2007 Colorado State Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 1, 2007

Preview 2007 Colorado State Ram Defense

Colorado State Rams

Preview 2007
- Defense

- 2007 Colorado State Preview | 2007 CSU Offense Preview  
2007 CSU Depth Chart
| 2006 CFN Colorado State Preview 

What you need to know: A veteran defense returns with everyone back except the two outside linebackers. With all the experience, there has to be more pressure in the backfield and more big plays against the pass after coming up with just 27 sacks and seven interceptions. There aren't any superstars, but there are several very good players who know what they're doing. Undersized tackle Blake Smith might move to end to provide the pass rusher the team desperately needs, and the secondary should benefit.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Klint Kubiak, 90
Sacks: Matt Rupp, 4
Interceptions: Darryl Williams, 3

Star of the defense: Junior FS Klint Kubiak
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Wade Landers
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Jake Pottorff
Best pro prospect: Kubiak
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Kubiak, 2) DT/DE Blake Smith, 3) LB Jeff Horinek
Strength of the defense: Experience, safety
Weakness of the defense: Interceptions, pass rush

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The big experiment this spring was moving senior Blake Smith from tackle to a far more natural spot on the end. While productive on the inside, he's undersized at 257 pounds, but he's quick, active and experienced making 23 tackles, two sacks and nine tackles for loss. A superstar recruit when he came to the program, he has the speed to be a top pass rusher if allowed to stay on the outside, however, he might be moved back to tackle once senior Jesse Nading is healthy.

A bout with mono limited Nading this spring after a disappointing 33 tackle season. At 6-5 and 263 pounds, he's a big defender who was far better as a sophomore and now has to live up to the standard set in 2005 when he was one of the team's most consistent defenders. While good at stopping the run, he has to do far more to get into the backfield.

On the left side will be 6-6, 252-pound junior Wade Landers, who started seven games and finished with just 15 tackles and 2.5 sacks. A lanky pass rusher with great athleticism, he's not a great run stopper but can be used as a pass rushing specialist. Now he'll get the chance to be more of an every down end, even though he's better in a rotation.

While Smith will likely move inside and out, 6-2, 289-pound senior Erik Sandie, the emotional leader of the line, will be entrenched on the nose. While his stats won't always be pretty, making 20 tackles and two sacks, he's a rock to rotate around and should grow into the line's most consistent and dependable run stopper.

Projected Top Reserves: There's plenty of depth to play around with, led by the ends. Sophomore Tommie Hill will once again play behind Nading on the right side after seeing a little bit of starting time late in the season. He showed tremendous upside finishing with 23 tackles, three sacks and five tackles for loss. While he's a linebacker playing end, he's plenty tough with a 6-6, 225-pound frame that's tough to throw over.

Behind Landers is 6-3, 247-pound senior Bob Vomhof, who's coming off a 33 tackles season with a sack and five tackles for loss. A career backup, he's not going to get into the backfield on a regular basis and isn't going to come up with many big plays, but he's great in a rotation for a few plays here and there.

The team's best interior pass rusher is 6-3, 272-pound junior Matt Rupp, who's also one of the team's strongest players. With a team-leading four sacks, to go along with 17 tackles, he could easily step into a starting tackle role if Smith moves to the outside permanently. Even though he's not the ideal size for a tackle, he's far bigger than Smith.

Providing the pure bulk to the line will be 6-6, 310-pound sophomore James Morehead behind Sandie on the nose. He got his feet wet making seven tackles as a reserve, and now he should play a far more prominent role. He has far too much size to not be a bigger part of the run defense.

Watch Out For ... the secondary to be the strength of the defense, but the line to be a very close second. With all four starters returning, and a ton of returning experience, to a group that was a bit overshadowed by the poor overall season from the rest of the team, there's no reason to expect anything less than a big year.
Experience. The entire two deep has seen meaningful time. There should be a great rotation at every spot with plenty of options to allow the coaching staff to play around with the lineup.
Pass rushers. Everyone is good at getting into the backfield, but there's no one dominant force for anyone to worry about. If Smith isn't the answer on the end (he was unstoppable at times this spring), this will be a blockable group by most above-average lines.
Outlook: CSU has a vast collection of very good linemen, but there isn't anyone who stands out. With three seniors and a veteran junior starting, there's no reason to not expect an even better year after doing a much, much better job of stopping the run after two miserable seasons. Everything has been building to this season, and now everyone needs to be developed and ready to shine.


Projected Starters: Finding two outside linebackers to replace Jon Radford and Luke Adkins, who combined for 137 tackles, will be the key to the defense. While things could drastically change by the start of the season, for now, it'll be up to sophomores Sedric Patterson and Jake Pottorff to take over after seeing a little bit of time in a reserve role.  The 6-4, 244-pound Pottorff is a big weakside linebacker who was a top fullback in high school. He has the range and he has the toughness, but he'll have to prove early on that he can handle himself in pass coverage. With 28 tackles and three tackles for loss in just nine games, he's poised to put up big numbers.

Patterson is a sure tackler on the strongside, and now he has to show it off in game action. At 6-1 and 231 pounds, he has good size with the quickness to get into the backfield on a regular basis. More than anything else, he has to hold up against the run for a full season.

The one returning starter is 6-3, 238-pound junior Jeff Horinek in the middle after finishing fourth on the team with 69 tackles. He's handled himself well over the last two years making 130 stops, and now he has to use his experience to be the leader of the linebacking corps and the one everything gets funneled to. Better at getting in on tackles than coming up with the stop at the line, he has to do more to make big plays in all areas.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-1, 205-pound senior Nathan Pauly is a woefully undersized middle linebacker and was tried out on the outside this spring, but he's back to play behind Horinek inside after missing almost all of last year hurt. He hasn't been able to stay healthy throughout his career, suffering a shoulder injury a few years go, but he's a veteran backup who can step in if needed at any of the three spots.

JUCO transfer John Clark got to school early and will be a backup right away on the weakside behind Pottorff, but there are other newcomers who're almost certain to play key roles right away. Top recruit
Luke Diehl is an almost perfect weakside prospect, while JUCO transfer Curtis Cornelson was an All-American tackling machine who could play either in the middle or the strongside.

Watch Out For ... Pottorff. It's not a stretch to call Pottorff an upgrade over Radford, and he'll be one of the team's top tacklers over the next three years. While he might not have the best range as a pass defender, he's a good tackler.
Growing outside defenders. Pottorff is a rising star, and Patterson should grow into a big-time producer once he figures out what he's doing. With Horinek in the middle as a steadying force, the young players on the outside will get time to develop.
Proven backups. The outside linebacking situation is still in question, and the backup situation is even more of an early concern. There's plenty of good talent and promise, but there's not any appreciable experience.
Outlook: Compared to the line and the secondary, the linebacking corps will be a weak spot early on, but that could quickly change. It's going to take a little while to find the right rotation. This will be one of the team's biggest strengths in 2008.

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: All four starters are back led by a great pair of safeties. Junior Klint Kubiak led the team with 90 tackles to go along with one interception and four broken up passes. He needs to do more when the ball is in the air, but with his tremendous athleticism and year of experience, he should do even more in all areas. He's always all over the field making tackles.

Back at strong safety is 6-0, 203-pound junior Mike Pagnotta after finishing third on the team with 71 stops. One of the league's most athletic strong safeties, he's tough enough to make plays against the run and fast enough to be a regular in the backfield. He'll only get better against the pass.

The starting corners also return. Senior Darryl Williams has been a regular for the last two years, starting 22 times, and saving the day time and again as a tackler with 104 over the last two years. He's not huge at 5-9 and 190 pounds, but he's plenty tough and has the 4.4 speed to hang with almost everyone's number one target.

On the other side is senior Joey Rucks, who stepped up when given the opportunity and made 35 tackles and broke up a team-leading six passes. The former JUCO transfer is a tough, talented tackler who's a nice number two who'll make more and more plays with everyone staying away from Williams.

Projected Top Reserves: While Pagnotta is set at strong safety, sophomore Jake Galusha is a nice reserve to step in and play when needed after making 36 tackles and an interception. At 5-10 and 200 pounds, he's not quite as big as Pagnotta, but he's a great hitter. He's fast enough to play free safety if needed.

Senior Zac Bryson saw a little bit of time behind Kubiak at free safety making 17 tackles with a broken up pass. At 6-1 and 215 pounds, he's bigger than Kubiak, but won't take over a starting spot unless there's an injury.

Watch Out For ... Kubiak and Pagnotta to grow into one of the league's best safety tandems. They can both tackle, and now, with their experience, they'll be in better positions to make more big plays.
Veterans. The starting foursome is back, and there's just enough experience among the safety reserves to withstand a few injury problems.
Interceptions. The Rams came up with just seven last year with three coming against Fresno State. That means four picks came in 11 games.
Outlook: The secondary was one of the team's biggest strengths last season, and should be again with all four starters returning, but don't be fooled. CSU played almost no one who knew how to throw the forward pass, and when it did face a good air attack, the results weren't pretty, getting picked apart by BYU and Utah.
There will be major problems against California's passing game early on, and against anyone else who can throw effectively. This is a very good group that'll shut down the mediocre.

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior Jason Smith has been a nice kicker, but he regressed a bit hitting just eight of 15 after nailing nine of ten as a sophomore. Even though he nailed a 49-yarder, he doesn't have a huge leg and isn't going to consistently connect from beyond 40 yards. Also returning is senior punter Jimmie Kaylor, who's been among the nation's best averaging 43.7 yards per kick after booming his way to a 45.3-yard average in 2005. He outkicks his coverage and allows too many big returns, but he has a deep, accurate leg.

Watch Out For ... Damon Morton to blow up as a kickoff returner. He was good last year averaging 20.4 yards per return, and now, with the ball teed up on the 30, he'll change the game on at least two returns.
The kicking game. Kaylor is a weapon, while Smith has two years of experience and should be steady from short to midrange. There's not a lot to worry about with these two.
Kickoffs. Does Smith have the leg to avoid big returns? The coverage unit was good last year, but it'll be put to the test.
Outlook: The special teams could be among the best in the Mountain West if Smith could show a little more range. An overall bright spot last year, the Rams will have a big advantage over most this year with this group.
Rating: 8


Related Stories
2007 Colorado State Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 1, 2007
2007 Colorado State Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 1, 2007
2007 Colorado State Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 1, 2007

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