Preview 2008 - Defense
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What you need to know: It didn't work. Defensive coordinator
Tim Tibesar's switch to a 3-4 generated a little bit of
pressure, but not enough, and the D got worse as the season went
on. However, there's a chance for a major, major
turnaround with 1) pass rushing terror Ian Campbell moving back
to end after languishing last year as an outside linebacker, 2)
the return of All-Big 12 candidate Joshua Moore at corner after
spending last season out with academic issues, and 3) a
mega-upgrade in talent. Virginia transfer Olu Hall and JUCO
transfers Ulla Pomele and Hansen Sekona will make a huge difference
JUCOers Blair Irvin and Billy McClellan will help the
corners, and Daniel Calvin could instantly become the team's
best tackle. If everything comes together, the potential is
there for this to be a killer defense by the end of the year.
Tackles: John Houlik,
Ian Campbell, 4.5
Interceptions: Chris Carney, 4
Star of the defense: Senior DE Ian Campbell
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior NT
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Olu Hall
Best pro prospect: Campbell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Campbell, 2) CB Joshua
Moore, 3) SS Gary Chandler
Strength of the defense: Ian Campbell, JUCO transfers
Weakness of the defense:
Non-JUCO transfer linebackers,
proven pass rush outside of Campbell
Projected Starters: The key to the defense will be to turn
Ian Campbell into Ian Campbell again. After a dominant sophomore
season with 67 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss, he wasn't
nearly as productive in the
new 3-4 system making 45 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. The
6-5, 255-pound senior was moved to a hybrid of linebacker and defensive
end, and while he was fine, and theoretically should've been devastating
with more room to move, he wasn't able to blow into the backfield as
easily. With a tremendous burst, his worth is on the line where he can
use his quickness to get past a tackle right off the snap. Now that he's
back at end, he should be better. The former walk-on has filled out his
frame and is now a beefed up end rather than a big linebacker.
With Steven Cline gone out of the middle, it'll likely be up to senior
Brandon Balkcom to be the man on the nose. The 6-0, 278-pounder
took over the starting gig late last year and finished with 23 tackles,
and now he has to play even bigger. He came over from the JUCO ranks and
was supposed to be a combination tackle/end early on, but he proved to
be far better on the inside. Strong against the run, he needs to do more
to get into the backfield.
One of the team's most interesting prospects continues to be senior end
Chidubamu (Michael) Abana, who came over from Santa Monica JC to
make eight tackles and a tackle for loss as he took over the starting
job late in the year. While he was a disappointment, considering he was
supposed to be an instant help for the pass rush, now he should become a
factor. The Nigerian native has only
played football for a few years, but with his 6-5, 280-pound size,
quickness, and potential, there's a chance he could become the defense's
Projected Top Reserves: If sophomore Xzavier
Stewart doesn't start, he'll be a huge part of the rotation in the
middle after coming on late last year. While not huge at 6-1 and 275
pounds, he's a tremendous athlete who should provide the interior pass
rush that Balkcom doesn't. He only played in two games as a true
freshman and made four tackles, but he's a rising star who's expected to
While nose tackle could be the early strength of the line as is, that
doesn't mean there won't be a spot for Daniel Calvin. The 6-4,
310-pound JUCO transfer is the exact sort of beefy body the Kansas State
defensive front desperately needed against the run last year. He made 75
tackles and 12 sacks for Bakersfield College, and now he's expected to
be an immediate run stuffer.
6-1, 295-pound JUCO transfer John Finau might not be the prospect
Calvin is, but he's supposed to make an instant impact somewhere
along the front three. Not really an end, he could be put there as a big
run stopper while serving as a backup on the inside after making 47
tackles for El Camino Community College.
While Daniel Calvin and John Finau might be tackles, JUCO transfer
Jack Hayes is an end. Even though he's 6-4 and 270 pounds, he's a
good pass rusher who should be able to get into the backfield from the
inside, and he has just enough of a first step to get around the
outside. While he's not going to be a double-digit sackmaster, he'll
make a few plays in the backfield.
Where will Gabe Crews play? The 6-2, 302-pound sophomore is a
big, physical tackle who was in the rotation by the end of last year
finishing with five tackles. With good athleticism and the strength to
hold his own in the middle, he'll be a key backup even with all the new
talent brought in.
Watch Out For ... all the new guys. Out of all the
new JUCO players who came aboard this off-season, the defensive linemen
need to make the biggest impact. KSU got a lot bigger and a lot stronger
in a real hurry.
Strength: Tackles. With the addition of big JUCO
transfers Calvin and Finau, the Wildcats have an abundance
of tackles. There's more than enough to play around with in the middle,
while one or two true inside players will have to play a hybrid
tackle/end spot. That's because ...
Weakness: The system. KSU made a lot of noise and
stirred up a ton of talk with the switch to the 3-4. It was done almost
out of necessity, but now the players are there to run a more
traditional 4-3. Where are all the players going to be? Ian Campbell is
a lock for one end, and then it'll be musical chairs for the other two
Outlook: The Wildcats lost most of the production
from last year's front three, but they're going to be better up front
with Campbell moving from linebacker back to end and a slew of JUCO
transfers helping out the returning crop of veterans. Having Campbell up
front should alone make the defense better, and if true sophomores Crews and
Stewart, and still-developing senior Abama,
each take a big step up in their development, the line could be
Projected Starters: It'll all start in the middle where
Reggie Walker and John Houlik will likely man the two spots
after spending last year in a rotation.
Houlik is an undersized 5-11 and 215
pounds, but he's a tough tackler who was third on the team with 68 stops
to go along with three sacks and four tackles for loss despite getting
just five starts. While the junior isn't particularly fast and obviously
smallish for the middle job, he's most likely to be part of a rotation
again, but he'll get plenty of work and will be on the field in some way
since he's such a pure playmaker.
The 6-0, 233-pound Walker, a senior, was fourth on the team with 65
tackles and three sacks with four tackles for loss. He's a big hitter
with enough quickness to be a regular pass rusher while being able to
drop into pass coverage without missing a beat. More of a true
strongside linebacker in a traditional 4-3, he'll serve that role while
also seeing duties in the middle to take advantage of his run stopping
ability; he doesn't miss a tackle.
Looking to hold down the weakside job will be 5-10, 210-pound senior Antwon
Moore, who made appeared to be on the way to a huge season making
four tackles and two sacks before getting knocked out for the year with
a knee injury in the second game. While he might get squeezed out of
playing time with all the new talent coming in, he's too explosive a
pass rusher, when healthy, to keep off the field for long.
With Ian Campbell moving from outside linebacker to defensive end, the
other outside spot is open. While there will be several players battling
for the job throughout the off-season, the most talented option is
sophomore Olu Hall, a 6-3, 232-pound transfer from Virginia where
he missed all of 2006 with academic issues. A big-time recruit, he only
made one tackle as a true freshman, but with his size, pass rushing
ability, and next level skills, he has the potential to be the team's
Projected Top Reserves: It's a matter of when, not
if JUCO transfers Ulla Pomele and Hansen Sekona start. the
6-0, 230-pound Sekona would be a strongside linebacker for most teams,
but he'll be able to play any of the four spots in the KSU defense. He
made 71 tackles for College of San Mateo to go along with two sacks and
then tackles for loss.
Pomele, potentially, is the big star of the defensive recruiting class.
The 6-1 235-pounder is really a defensive end, but he'll likely get a
shot at Ian Campbell's old role as a bit of a hybrid. Big, strong, and
very, very fast, he's a natural pass rusher who came up with five sacks,
11 tackles for loss, and 64 tackles for Santa Rose Junior College. He's
a phenomenal athlete with All-Big 12 potential.
On one outside spot will be junior Eric Childs after starting
nine games and making 36 tackles. A phenomenal all-around athlete, he
needs to be turned loose more and become a more disruptive force. More
like a smallish defensive end at 6-3 and 227 pounds, he has the speed to
blow into the backfield on a regular basis, and now he has to do it
after coming up with just one sack and four tackles for loss.
Battling for one of the outside jobs will be junior
Ross Diehl after making ten tackles and 2.5 sacks as a reserve.
Mostly a special teamer, the 6-2, 215-pounder is extremely tough and can
play inside of out when needed.
Watch Out For ... all the new guys. There's a chance
that Hall, Pomele and Sekona could take over three of
the starting spots and push established veterans aside. The coaching
staff wanted a big upgrade at the position, and it got one.
Strength: Potential. With the new faces to the
rotation, the Wildcats went from having a mediocre corps to something
that could potentially be special. If hitters like John Houlik and
Reggie Walker are coming off the bench, then the starting foursome must
be really strong.
Weakness: Sure things. We've all fallen for the
hype before when it comes to JUCO superstars, but Pomele and Sekona
really appear to be sure things. Hall killed on the scout team last
season, but he has yet to prove anything when the lights are on.
Outlook: The idea was to turn the linebacking
corps loose in the 3-4 alignment and have a slew of guided missiles
running around wreaking havoc. It didn't exactly work out that way. Now,
Ian Campbell moves back to end from an outside spot and three newcomers
to the mix, Virginia transfer Hall and JUCO stars Pomele and Sekona,
will play key roles. There are already some good, if not great, pieces
in place in Walker, Houlik and Childs,
but for this group to rock, the new faces have to be fantastic from day
Projected Starters: It's not an overstatement to call sophomore
Joshua Moore the key to the season. The KSU pass defense
struggled last year, and now it needs to replace the starting corners.
Moore started the last five games in 2006 and finished with 35 tackles
and interception and 2.5 tackles for loss as one of the league's
brightest young corners, but while he could lock up on opposing No. 1
receivers, he couldn't figure out how to get to class and redshirted
last year after having academic issues. With All-Big 12 potential, he
has to be back and ready to shine.
The other corner job will be a work in progress with JUCO transfer
Blair Irvin getting one of the first looks. A special athlete who
was an all-star sprinter in as a Louisiana prepster, he signed with LSU,
played baseball for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for four seasons, and then
went to Coffeyville CC to continue his football career. He has the
quickness to be a top punt returner and he has the 5-11, 185-pound size
and good speed to handle himself against anyone in the Big 12.
All-Big 12 candidate Gary Chandler is back after making 54
tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. While not huge for the position at
5-11 and 190 pounds, the senior good at using his speed and quickness to
get to the ball and make plays. The former JUCO transfer is more of a
free safety than a strong safety and could move to take over Marcus
Watts' old spot if he doesn't stay at strong.
Looking to take over for Watts at free safety is 6-1, 190-pound junior
Chris Carney, who had a nice year starting nine games and making
64 tackles with a team-leading four interceptions. Originally a top
corner prospect, he found his niche last season as a ball-hawking
safety, and with his combination of size and athleticism he could put up
some big numbers now that the corners have been upgraded.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior Ray Cheatham
is back to push for time at one of the corner spots after making 31
tackles with three broken up passes. The 6-0, 185-pounder is good at
beating up opposing receivers and has enough starting experience,
getting the call in five games, to step in wherever needed. While he'll
likely get squeezed out of playing time, he's too good to not find a
spot somewhere on a regular basis.
Is 5-11, 206-pound Courtney Herndon a safety or a linebacker?
He's a little of both, and he's also a key special teamer. The
jack-of-all-trades in the defensive back eight made 22 tackles with a
sack and an interception showing off the speed and versatility to make
plays wherever he was lined up. While he'll see time at linebacker,
he'll be needed more in the secondary.
JUCO transfer Billy McClellan could quickly play a huge role in
the corner rotation. While not huge, generally listed at 5-9 and 180
pounds, he's lightning fast and was a star for Harbor Community College
making 29 tackles with three broken up passes. He's still learning on
the fly after shining mostly as a receiver in high school, but he has
the potential to be a good one with a little more seasoning.
Watch Out For ... a major upgrade at corner. It's
rare to lose established starters and get even better, but that's what's
going to happen with Joshua Moore back from his academic issues and with
Blair Irvin and Billy McClellan coming in from the JUCO ranks.
Strength: Athleticism. With the improvements at
corner, and with Gary Chandler and Chris Carney established at safety,
the defensive backs can all move. They're asked to do more than most in
the KSU defense, and they have the speed to be even bigger playmakers.
Weakness: The big play. The Wildcats got bombed
last year, especially over the second half of the season giving up
13 touchdown passes with no interceptions in the final three games.
Outlook: Easily the team's biggest disappointment
last year, the secondary should get an instant upgrade with the return
of Joshua Moore and JUCO transfer Blair Irvin ready to shine at corner.
As long as safeties Chris Carney and Gary Chandler take a step up in
their production against the pass, there's a chance for a night and day
turnaround. There was depth last year, but now there's talented depth.
Projected Starters: The big question was whether or not steady
placekicker Jeff Snodgrass could be replaced, and all senior Brooks
Rossman did was hit 22 of 28 field goals including a 52-yarder
against Colorado. He has decent range, but he isn't consistent from
beyond 40 yards nailing 18 of 19 shots from 39 yards and in.
The big loss is punter Tim Reyer who averaged a whopping 44.5 yards per
kick, forced 13 fair catches and put 22 inside the 20. While there are
several options, like receiver D.J. Fulhage and Jared Parker
and Josh Cherry, the job will likely go to JUCO transfer
George Pierson, a JUCO star who averaged 43.2 yards per boot for
Tyler JC in Virginia. He has the big leg, but he won't be around until
KSU led the nation in punt returns thanks to Deon Murphy and
Jordy Nelson. Nelson only returned five punts, but two went for
touchdowns and he averaged 52.8 yards per try. Murphy averaged a
whopping 17.5 yards per try and should earn plenty of preseason all-star
honors. Kickoff returns were an issue last season, but Leon Patton
wasn't bad averaging 22.2 yards per attempt.
Watch Out For ... the kicking game to be fantastic yet again.
Losing Tim Reyer hurts, but George Pierson should be a fine fill-in, and
Brooks Rossman is a Lou Groza Award candidate.
Strength: Punt returns. There isn't a Jordy Nelson
around anymore to provide a spark, but Deon Murphy is one of the best in
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. It wasn't always
horrible, but it gave up three touchdowns and allowed 21.5 yards per
Outlook: Kansas State always has tremendous
special teams, and even with the loss of all-star punter Tim Reyer,
everything will be fine as long as George Pierson lives up to his
potential. Brooks Rossman is a consistent placekicker, at least from
inside the 40, and Deon Murphy and Leon Patton are great returners. This
will be one of the team's biggest strengths.