What you need to know ... The Ram defense struggled to tackle, didn't generate
enough pressure in the backfield, and basically got beat on by
anyone who dared to try. There's hope for improvement with a
decent group of veteran starters returning and helped by Ben
Stratton coming back to the secondary after missing last year
with a knee injury. The defensive backs are excellent, but the
defense won't improve unless the linebacking corps plays
night-and-day better and the smallish defensive line holds up
against power running teams.
Tackles: Robert Herbert, 72
Sacks: Jesse Nading, 4
Interceptions: Robert Herbert, 3
Star of the defense: Senior CB Robert Herbert
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
DTs Blake Smith and Matt Rupp
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Jeff Horinek
Best pro prospect: Herbert
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Herbert, 2) SS Ben
Stratton, 3) DE Jesse Nading
Strength of the defense: Tackling defensive backs
Weakness of the defense: Run defense
Priority one has to be better play from a line that has
been nothing short of horrible over the last two seasons. There isn't a
lot of bulk in the middle, so the Rams have to hope for tackles Blake
Smith and Matt Rupp to use their athleticism and experience to hold up
better against the run after getting rumbled on all year long. There
hasn't been nearly enough pressure generated from anyone outside of end
Jesse Nading. On the plus side, there's size among the backups and there
should be a decent rotation.
The key to the unit: Stop getting shoved around
against the run and developing more of a pass rush.
Defensive Line Rating: 5.5
- LDE Wade Landers, Soph. - 6 tackles, 2 TFL
Landers got into the lineup as a true freshman earning playing time over
the final five games and starting in the regular season finale against
UNLV. At 6-6 and 235 pounds, he's a lanky defender with a long frame and
excellent athleticism. He has the potential to be a top pass rusher, but
he'll have to prove he can be strong enough to hold up against the run
game in and game out.
- DT Matt Rupp, Soph. - 14 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 TFL
While Rupp might be a bit undersized at 275 pounds, he makes up for it
with ridiculous strength. He's great in the weight room and showed a
little bit of his potential as a decent reserve last year earning three
starts. He has the quickness to get into the backfield, but he'll get
hammered on by the bigger offensive linemen when it comes to the running
- NT Blake Smith, Jr. - 25 tackles, 1 sack, 6 TFL, 1 interception
A huge recruit for the Rams a few years ago, Smith has to live up to the
hype starting now after taking his lumps over the last two years. He's
more of an end at only 269 pounds and gets pummeled in the running game,
but he can occasionally be an active player on the nose at times. On the
plus side, he's experienced with 20 career starts. He picked off a pass
- RDE Jesse Nading, Jr. - 56 tackles, 4 sacks, 11 TFL, 1
interception, 2 broken up passes
Easily the team's best defensive lineman, the 6-6, 258-pound Nading is
an experienced, consistent playmaker on the outside and one of the few
Rams who held up relatively well against the run last year highlighted
by making eight solo stops in the bowl loss to Navy. It'll be his job to
get in the backfield more after finishing sixth on the team in tackles.
- DE Tommie Hill, Soph. - 13 tackles, 2 sacks, 3
tackles for loss
A linebacker playing end, it'll be up to the 6-6, 227-pound sophomore to
be even more of a pass rusher than he was after being used sparingly in
his redshirt freshman season. He'll play behind Jesse Nading on the
- NT Erik Sandie, Jr. - 23 tackles, 5 TFL
Sandie needs to find more playing time. At 296 pounds, he provides some
much needed bulk on the inside and isn't bad at getting into the
backfield. He stepped in two years ago when Blake Smith was having ankle
problems, and he got a little bit of starting time last year on the
- DT Shawn McGoveran, Soph.
McGoveran bulked up big-time over the last year adding 25 pounds to get
up to 286. Now he'll add more size in the middle as the backup to the
smaller Matt Rupp, but don't expect him to be much of a pass rusher.
- DE Bob Vomhof, Jr. - 29 tackles, 2 TFL
A solid backup over the last two seasons, the 250-pound Vomhof became
more active last year highlighted by an seven-tackle performance against
BYU. He's not a pure pass rusher, but he'll be dependable behind Wade
Landers on the left side.
The potential is there for a better year just because of
all the returning experience. It's a deep group with the possibility of
creating a good rotation, but they have to get over one fundamental
problem: they couldn't tackle. The line didn't help matters against the
run, but the linebackers always seemed out of position and had a hard
time making a big play. There's enough size to hold up better against
the run and there's even a little bit of speed among the reserves.
The key to the unit: Tackling, tackling, tackling,
- Jon Radford, Sr. - 43 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFL, 1
interception, 4 broken up passes
The former JUCO transfer is a big 241 pounds for a weakside linebacker.
He was an all-star at NE Oklahoma A&M two years ago before getting the
starting nod in four games last year for the Rams. He's not tremendously
fast, but he makes plays and is a big hitter.
Jeff Horinek, Soph. - 61 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 broken up pass
Horinek is a smart, good-looking young player manning the middle. He was
thrown to the wolves last year, but was a steady producer up until the
Poinsettia Bowl. Now he'll have to be the rock of the linebacking corps
and has to grow into the leadership role. He'll has to make sure he's in
better position against the run, and he has to make more plays against
- Luke Adkins, Sr. - 4 tackles
Adkins never really got back to form after injuring his knee at the end
of 2004. He spent his downtime bulking up to 241 pounds, so it remains
to be seen if he can be the same speedy force on the outside that he was
when he made 54 tackles a few years ago. He'll start out on the
- John Nichols, Jr. - 16 tackles, 1 TFL
An undersized special teamer a few years ago, Nichols get up to 226
pounds but missed most of last year with a shoulder injury. He returns
this season to backup Luke Adkins on the strongside.
- Nathan Pauly, Jr. - 8 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
Pauly is one of the team's more versatile linebackers able to handle
himself at any of the three positions, but at 218 pounds he's most
suited to the weakside where he'll backup Jon Radford. He has four
career starts and should see more time this year once he gets back from
a shoulder injury.
This is easily the team's strength with
tremendous tackling corners Robert Hebert and Darryl Williams, faster
reserves waiting in the wings, and the return of Ben Stratton from a
knee injury to lead the secondary from his strong safety spot.
However, there's a lot of
room for improvement. Technically, this was the Mountain West's best
pass defense last year allowing 206 yards per game, but it got dinked
and dunked on to death and the overall numbers were a bit skewed because
so many teams spent so much time running the ball. The only concern is
at free safety where Klint Kubiak and Michael Myers have to combine
forced to not be the weak link in the chain. Even so, the potential is
there for a strong season with all the returning experience.
The key to the unit: Make more plays against accurate
short to midrange passing games.
Secondary Rating: 7
- CB Darryl Williams, Jr. - 49 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 2
interceptions, 3 broken up passes
Williams turned into a godsend as a tackler considering all the messes
he had to help clean up thanks to the lousy play of the front seven.
He's not huge at 5-9 and 180 pounds, but he's physical and very fast
with 4.4 speed. He'll more than be able to handle himself with teams
staying away from Robert Herbert on the other side.
- FS Klint Kubiak, Soph. - 9 tackles, 1 broken up pass, 2
The X factor in the secondary, Kubiak has to play like a seasoned pro
after being used sparingly as a true freshman highlighted by a three
tackle game against New Mexico. He's an excellent athlete, but he'll be
- SS Ben Stratton, Sr.
Stratton was one of the team's top corners before being moved over to
safety. An all-conference caliber player, he missed all of last year
with a knee injury and returns to give the team a huge boost this year.
He's fast, smart, and is one of the team's surest tacklers. He can play
free safety if needed, but he'll start out at strong safety once he
returns fully healed..
- CB Robert Herbert, Sr. - 72 tackles, 3 interceptions, 12 broken
up passes, 4 forced fumbles
Is there a more productive tackling corner in the country? The 6-1,
208-pound senior hits like a safety and has been one of the league's
best pass defenders over the last two season. The former JUCO transfer
hit like a ton of bricks in the bowl loss to Navy, but his best
performance came against New Mexico with three tackles, an interception,
a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He led the Mountain West in
- CB Joey Rucks, Jr. - 19 tackles, 1 TFL
Mostly a special teamer last year, Rucks will do more in the secondary
this season playing behind Robert Herbert and possibly pushing for time
on the right side behind Darryl Williams.
- SS Michael Myers, Soph.
Myers will find his way on the the field because of his speed, if
nothing else. He's 6-1 and 203 pounds and one of the fastest players on
the defense. He'll push hard for time at free safety behind Klint Kubiak.
- CB Lydon Levine, Jr. - 5 tackles
He played a limited role so far as a defender seeing most of his time on
special teams, but he can fly and needs to grow into a reliable corner
on the right side behind Darryl Williams.
The kicking game will be fantastic with punter Jimmy
Kaylor sure to be on the Ray Guy Award watch list and sure to be in the
hunt for preseason All-America honors. Jason Smith saved the kicking
game last year and there's no reason to think he won't be one of the
league's most reliable placekickers again. The team's most dangerous
punt returner is Johnny Walker, but Dustin Osborn will likely get the
first crack at the job. George Hill is a serviceable kickoff returner.
The key to the unit: Get more from the kickoff
returns and make sure PK Jason Smith has consistent range from beyond 40
Special Teams Rating: 8
- PK Jason Smith, Soph. - 9-10 FGs, 12-12 PATs
Smith stepped in for an ineffective Kevin Mark and connected on his
first seven field goal attempts after taking over the gig late in the
year. He wasn't pushed hard with his longest kick from 41 yards, but
he's a rock from short to middle distances.
Jimmie Kaylor, Jr. - 52 kicks for 2,400 yds, 45.3 average, 12
inside the 20
One of the best in the Mountain West earning first-team all-conference
honors, Kaylor averaged 45 yards or more per punt in six games. He has a
big leg, but it might be too good with 11 touchbacks. To nitpick, he'll
occasionally outkick the coverage, but the Rams will take that if he'll
keep blasting the ball like he does.