2008 Kansas State Preview - Defense
Kansas State DE Ian Campbell
Kansas State DE Ian Campbell
Posted Apr 28, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Kansas State Wildcat Defense

Kansas State Wildcats

Preview 2008 - Defense

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

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 at linebacker. 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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: John Houlik, 68
Sacks: 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 Brandon Balkcom
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

Defensive Line

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 breakout star.

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 be special.

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 spots.
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 devastating.
Rating: 7.5


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 breakout star.

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 one.

Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

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.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

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 fall.

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 America.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. It wasn't always horrible, but it gave up three touchdowns and allowed 21.5 yards per return.
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.
Rating: 9