2008 Colorado State Preview - Defense
Colorado State LB Jeff Horinek
Colorado State LB Jeff Horinek
Posted Apr 21, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Colorado State Ram Defense

Colorado State Rams

Preview 2008
- Defense

- 2008 Colorado State Preview | 2008 Colorado State Offense
- 2008 Colorado State Defense | 2008 Colorado State Depth Chart
2007 CFN Colorado State Preview
| 2006 CFN Colorado State Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
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:
Run defense, cornerback

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: 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.
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.
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.


Projected Starters: 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.
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.
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.

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: 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.
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.
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.


Special Teams

Projected Starters: 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 against TCU.

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 the job.

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.
Morton. He'll be an all-conference kickoff returner and should improve a woeful punt return game.
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.
Rating: 7