Wyoming Preview 2006 - Defense

Posted Aug 7, 2006

Wyoming Cowboys Preview 2006 - Wyoming Defense

What you need to know ... Wyoming will move from a 4-3 to a 3-4 to take advantage of all its linebacker talent, but it'll still mix in a Buck linebacker to rush the passer like an extra end. The D wasn't all that bad last year, but it got worse as the season went on and was never clutch. It'll take a little while to get any sort of groove back with two new corners and not enough speed in the linebacking corps. While the front seven won't get steamrolled over, it's not going to stop anyone cold. John Wendling will be in the hunt for defensive player of the year honors moving over from free safety to strong safety.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: John Wendling, 75
Sacks: Mike Groover, 6.5
Interceptions: John Wendling, 3

Star of the defense: Senior SS John Wendling
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior NG Jake Mayes
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Mike Juergens
Best pro prospect: Wendling
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wendling, 2) LB Ward Dobbs, 3) DT Mike Groover
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, safety
Weakness of the defense:
Line, cornerback

Defensive Line
Will the front three in the 3-4 be allowed to rush the passer, or will it strictly be used to stop the run? There's good size, but only Mike Groover is a sure-thing to get into the backfield on a regular basis. That'll change if Aaron Robbins is 100% after missing most of last year with a knee injury. Jake Mayes is an ideal nose guard and should grow into the role of the anchor, while Corey Mace has to use his size to play like a tackle despite lining up at end.
The key to the unit: Stuff the run. The front three has to clog things up and let the linebackers make all the big plays.
Defensive Line Rating: 5

Projected Starters
- DT Mike Groover, Sr. - 24 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 7 TFL, 3 forced fumbles
One of the best pass rushers in the league, the 250-pound senior is listed as a tackle, but he's really more of an end. He benefited by being on the other side of John Flora last year, and now he'll have to get used to more attention while trying to get into the backfield on the inside rather than use his speed to get around the corner.

- NG Jake Mayes, Sr. - 27 tackles, 2 TFL
Mayes made the transformation from reserve to key starter starting every game at tackle. Now he'll move to the nose where he'll be the anchor of the 3-4 defense. At 6-3 and 292 pounds, he's one of the team's biggest linemen and will have to get used to being beaten on while everyone else can try to get into the backfield.

- DE Corey Mace, Sr. - 14 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL
A tackle last year, the 285-pound former JUCO transfer will play on the end after fully recovering from a knee injury that kept him from being the playmaker he was at Palomar CC in California. He's a good pass rusher for his size.

Top Backups
- DE Aaron Robbins, Sr. - 5 tackles, 1 sack
The former tight end was on the verge of being a tremendous pass rusher when he went down with a torn ACL. While he's not nearly as big as the 285-pound Corey Mace, he's a strong 256 pounds who's just as good against the run. He's not expected to be completely back to normal, but getting back on the team is a major plus after surprisingly getting another year of eligibility.
- NG Fred Givens, RFr.
A true nose guard at a squatty 6-1 and 298 pounds, Givens is surprisingly quick and should be better at getting into the backfield than projected starter Jake Mayes. He bulked up over the last year and should be decent against the run.

The 3-4 defense should play into a strength with several decent linebacker prospects good enough to see time. There's plenty of experience and returning production with Ward Dobbs and Luke Chase two of the league's more active inside linebackers, and Austin Hall due to be a force on the outside with more room to roam. While there's not a whole lot of speed, there's plenty of depth.
The key to the unit: More big plays. With so much returning experience, there's no reason more chances can't be taken.
Linebacker Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- Austin Hall, Sr. - 47 tackles, 2 sacks, 6.5 TFL, 1 interception
Hall bulked up over the last few years to get up to 225 pounds and has grown into a stronger run stopper on the strongside. He's good at getting into the backfield with enough experience to be one of the leaders of the D.

- Luke Chase, Jr. - 59 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 2 recovered fumbles
The main man in the middle last year, the 6-1, 240-pound junior finished fourth on the team in tackles despite splitting time with a fifth defensive back in nickel packages. With the shift from a 4-3 to a 3-4, he'll play an even bigger role and be allowed to get into the backfield on a more regular basis.

- Ward Dobbs, Soph. - 75 tackles, 5 TFL
Dobbs is one of the best young linebackers in the conference earning al-star honors after finishing third on the team in tackles. He didn't take over a starting job until halfway through the season, but when he did, he was a tackling machine with 18 stops against Utah and 16 against BYU. Moving from the weakside to the inside, he should be more of a factor against the run.

- Mike Juergens, Soph. - 16 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss
On the verge of being a top all-around defender at the Buck position, the former Colorado high school defensive player of the year will be part end and part outside linebacker. At 6-4 and 240 pounds, he's big enough to be a strong physical presence up front with enough athleticism to be a decent pass defender.

Top Backups
- Brandon Haugen, Jr. - 17 tackles, 1 TFL
A bit limited last year after recovering from a torn ACL, the 233-pound junior is an experienced reserve. He has enough quickness to play on the outside if needed, but he'll start out behind Ward Dobbs on the inside.
- Sean Claffey, Jr. - 22 tackles, 1 TFL
He has good size at 6-3 and 240 pounds and he has the quickness, and now he'll see more playing time in the 3-4 alignment playing behind Austin Hall on the outside. With his size, he'll be more of a factor against the run.
- Weston Johnson, RFr.
An interesting prospect on the outside, the 6-3, 221-pound Johnson can jump out of the stadium and should prove to be the most athletic of the linebackers. He's one of the quickest, and now that he bulked up over the last year, he has the ability to be one of the team's top all-around tacklers once he gets a little bit of experience.

Defensive Backs
The secondary wasn't all that bad with Derrick Martin and Terrance Butler forming a nice corner tandem, but they're gone meaning Michael Medina and Julius Stinson have to go from being special teamers and backups to steady covermen. Safety John Wendling is one of the best safeties in the Mountain West with the size to be a big hitting strong safety and the speed to be a star again at free safety. There's no experienced depth.
The key to the unit: The corners have to shine right away while depth has to be developed as soon as possible to provide more options.
Secondary Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- CB Michael Medina, Jr. - 2 tackles, 1 interception
Purely a special teamer so far, Medina has good size and phenomenal speed. Now he has to show he can put it all together and become a lock-down cover corner and has to show he can make enough big plays to force teams to try to throw at Julius Stinson on the other side.

- FS Dorsey Golston, Sr. - 22 tackles, 1 interception, 3 broken up passes
An outstanding reserve over the last few years playing behind John Wendling, Golston will take over the open spot. Mostly seeing time as a nickel back, he has 55 tackles and seven broken up passes. While he's not Wendling, he should be a steady tackler.

- SS John Wendling, Sr. - 75 tackles, 1 sack, 3 interceptions 3 broken up passes
One of the best defensive players in the conference, the 6-1, 222-pound tackling machine has 164 stops over the last two seasons and has enough speed to eventually be playing on Sundays. Clocked at just under 4.4 in the 40, he has the wheels to play anywhere in the secondary, but his hitting ability and range make him too valuable at strong safety after moving over from free safety.

- CB Julius Stinson, Jr. - 9 tackles, 2 interceptions
Stinson has seen plenty of playing time over the last two years, but he hasn't put up much numbers-wise. He's fast and has a good nose for the ball, but he'll have to prove he can be consistent in place of all-star Derrick Martin. 

Top Backups
FS Quincy Rogers, Soph. - 12 tackles, 1 TFL
A phenomenal athlete with excellent size, the 6-1, 202-pound sophomore is a bigger option at free safety than Dorsey Golston. He was a key special teamer last year, but he has way too much upside to keep out of the defensive mix.
- CB Marcel Gipson, Fr.
The true freshman might not be a bit slight at 5-10 and 164 pounds, but he has big-time speed. He was a top running back in high school rushing for 21 touchdowns and 1,650 yards in 2004 and even saw time at quarterback. He'll see time at field corner behind Julius Stinson.

Special Teams
The kicking game might take a while to come around with placekicker Jake Scott needing to become reliable right away. JUCO transfer Billy Vinnedge should be fine as the new punter. The kick return game needs some help after losing Jovon Bouknight, and Hoost Marsh only averaged 15.1 yards on his seven tries. On the plus side, he's an all-star caliber punt returner.
The key to the unit: The kicking game has to fight through some growing pains with the two new starters.
Offensive Line Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- PK Jake Scott, RFr.
It'll be up to Scott to take over for the steady Deric Yaussi. While he doesn't have a huge leg, he's versatile enough to be used as a punter if needed.
- P
Billy Vinnedge, Jr.
The JUCO transfer takes over for Adam Brooks and his 41.7-yard average. He was strong last year at Allan Hancock CC in California averaging 40.4 yards per kick putting 17 kicks inside the 20.

Related Stories
Wyoming Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
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Wyoming Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
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Wyoming Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 7, 2006

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