2008 Colorado State Preview - Defense
Colorado State LB Jeff Horinek
CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Colorado State Ram Defense
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What you need to know: The
defense wasn't awful last season, but it was ranked among the
worst in the Mountain West and needs to be better against the
run and has to get in the backfield on a more consistent basis
to improve. The linebacking corps is set with all three starters
returning including all-star Jeff Horinek in the middle. After a
variety of problems last season, safeties Klint Kubiak and Mike
Pagnotta are back and healthy; they'll be a huge upgrade in the
secondary. Tommie Hill is a great pass rusher, but the line
isn't anything special and has to be far more physical. The
biggest issue will be the corners with no experience whatsoever.
They'll be good in time, but they'll have some rough spots
unless the pass rush improves.
Tackles: Jeff Horinek, 94
Sacks: Tommie Hill, 5.5
Interceptions: Jake Galusha, Mike Pagnotta, 1
Star of the defense: Senior LB Jeff Horinek
Player that has to step up and become a star: Redshirt
freshman CB Ivory Herd
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT Sevaro Johnson
Best pro prospect: Horinek
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Horinek, 2) FS Klint
Kubiak, 3) SS Mike Pagnotta
Strength of the defense: Safety, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
The star of the show up front is junior Tommie Hill, who bulked
up to 242 pounds and should now be an even stronger all-around defender.
At 6-6, he has room on his frame to grow and get even bigger, but he
can't lose his quickness which led to a team-leading 5.5 sacks along
with 47 tackles. He's more like a bulked up linebacker playing end, but
he's growing more and more into the role on the right side.
6-6, 254-pound senior Wade Landers is another big, tall defender
who's tough to throw over and around. Hurt early last year, he still
managed to make 27 tackles in a backup role. With excellent athleticism,
he has to become a force in the backfield on the right side with
all-star Jesse Nading gone. He'll most likely be part of a rotation
rather than a true every down lineman.
6-6, 290-pound junior James Morehead provided the bulk on the
inside. He slimmed down a bit over the last year and needs to be a
quicker, more active run stopper on the nose. In limited action he made
just one tackle, and now he'll have to make the leap from being a little
used backup to an anchor for a rebuilding run defense.
Senior Matt Rupp should finally get his chance to start on a
regular basis after being one of the team's top backups. He got the
starting nod in two games last season, but he was mainly a reserve
behind Blake Smith. When he was in, he was productive making 24 tackles
on the year, including ten against Houston, with 1.5 sacks and with two
recovered fumbles. One of the team's strongest players, the 6-4,
284-pounder should be in for a good year.
Projected Top Reserves: It's not a question of if,
but when JUCO transfer Sevaro Johnson takes over one of the
tackle spots. A star at Laney College in Oakland, the 6-3, 300 pounder
is a big, active interior defender who can occupy several blockers and
serve as an anchor the line desperately needs.
Also coming in from the JUCO ranks is end Sam Stewart, a 6-3,
260-pound pass rusher who made 45 stops and four sacks for Santa Ana
College. He originally signed with Nevada, didn't like it, and went the
Junior College route where he grew as a prospect and drew interest from
several big schools.
Looking to time behind Landers at right end is sophomore Cory
Macon, a 6-6, 244-pound athlete who made two tackles in a little bit
of action, but could blossom as a pass rushing star once he gets a
little more experience. He's tough, agile, and has all the tools.
6-3, 295-pound sophomore Guy Miller saw time in every game last
year, mostly on special teams, and should be a big part of the rotation
inside. He only made two tackles, but he's a strong mauler who could be
a big upgrade for the run defense.
Watch Out For ... the JUCO transfers. The already
mediocre line got a lot worse with the loss of Jesse Nading, Erik Sandie
and Blake Smith. Johnson and Stewart could be starting ten
minutes after they set foot on campus.
Strength: Hill. The line is short on star power,
but Hill has the All-Mountain West conference potential to blossom into
the one player up front everyone has to worry about. Now he has to prove
he can shine with the spotlight on after being able to work with
everyone concentrating on Nading.
Weakness: Stopping the run. This has been an issue for a while,
and it's not like the line is going to get better with so many new faces
involved. There's size, strength, and experience, even among the new
starters, but this can't be the a line that allowed over 207 rushing
yards per outing again.
Outlook: This could be priority one for the new
coaching staff. For all the talk about being more physical, it has to
start up front on the defense and that means there has to be more
production from the tackles. Rupp and Morehead will be
serviceable, but Johnson has to shine right away for the run D to
be better. Hill is a great, but the rest of the line has to get
into the backfield on a regular basis; there weren't enough stops made
behind the line last year.
All three starting linebackers return led by leading tackler Jeff
Horinek in the middle, who has started 26 straight games. The 6-3,
234-pound senior made 94 stops and 4.5 tackles for loss in an honorable
mention All-Mountain West season. Very smart and very tough, he's the
leader of the defense and cleans up everything that's funneled to him.
Better at getting in on
tackles than coming up with the stop at the line, he has the range and
the experience to be in on just about every play.
Returning to the weakside is 6-2, 210-pound sophomore Ricky Brewer,
who finished third on the team with 64 tackles even though he missed two
games with a broken finger. Built like a safety, he didn't play like it
as he was a tough-as-nails big hitter who should do even more now that
he knows what he's doing. The key will be to make more plays when the
ball is in the air; he was mediocre in pass coverage.
Junior Jake Pottorff will eventually be the starter on the
outside again once he returns from a shoulder problem. Quick enough to
play on the weakside if needed, he's better when he has to take on the
tight end on the strongside. At 6-4 and 249 pounds, he has the strength
and the bulk be be strong against the run, making 61 tackles last
season, but he didn't do much of anything to get into the backfield. A
top fullback in high school, he's now a physical defender who should
only get better and better over the next few years.
Projected Top Reserves: Until Jake Pottorff is
healthy on the strongside, 6-1, 229-pound senior Curtis Cornelson
will step in after making 22 tackles as a reserve. The former JUCO
Al-American is a versatile hitter who can play either outside position
without a problem. Extremely strong, he doesn't miss a tackle once he's
able to get his hands on a player.
The 5-11, 217-pound Mychal Sisson might be undersized for the
middle, but he'll get every shot to see playing time behind Jeff Horinek
and will be groomed for the 2009 starting job. Very athletic and very
tough, he'll be an interesting option in the backup rotation.
Senior John Clark was a huge recruit coming out of Fresno City
College, and he came through as a good backup making 19 tackles and a
game-saving sack to help beat Wyoming. At 6-3 and 224 pounds, he's a
tall, lanky weakside defender with the potential to become a pass rusher
if given more time.
At some point, redshirt freshman Luke Diehl will get on the
field. One of the team's top recruits last year, the 6-1, 216 pounder is
a very strong, very athletic defender who'll challenge for time on the
strongside, but would be perfect for the weakside.
Watch Out For ... more aggressiveness. The
linebacking corps wasn't exactly kept under wraps, but they weren't
exactly allowed to fly into the backfield on a regular basis. That
should change a bit under the new coaching staff as making big plays
behind the line is going to be a priority.
Strength: Experience. All three starters return and
there are plenty of good options waiting in the wings. Creating a steady
rotation won't be a problem.
Weakness: Making plays at the point of attack. Far too many
stops were made down the field rather than at the line. The line had its
own problems, and the linebacking corps didn't help.
Outlook: The idea was to get through last year,
let everyone take their lumps, and then come out roaring this season.
It's all there for a big year with Horinek in the middle to lead
the way and two veteran outside defenders in Brewer and Pottorff to grow into their roles. This should be the strength of the D
from the start.
Fortunately, 6-0 197-pound junior Klint Kubiak is still alive,
much less still playing. The star free safety made 12 tackles in the
first three games of the year before being hospitalized with an ulcer
that cause internal bleeding and a sharp, rapid drop in blood pressure.
He missed the rest of the season and now returns to be the leader of the
secondary. While he's not a great pass defender, he's a good tackler
with great range and the smarts to always be in the right position.
Back at strong safety is 6-0, 204-pond senior Mike Pagnotta, who
made 58 tackles despite missing four games with a bum ankle. A fantastic
hitter and a great athlete, he's like having another linebacker on the
field against the run. He doesn't do enough against the pass, but he has
the speed and range to make more big plays.
Sophomore DeAngelo Wilkinson is expected to become a factor at
the open left corner spot after he recovers from off-season shoulder
surgery. He was supposed to be a key backup, but he only made one tackle
in five appearances thanks to the shoulder problem. Not all that big a
5-10 and 176 pounds, he needs to use his speed, and his limited
experience, to potentially be a No. 1 cover man.
5-11, 184-pound redshirt freshman Ivory Herd will get the first
look at the open right corner job. Originally a running back when he
came to CSU, he was quickly switched over to the defensive side and was
a key scout teamer. With decent size and excellent cutting ability, he
has the potential to grow into a top starter over the next four years.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior Jake Galusha
has been a nice backup and a decent spot starter where needed. While
he's physical enough to be a strong safety, he stepped in and produced
forKubiak at free safety before suffering a separated shoulder.
He's not afraid to throw his body around and is a huge hitter, but he's
only 5-10 and 199 pounds; he can't take too much of a beating.
Until Wilkinson is ready, redshirt freshman Brandon Owens
will get plenty of practice time on the left side. Rail thin at 6-0
and 168 pounds, his game is all about his speed and smarts. One of the
team's fastest players, he should be able to handle himself without any
problem against the faster Mountain West receivers, but he'll have
problems with the more physical ones.
5-10, 175-pound junior Nick Oppenneer is one of the few corners
with any experience. It's not like he's been a regular, making two
tackles in six games, but that makes him a crusty veteran compared to
the rest of the corners. Mostly a special teamer, he'll be part of the
rotation on the left side.
Watch Out For ... the corners to be toasted
big-time early. Without a strong pass rush to help the cause, the new
corners will give up way too many big plays.
Strength: Safety. With Kubiak and Pagnotta
back after their ailments, the Rams should have one of the Mountain
West's premier safety tandems. These two are terrific against the run,
but they need to do more when the ball is in the air.
Weakness: Interceptions. This has been a huge problem over the
last two years with seven coming in 2006 and just seven last year. The
young corners have to improve on the ball-hawking.
Outlook: The secondary wasn't all that bad last
season considering the problems at safety with Kubiak missing almost the
whole season and Pagnotta playing on one leg before
missing time. Now the safeties will be excellent, and they'll have to be
until a decent pair of corners can be found. There's young skill and a
lot of speed, but this is a very, very green group that'll take their
lumps early on.
Senior PK Jason Smith has grown into a reliable weapon who
improved in a big way last year hitting 16 of 20 field goals and missed
just once inside 40 yards. He doesn't have a monster leg, but it's good
enough be used from just inside the 50 when needed; cranked a 47-yader
Replacing punter Jimmy Kaylor will be tough. Jason Smith
might take over for Kaylor, who averaged 43.2 yards per kick and
put 19 inside the 20. Junior Jacob Stern will likely take
over this summer, but it's going to be an open casting call for
Damon Morton was a special kickoff returner averaging 24.3 yards
per try, and his brother, Dion Morton, is even better.
Dion averaged 26.8
yards per try on 17 returns, and now he'll be the main man.
He'll also handle the punt returns and should bring more pop
after the Rams averaged a mere 6.3 yards per try.
Watch Out For ... Smith to be given more big
opportunities. He'll miss half his deep shots, but he'll get
more of a shot this year after two good years. He's reliable
enough to be used in just about any situation.
Strength: Morton. He'll be an all-conference
kickoff returner and should improve a woeful punt return game.
Weakness: Coverage units. The Rams have been killed on kickoff
returns over the last few seasons; Smith has to put more in the
end zone. CSU gave up 23.5 yards per kickoff return and a
whopping 12.3 yards per punt return.
Outlook: If the coverage teams can improve and a
steady punter can be found, the Ram special teams could be among
the league's best. Smith is a solid placekicker and Morton is a special return man. The team is set there and needs
to focus on everything else.