Colorado State Preview 2006 - Defense
Posted Aug 7, 2006

Colorado State Rams Preview 2006 - Colorado State Defense

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.

Returning Leaders
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

Defensive Line
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

Projected Starters
- 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 game.

- 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 against Wyoming.

- 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.

Top Backups
- 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 right side.
- 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 nose.
- 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, tackling, tackling.
Linebacker Rating:

Projected Starters
- 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 the pass.

- 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 strongside.

Top Backups
- 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.

Defensive backs
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

Projected Starters
- 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 recovered fumbles
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 tested early.

- 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 forced fumbles.

Top Backups
- 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.

Special Teams
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 yards.
Special Teams Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- 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.
- P
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.

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