Preview 2007 - Defense
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What you need to know: This
won't be the best defense in the Mountain West, but it'll be
good enough to win with. The
3-3-5 was replaced by the 3-4 last year with tremendous results.
Now the production should be there again with a big front three,
led by end Jan Jorgensen, and a good linebacking corps that
needs Kelly Poppinga to be the main man in the middle in place
of Cameron Jensen. The safeties, Dustin Gabriel and Quinn Gooch,
are as good as any in the conference, but the corners are
Tackles: Robert Herbert, 72
Sacks: Jesse Nading, 4
Interceptions: Robert Herbert, 3
Star of the defense: Senior LB Kelly Poppinga
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior CB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Shawn Doman
Best pro prospect: Sophomore DE Jan Jorgensen
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Poppinga, 2) Jorgensen,
3) FS Quinn Gooch
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, overall experience
Weakness of the defense: Cornerback
The leader of the veteran line will be 6-3, 260-pound sophomore, Jan
Jorgensen, who had a nice first season making 34 tackles and five
sacks. He's a good athlete who managed to become the team's most
consistent threat on the end, and now the line will revolve around him.
Starting on the nose is Russell Tialavea, a 6-3, 300-pond
sophomore who has the potential to become an all-star once he puts it
all together. He made 22 tackles and three tackles for loss, but he has
too much quickness and athleticism to not be in the backfield on a more
Sophomore Ian Dulan will get the nod on the left
side, but at 274 pounds, he's more like another tackle. He made seven
tackles before injuring his leg halfway through the season. While he
won't be much of a pass rusher, he'll be good against the run.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-5, 270-pound senior,
Judd Anderton, is a career reserve who made 16 tackles with two
sacks and four tackles for loss. He's been around long enough to be a
solid backup on the right side behind Jorgensen, and an occasional pass
rusher who can occasionally be a disruptive force.
Brett Denney, will play behind Dulan on the left side, but he's a
big step down. While he has the potential to be a pass rusher, he still
needs time to develop into an all-around defender.
6-0, 270-pound junior
Mosese Foketi was a key JUCO transfer last year who redshirted,
and now will be a smaller, but strong backup behind Tialavea in the
Watch Out For ... the reserves to see plenty of
work early on to get their feet wet. Denney and Foketi need time to
figure out what they're doing.
Strength: Size. The 3-4 basically relies on the linemen
to be tackles and stop the run, and if they get into the backfield on a
regular basis, that's a major bonus. With big backups ready to rotate
in, this should be a tough group to push around for a full sixty
Weakness: A second pass rusher to help Jorgensen. One will
emerge, but who will it be? Dulan isn't quite the type, but Denney has
potential. Someone needs to take the pressure of Jorgensen.
Outlook: While there won't be much in the way of
big plays in the backfield, this should be a good front three that'll
hold up against everyone in the Mountain West. The departure of players
due to graduation and church missions have weakened the group, but it'll
still be productive.
Who'll replace heart-and-soul playmaker, Cameron Jensen? It appears to
be senior Kelly Poppinga, who made 36 tackles and two sacks on
the outside, and now will get the start in the middle.
The brother of former BYU star, Brady Poppinga, made an impact coming
over from Utah State, and now he'll be use his toughness, along with his
240-pound size, to be one of the team's top tacklers.
Also on the inside
in the 3-4 will be 219-pound sophomore Shawn Doman after a good
true freshman season. He only made 14 tackles, but he showed big-time
potential with good speed and range.
231-pound senior, Bryan Kehl, will start on the strongside, and
could play on the weakside if needed. He made 70 tackles and turned into
a good pass rusher with three sacks and eight tackles for loss. With
good speed and smarts, along with his size, he's also excellent against
Junior David Nixon had a nice year finishing fifth on
the team with 62 tackles and three sacks along with a team-leading 10.5
tackles for loss. With excellent 4.5 speed and a good sense of timing,
he's a dangerous weakside defender who's great in space.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Terrance
Hooks has the potential to be a top tackler somewhere in the corps
as soon as he gets back from a one-game suspension for his involvement
in the incident with tight end Vic So'oto when they were arrested this
off-season after two people hit his girlfriend with a water balloon. On
the field, he's a good, tough playmaker on the inside behind Poppinga
with 18 tackles last year.
248-pound senior Chris Bolden
redshirted after coming in from the JUCO ranks, and then made ten
tackles as a reserve. He's a great tackler who brings tremendous size to
the weakside behind Nixon.
Watch Out For ... Poppinga to be Jensen, part two.
100 tackles and tremendous leadership should come from the senior as he
goes from good to big-time.
Strength: Options among the starters. The coaching staff
is able to use the 4-3, as opposed to a 3-3-5, because of all the
possibilities and all the prospects at linebacker. Kehl and Nixon can
play either outside position, while Poppinga is an outside linebacker
playing in the middle.
Weakness: Outside backups. Matt Bauman and Chris Bolden are
fine, but they're a big step down from Kehl and Nixon. Until they prove
they can be steady playmakers in the rotation, they won't push for
Outlook: Losing a player like Jensen is never a
plus, but Poppinga will be good, Kehl and Nixon will be terrors in the
backfield, and Doman has promise on the inside. The coaching staff wants
to do what it can to get all the talent on the field; the corps will be
a plus as the season goes on.
The early concern going into the fall will be at corner, where someone
has to emerge as a number one. Senior Ben Criddle appeared to be
close to being that player, but he had problems with a toe injury
throughout spring ball. A decent starter last year making 53 tackles and
two interceptions, he has experience and toughness. Want-to isn't the
issue for the former walk-on, shutting down a top receiver is.
other side will be senior Kayle Buchanan, who made five tackles
in a limited role. He has the size at 6-1 and 191 pounds, but he's not
going to erase a number one receiver out of the game plan.
The safeties are set with senior Dustin Gabriel at the KAT, BYU's
version of a strong safety, while senior Quinn Gooch will start
again at free safety. Gooch is a tackling machine with 66 stops last
season, to go along with two interceptions. With a year of starting
experience under his belt, he'll make more plays getting even more
license to roam. Gabriel is a 213-pound hitter who made 37 tackles, and
now he has to do more when the ball is in the air. He's almost like a
smallish outside linebacker playing safety.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Brandon
Howard will combine with Buchanon at the field corner spot, While
he's not as big and doesn't have much in the way of experience, he's one
of the team's fastest players and can keep up with the speed receivers
Senior David Tafuna made 15 tackles as part of
the cornerback rotation, and has a little bit of starting experience.
He'll play behind Gooch at free safety as a bigger hitter, but without
the same range.
Watch Out For ... the corner situation to be up in
the air all season long. This is a serviceable group of corners; it's
Strength: Hitting safeties. Gooch and Gabriel can pop,
and Tafuna is big enough to apply some lumber. They don't miss tackles.
Weakness: Number one corner. Criddle makes more than his share
of plays, but he's limited. Buchanan is unproven against top-shelf
Outlook: The secondary mostly gave up yards to
teams in desperation comeback mode, but it did fine at keeping the
short-to-midrange passers under wraps. As long as the corners can keep
everything in front of them, and as long as the safeties can concentrate
on being all-around playmakers and not have to provide a ton of help on
the deep passes, the overall numbers will be fine.
It'll be the Mitch Payne show taking over for
kicker Jared McLaughlin, who hit 14 of 18 field goals, and punter Derek
McLaughlin, who averaged 40.9 yards per kick. Payne's a redshirt
freshman with a solid, consistent leg in all areas with range at around
50 yards on field goals and
around 40 yards a kick on punts. As long as all the work doesn't become
overwhelming, he'll be a decent replacement.
Watch Out For ... Payne to be solid. He might not
be a star right away, but he'll eventually be really, really good as
either a punter or a kicker. The team just hopes he can really handle
all the pressure.
Strength: Coverage units. BYU did a good job of keeping
the big kick returners under wraps, and this should be a strength once
Weakness: Proven returners. Curtis Brown was the main man on
kickoffs, while Nathan Meikle handled the punts. It'll be a work in
Outlook: The special teams were just part of last
year's great season proving to be every bit as good as the other areas
of the team. Now they'll undergo a major overhaul, and while they likely
won't be as strong, they'll be better than most.