2007 Wyoming Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 17, 2007

Preview 2007 Wyoming Cowboy Defense

Wyoming Cowboys

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Wyoming Preview | 2007 Wyoming Offense Preview  
2007 Wyoming Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Wyoming Preview 

What you need to know:
The Cowboys had a terrific, unnoticed defensive season finishing ninth in the nation in total defense. However, it struggled at the end of year, for the second straight season, and now it has some holes to fill. The linebacking corps, with four great starters and a slew of good reserves for the 3-4, will be among the best in the league, and while there aren't any returning starters up front, they're big. Corners Julius Stinson and Michael Medina should be excellent, but the star safeties of last year have to be replaced. 

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Ward Dobbs, 69
Sacks: Sean Claffey, 3.5
Interceptions: Michael Medina, Julius Stinson, 2

Star of the defense: Junior LB Ward Dobbs
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior SS Michael Ray
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT John Fletcher
Best pro prospect: Fletcher
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dobbs, 2) CB Julius Stinson, 3) DT Mike Groover
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, corner
Weakness of the defense:
Defensive line

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The Cowboys are starting from scratch in the front three, but it has some good prospects to build around starting with 6-6, 274-pound sophomore John Fletcher at tackle. He made nine tackles and two sacks in a limited time as a freshman, and he has the attitude and motor to grow into a star with a little more time.

While Fletcher is a nice-sized tackle, sophomore Fred Givens is super-sized on the nose. At 6-0 and 310 pounds, he's a textbook anchor who emerged this spring as even more of a rock after making 12 tackles with a half a sack in the rotation. He's quick for his size, but his job will be to occupy the middle.

At the end will be 6-4, 257-pound Mitch Unrein to start, but he'll be part of a regular rotation. The star of spring ball, he showed pass rushing speed, quickness to the ball against the run, and an aggressiveness that the line lost. He got his feet wet with 12 tackles, but it wouldn't be a shock if he turned into one of the team's top tacklers.

Projected Top Reserves: Unrein will get the stat, Mike Neuhaus will get in games right away. The 6-3, 256-pound sophomore is more of a natural linebacker playing on the end, but he'll grow into a pass rusher.

As both and undersized tackle and noseguard, 6-3, 249-pound junior Danny Dutmer's job will be to fill in where needed and provide a little bit of quickness at both spots. However, at his size, if the team has to rely on him for extended stretches, there will be problems.

Watch Out For ... even more production against the run. Last year's front three was full of seniors who came together and had a great year. In time, this front three will be better against the run with excellent size and great want-to to get to the ball.
Size. This isn't the little-engine-that-could line of undersized defenders of years past; this group is big. However, if Givens isn't a star on the nose, and if Fletcher doesn't play as well as expected, it becomes a smallish front three again. Both missed time in spring ball.
Experience. While almost all the key players were part of the rotation last season, it's a whole other world when you have to start and last for a full season.
Outlook: This will be a better line than the experience might show as long as everyone is consistent. There will be bumps in the road early on, and there will be mistakes, but most will be made by being too aggressive. In time, the overall fire, combined with savvy, will make this a strength. The obvious hope is for it to happen sooner than later.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters
Easily the strength of the defense, the Cowboys welcome back three starters and a fourth who might as well be considered a returning starter in Buck linebacker Mike Juergens. The 6-4, 235-pound junior made 18 tackles, but he has the speed and athleticism to do far more as both a pass rusher and in pass coverage.

On the strongside, the other outside position, will once be 6-3, 227-pound senior Sean Claffey, who made 37 tackles along with 3.5 sacks and a team-leading eight tackles for loss. He started every game at the Buck and will now move to the other side, where he should be able to use his hitting ability to be even stronger against the run.

Starting again in the middle will be 240-pound senior Luke Chase, who made 44 tackles and three tackles for loss. He can play inside or out, but is far better on the inside. While he was great at providing help, he didn't do enough to get into the backfield and was average in pass coverage.

At the weakside spot, an inside position on this defense, will once again be 6-0, 229-pound junior Ward Dobbs, who was the team's most productive linebacker with 69 tackles and three sacks. Built like a safety, he's a sure tackler with fantastic range. After having been through the wars over the last few years, he should find his way into even better positions to make even more big plays. First, he has to get healthy after injuring his shoulder and missing time this spring.

Projected Top Reserves: While Chase isn't going anywhere, it'll be tough to keep 234-pound senior John Prater out of the lineup. A tough, active reserve, he made 36 tackles and recovered two fumbles; he's always around the ball.

A nice option on the weakside behind Dobbs is senior Brandon Haugen, a tough 239-pound pass rusher who made three sacks and four tackles for loss with 24 tackles. He's rock solid in the rotation.

Behind Claffey will be sophomore Weston Johnson, who'll be an understudy before taking over the job next year. He made 19 tackles and broke up four tackles showing off excellent range in pass coverage. Once he starts to do more against the run, he'll get even more time.

Watch Out For ... this to be the team's best unit, or else second best behind the receivers. There's loads of experience and plenty of options to play around with.
Experience. Not only is the starting four full of veterans, but the backups have all seen time and can, and will, step in and play meaningful roles. There's not a major drop-off from the ones to the twos.
Pass coverage. They're good, not fantastic, no matter what the statistics might say. They're all decent at hanging with receivers out of the backfield, but they're at their best when they're flying around the ball making tackles.
Outlook: The personnel is perfect for the 3-4. If the Cowboys didn't utilize this scheme, it would change just to get all the best defenders on the field. While this isn't the league's best linebacking unit, it's very good with eight good players, speed, experience, and depth. There isn't one standout, but that's not a bad thing. They can all play.
Rating: 7.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
The Mountain West's best pass defense has to make some big replacements at safety, losing leading tackler John Wendling and leading pick-off man Dorsey Gholston, but the corners are back, led by Julius Stinson, who was third on the team with 57 tackles. An all-around playmaker with two sacks, two interceptions and three broken up passes, he can do it all. He earned honorable mention All-Mountain West honors last year, and will be one of the league's premier all-around defensive backs yet again.

On the other side will once again be senior Michael Medina, a physical, tough corner who made 31 tackles, two interceptions, and a team-leading seven broken up passes. He has tremendous speed and showed more than enough to warrant teams to think twice before coming his way. Last year, at least early on, everyone stayed away from Stinson. That won't happen again.

The big problem will be replacing Wendling, the heart-and-soul at strong safety. Junior Michael Ray is unproven, making just five tackles last season, but he's been around long enough to know what he has to do. By the nature of the position, and its role in the UW defense, he'll be one of the team's leading tacklers, but he doesn't have nearly the range, speed, or talent or Wendling.

At free safety will be junior Quincy Rogers, who doesn't have as big a jump to make as Ray does. Rogers was a regular in the rotation making 40 tackles with a sack, and with his blend of athleticism and toughness, he'll be one of the team's best new starters.

Projected Top Reserves: Waiting in the wings behind Stinson is senior Troy Lewis, who made 12 tackles and picked off a pass. He's only 5-7 and 165 pounds, but he's extremely quick and plays like a seasoned veteran when he's in.

There's no experience among the top safety reserves, but that'll change right away as redshirt freshman Chris Prosinski, who'll play behind Rogers, and Alex Toney, who'll work behind Ray, are extremely promising and had good springs. Prosinski is a tough, smart player with phenomenal speed, while Toney has next-level athleticism and could play corner if needed.

Watch Out For ... the secondary to be exposed if someone's passing game gets hot. Don't be too fooled by Wyoming's stats, finishing 12th in the nation in pass efficiency defense and eighth in pass D. The Cowboys only played three teams, BYU, Boise State and TCU, that could effectively throw the forward pass, and was shredded by the Cougars and Horned Frogs, but did a good job against the Broncos.
Speedy backups. There might not be a whole bunch of experience among the reserves, but they can move. The backup safeties, Prosinski and Toney, can fly, and might be too fast to keep off the field.
Safety. While Rogers and Ray should be fine in time, they're not Wendling and Golston. They weren't great in spring ball.
Outlook: While there isn't major cause for alarm, the secondary got picked apart throughout the spring, especially in the spring game, by backup quarterback Ian Hetrick. While the Cowboy receiving corps is good, it wasn't a good sign. However, like last year, there aren't many teams on the schedule that'll light up the passing charts.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Sophomore Aric Goodman had a nice year hitting 10 of 16 field goals, including a 52-yarder, but he chose to transfer to end the kicking battle. Now it'll be up to sophomore Jake Scott to handle the work after hitting two of four kicks last season. He likely would've been the starter anyway. Senior Billy Vinnedge, who handled kickoffs, has a major-league leg averaging 43.2 yards per kick putting 18 inside the 20. He had a great year, but to nitpick, he put seven in the end zone.

Watch Out For ... far more from the return game, especially on kickoffs. Devin Moore struggled last year averaging 16.3 yards per try, but Hoost Marsh will help out now. They'll be great with the new rule putting the kickoff tee five yards back.
Vinnedge. Wyoming plays so many tight games, and will again, that field position occasionally means everything. He's great at bailing the team out of jams.
Sure-thing placekicking. Again, Wyoming plays so many tight games, and will again, with seven last year decided by eight points or fewer. Scott had better be good.
Outlook: Marsh is a good return man who should shine with a bigger role this year, and Vinnedge will be in the hunt for all-star honors. That's the good. Scott is a question mark, and the coverage units have to be far better.
Rating: 6


Related Stories
2007 Wyoming Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 17, 2007
2007 Wyoming Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 17, 2007
2007 Wyoming Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 17, 2007

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