Preview 2007 - Defense
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2006 CFN Wyoming
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.
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
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:
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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.