali Muhammad is gone from the strong side, and now it’ll be up to German Mark Nzeocha, a freakish athlete who started out his career at linebacker, moved over to strong safety last season, making 32 tackles, and now will go back to linebacker. The 6-3, 230-pounder has unlimited range and should be one of the team’s leading tacklers now that it seems like he found a home. Also back is sophomore Siaosi Hala’api’api, a 6-2, 240-pounder who bulked up this offseason after coming up with 57 stops in the middle. He didn’t do anything to get into the backfield, but he’s tough as nails against the run and doesn’t get blocked without a fight. Now he’ll move to the Buck position, but he could switch back and forth where needed.

With Hala’api’api moving, 6-3, 229-pound senior Devyn Harris is back in the middle after seeing a little bit of time last season making eight tackles in the opener before getting hurt. He came up with 65 stops two years ago and was just coming into his own before suffering the leg injury that knocked him out. Fortunately, it happened early enough to give him time to return, but it he struggles, 6-0, 246-pound junior Jordan Stanton will add more size to the rotation coming in from Los Angeles CC. A huge hitter, he could be used as a pass rusher on the outside if needed.

6-1, 201-pound redshirt freshman Lucas Wacha is built like a defensive back, but he’s going to move like one on the weakside in place of Korey Jones. A great athlete, he should be all over the field and decent in pass coverage, while 6-2, 203-pound sophomore Jeff Lark will fight for the job coming in from Arizona Western CC after making 62 stops with three sacks.

Watch Out For … Malkaam Muhammad. Along with Lark and Stanton, Muhammad is a key JUCO transfer who’s expected to make an immediate impact. The brother of Ghaali Muhammad, he’s a big hitter from Iowa Western CC making 39 tackles last season. Able to play anywhere in the linebacking corps, he’ll find a spot somewhere.
Strength: The return of Harris. While he didn’t exactly dominate before getting hurt, he was expected to be a huge part of the front seven and started out last season with a bang. Now that he’s back, the corps has a man in the middle to work around. The JUCO transfers will do their part to fill in the blanks.
Weakness: Toughness against the run. This is a fast, athletic group that should get around the ball without much of a problem, but it’ll have a problem against anyone with a little bit of power. The idea is to utilize speed and athleticism over size and strength.
Outlook: It might not be that bad despite the loss of Muhammad and the move of Hala’api’api to the line. The return of Harris will be a big deal and Nzeocha is a burgeoning star with his athleticism and range. If the JUCO guys do what they’re supposed to, this could quietly turn into a strength.
Unit Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

All the starters are back in the secondary, but there should be some movement. 6-0, 184-pound junior Darrenn White spent most of last season at free safety, making 39 tackles with a pick and three broken up passes, and now he’ll move over to strong safety to see if he can do more against the run. Physical with good quickness, he should be a statistical star.

White’s move means that 5-11, 180-pound junior Chad Reese has to find a home after working at strong safety and coming up with 54 tackles with a team-leading three picks and six broken up passes. He turned into a playmaker over the second half of the season with all his interceptions in the last five games with a 50-yard return against Boise State and a 57-yarder against San Diego State. He’ll combine at free safety this year with junior Jesse Sampson, a 6-0, 183-pound JUCO transfer from College of the Canyons who made 61 stops last season.

5-10, 180-pound junior Blair Burns is back at one corner spot after finishing fourth on the team with 60 tackles and a team-leading ten broken up passes. He only came up with one pick, but he made it count with a 99-yard pick six to change the game around in the win over Colorado State. A good ball-hawker with two years of starting experience, he has all-star upside, while senior Marqueston Huff will work on the other side after making 57 stops with 1.5 tackles for loss and seven broken up passes. Versatile, he’s able to work at either free safety or corner, but he showed the quickness to be a decent tackler on the outside.

Watch Out For … Xavier Lewis. The Cowboys have plenty of defensive back options to play around with, but Lewis could quickly turn into a factor right off the bus. The 6-0, 190-pounder from Denver came up with a huge senior season making 105 tackles with six forced fumbles, and he might be destined to see time in nickel and dime packages to use his big-hitting ability.
Strength: Versatility. With the addition of Sampson, now the Cowboys can work with Whtie and Reese in a variety of packages. The ultra-athletic Huff could move over to free safety if needed to change things around even more with corner DeAndre Jones, who came up with 21 tackles and a pick, needing to find a spot somewhere.
Weakness: Interceptions. The secondary was torched way too often and didn’t come up with nearly enough big plays. Reese picked up half of the team’s six interceptions, and while Burns came up with one of the biggest plays of the season against Colorado State, that was his only interception.
Outlook: The secondary did what it could considering the lack of pressure from the front seven, but it didn’t come up with many gamechangers when the opportunities were there. UW allowed multiple touchdown passes in nine of the 12 games, but it’s a veteran crew that could be better with a little more help.
Unit Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

The placekicking was spotty late after a good start. Junior Stuart Williams his all four field goal attempts in the first four games, but he only connected on three of his final eight tries over the last ten games with two of the makes coming against Air Force. To be fair, two kicks were blocked and four of the misses were from beyond 40 yards, but he didn’t show any range. The leg is there, but now he has to start hitting more from deep.

The punting game wasn’t bad with Tim Gleeson averaging 43 yards per try with 21 put inside the 20, but he’s off the team after his freshman season, meaning Williams has to fill in and produce. He has a good leg, but he only got in one kick last year, putting a 27-yarder inside the 20.

The kickoff return game was among the worst in America, but running back T.J. May has the ability to do far more after averaging 20.9 yards per try. No one else produced when given a chance. Corner Blair Burns was solid on punt returns averaging 10.2 yards per try on his 12 chances.

Watch Out For … the punting situation. The departure of Gleeson hurts. The Australian put in a fantastic first season, and while Williams should be fine, he’s not as good.
Strength: Burns. The punt return game was terrific with Jalen Claiborne averaging 33 yards on his two tries, but it was Burns who was the difference-maker. He did a great to help the field position.
Weakness: Kickoff returns. 113th in the nation, the Cowboys averaged just 18 yards per try. May was great when he got the ball in his hands, and Claiborne did his part averaging 23.5 yards on his six attempts, but there were too many returners in the equation and not enough production.
Outlook: There are big question marks across the board. Can Williams handle the work and all the duties? Can the coverage teams be better after a mediocre season? Wyoming isn’t good enough to not be better on special teams, but they’re going to be a work in progress.
Unit Rating: 4.5

- 2013 Wyoming Preview | 2013 Wyoming Offense
- 2013 Wyoming Defense | 2013 Wyoming Depth Chart