Preview 2007 - Defense
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What you need to know: Raheem
Morris lasted one year as defensive coordinator before moving on
to the NFL. Tim Tibesar will take over and put in a 3-4 scheme,
which might, at times, appear to be more of a 4-3 with star Ian
Campbell playing outside linebacker and the occasional end.
There's a ton of overall experience and depth, even with just
six returning starters, with the strength to likely be in the
secondary, where safety Marcus Watts leads a veteran cast. While
the D likely won't be sixth in the nation in sacks and 18th in
tackles for loss, there will be plenty of big plays made in the
backfield with all the speed and athleticism across the
positions. The overall net result should be better than last
year, when KSU gave up 346 yards and 24 points per game.
Ian Campbell, 11.5
Interceptions: Marcus Watts, 3
Star of the defense: Junior LB/DE Ian Campbell
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DT
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Mike Abana
Best pro prospect: Campbell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Campbell, 2) FS Marcus
Watts, 3) DE Rob Jackson
Strength of the defense: Secondary, all-around depth
Weakness of the defense:
Interceptions, consistent run
Projected Starters: The anchor of the front three in the new 3-4
scheme will be 6-0, 294-pound junior Alphonso Moran, but he'll be
part of a regular rotation. A strong veteran with 39 tackles over the
last two seasons and should emerge as an even more effective defender
with more responsibility. Everything will flow around him.
Emerging on the end is 6-3, 265-pound senior Rob Jackson, who
started to come on at the end of last year with all the attention paid
to Ian Campbell. When the light turned on for the former JUCO transfer,
he had some big moments, finishing with 4.5 sacks and eight tackles for
loss along with 36 tackles. With the way he's grown into the role,
Campbell has been able to move to linebacker.
On the other side will be 6-2, 258-pound senior Moses Manu after
making nine tackles and a sack in his first year over from the JUCO
ranks. He has the speed to grow into a top-shelf pass rusher with a big
more experience, which he'll get early on. With his drive, going 100%
all the time, he'll make a few big plays just by being aggressive.
Projected Top Reserves: While Moran will likely
start, 6-1, 291-pound senior Steven Cline will see more than his
share of time, and could be a spot starter, like he was last year on the
nose. Even though he's mostly a run stopper, making 22 tackles, he had
his moments in the backfield making two sacks.
More of a true tackle than an end, 6-0, 278-pound junior Brandon
Balkcom will play the role of both in the new scheme. He started to
turn things up a notch over the second half of last year finishing with
eight tackles on the inside.
On the way will be top recruit, 6-7, 296-pound JUCO transfer Mike
Abana to see time at one of the new end positions. With tremendous
pass rushing ability to go along with his imposing size, he has the
potential to be a terror once he actually figures out what he's doing.
The Nigerian native has only played football for a few years, but he
looked like a natural at Santa Monica CC making 33 tackles, three sacks
and seven tackles for loss along with an 80-yard fumble return for a
Watch Out For ... Abana. It might not happen right
away, he's going to need time to adjust to the D-I level, but "The
Nigerian Nightmare" has freakish tools to eventually become a difference
Strength: Options. The move to the 3-4 means more
depth with all the returning talent from last year, and with the
emergence of Jackson and Manu, and the ability to play tackles as ends,
the coaching staff can move ends Ian Campbell and Eric Childs to
full-time linebacker roles.
Weakness: Holding up against the run. Getting into
the backfield won't be much of an issue from all three spots, but
holding up against the run might be a problem again after a rough 2006.
Outlook: With great depth, and more about to
emerge in the fall, the line should see an excellent rotation with
plenty of chances for everyone to shine. Once everyone figures out their
roles, and the right combination is figured out, this could grow into a
strength. For what it'll need to do, the front three will be effective.
Projected Starters: After a stunning breakout season with 67
tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks at an end, junior Ian
Campbell will move to an outside linebacker in the new scheme. In
reality, he'll likely play a hybrid of end and linebacker to do whatever
is needed, but wherever he lines up, he'll be one of the Big 12's most
dangerous defenders who'll need to be accounted for on every play. At
6-5 and 232 pounds, he has decent size, to go along with far too much
speed for most tackles. The former walk-on was surprisingly strong
against the run and could be devastating in all areas with more room to
Another former end, 6-3, 230-pound sophomore Erick Childs, will
man the other outside linebacker spot after making 17 tackles and two
sacks as a reserve. Campbell might be the star, but Childs is a better
all-around athlete with tremendous speed and the potential to grow into
a killer pass rusher. Even at his bigger size, he's far better suited
for linebacker than end.
Returning on the inside will be 6-0, 223-pound junior Reggie Walker
after starting seven games and making 36 tackles. Able to play either in
the middle or, in a traditional 4-3, on the strongside he's a versatile,
athletic defender who doesn't miss tackles and holds up well against the
At the other inside spot will be 6-0, 245-pound senior Justin Roland,
who's one of the team's more physical linebacker who made 17 stops in a
backup role. At his size, he's perfect for a traditional middle role,
but he has the speed to be all over the field. The former JUCO transfer
won't get the attention of the other linebackers, but he might be every
bit as effective.
Projected Top Reserves: Former Oklahoma Sooner
Chris Patterson went the JUCO route and now should grow into a
special player somewhere in the linebacking corps. The 6-3, 215-pound
junior is as fast as most defensive backs and should flourish as a
slightly undersized outside defender. Expect him to find a role as a
speed rushing specialist.
Playing along with Childs at one of the outside spots will be 5-10,
209-pound junior Antwon Moore, a very undersized, very productive
player who would be the ideal weakside linebacker with a bit more
weight. Great in pass coverage, he also proved to be strong in space
making 26 tackles and two sacks.
If Campbell plays on the end if the D goes to an occasional 4-3, 6-2,
220-pound sophomore Ross Diehl will see a little time on the
outside. He is built more like a safety than a linebacker, and he only
made a little bit of an impact on special teams with three tackles, but
he's very strong, quick, and a great prospect.
Watch Out For ... Campbell to be moved back to end
and the coaching staff to consider going back to a 4-3. He made play
after play after play be blowing past slow tackles. Some players need a
running start to get into the backfield; Campbell doesn't.
Strength: Extremely interesting prospects. The
linebackers will be the stars of the defense, and KSU has several ready
to shine. All eyes will be on Campbell, but Walker, Childs, Moore and
Patterson are all intriguing defenders who should all generate a ton of
pressure in opposing backfields.
Weakness: Proven reserves. While the 3-4 gives the
line a ton of depth, now the linebacking corps has to hope for a few
unknowns to come through with the extra defender needed. It's not like
the corps has a ton of sure-thing starters returning, counting on
defensive ends to play linebacker, and there isn't a lot of developed
Outlook: Replacing Brandon Archer and Zach DIles,
the two leading tacklers of 2006, might not be as impossible as it seems
with so many good prospects waiting to shine. Adding Campbell to the
corps instantly makes it special, and while this won't be the Big 12's
best group of linebackers by a long shot, it could be the most
disruptive. There will be a few problems against the run, but there will
be play after play in the backfield and plenty of sacks.
Projected Starters: The good secondary will be a whole bunch
better with the return of senior Marcus Watts from a wrist injury
that cost him the final five games of last year. Even with the injury,
and a dislocated hip suffered in 2005, he has made 97 stops in the last
two seasons with a team-leading three interceptions last year. A
physical 6-1 and 191 pounds, he's a great, blow-'em-up hitter with
fantastic range at free safety. The former wide receiver plays like a
natural defensive back, and will be an All-Big 12 performer if he can
keep himself in one piece.
Also back is 6-0, 195-pound junior Andrew Erker at strong safety
after starting seven games and making 36 stops. The former walk-on isn't
anything special in pass coverage and might be quickly replaced with the
likely emergence of other promising defenders. While he might be limited
overall, he hits like a ton of bricks.
After starting every game but one last year, and playing well in 2005
after transferring over from the JUCO ranks, senior Justin McKinney
is poised for a huge year. While he's not all that big at 5-9 and
185 pounds, he has 4.3 speed, making him a star kickoff returner, and
plays much bigger than his size with 54 tackles, two forced fumbles and
four tackles for loss. He broke up eight passes, and now he has to start
picking off passes.
On the other side, at least to start the year, will likely be 5-10,
168-pound sophomore Joshua Moore, another KSU speedster who made
35 tackles and an interception as a true freshman. He has all the talent
to grow into an all-star over the next few seasons and should become the
team's top cover-corner next year when McKinney moves on.
Projected Top Reserves: JUCO transfer Gary
Chandler might not push Erker out of a starting spot, but he's too
good to not find a job somewhere. A special prospect with great ball
skills and NFL caliber athleticism, he can play either safety spot.
He'll be like a tough corner playing strong safety.
5-10, 190-pound senior Bryan Baldwin started the first four
games, making ten tackles and an interception, before getting knocked
out for the season with a broken arm. Back in the mix at corner, he'll
play behind Moore, but could end up starting at one a spot. While he's
not a blazer like some of the other Wildcat corners, he's consistent.
Watch Out For ... several lineup changes throughout
the year. Watts is a sure-thing at safety, and McKinney is likely a
full-year starter at one corner, but all bets are off after that.
Strength: Experience. There are enough good
defensive backs to come close to going three-deep, providing good
battles for time. There are more than enough options to play around and
more than enough depth if injuries strike.
Weakness: Interceptions. With all the speed and
all the talent, more big plays are a must. KSU only picked off ten
passes, and thefts were nearly impossible to come by when Watts was out.
Outlook: The secondary is beyond loaded with
starting caliber players. Watts is a star, and McKinney and Erker are
veteran starters, but the backups are going to push for plenty of time.
Chandler has the potential to be fantastic, while Baldwin will be too
good to keep off the field. Helped by a fearsome pass rush, this group
Projected Starters: The special teams will be tremendous as long
as senior Tim Schwerdt or junior Brooks Rossman can
be a decent fill-in for Jeff Snodgrass, who connected on 17 of 24 field
goal attempts and had a cannon for a leg. Neither will have the
consistent 50+ range of Snodgrass, but incoming true freshman Josh
Cherry does. Punting isn't an issue with the return of senior Tim
Reyer, who averaged 42.1 yards per kick, forced 21 fair catches, and
put 13 inside the 20.
Watch Out For ... placekicking to become a big issue. KSU didn't
play that many tight games, with only three decided by less than a
touchdown, but to get in the Big 12 title hunt, it'll have to win all
the close ones. That'll mean the kicking has to be solid.
Strength: The return game. Yamon Figurs and his
whopping 14.7-yard average per punt return might be gone, but Joshua
Moore is a promising, and very speed, replacement. Justin McKinney is a
bolt of lightning as a kickoff returner averaging 24.7 yards per try,
while Leon Patton averaged 32.1 yards per attempt.
Weakness: Along with the uncertainty at
placekicker, the Wildcats need to be better in punt coverage. While not
awful last year, allowing 8.5 yards per return, it could be tightened up
a bit. That's nitpicking; finding a field goal kicker is the only big
Outlook: The coaching staff would take a year like
2006 in a heartbeat, when KSU led the nation in kickoff returns, was
16th in punt returns, and almost always had the better overall kicking
game. Big returns won't be a problem, and Reyer is a weapon, but the
three-man race to replace Snodgrass might not produce anyone as good. .