2007 Colorado State Preview - Defense
Colorado State Ram Defense
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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.
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
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
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
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.
Strength: 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
Weakness: 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.
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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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
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.
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
Strength: Veterans. The starting foursome is back, and
there's just enough experience among the safety reserves to withstand a
few injury problems.
Weakness: 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
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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: Kickoffs. Does Smith have the leg to avoid big
returns? The coverage unit was good last year, but it'll be put to the
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.