Preview 2009 - Defense
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What you need to know: Considering there wasn’t any offense to help out the cause for
the second year in a row, the defense wasn’t all that bad. Now,
with eight starters returning and decent depth, at least
compared to the offense, the D should be solid across the board.
The line has the potential to be fantastic with John Fletcher
and Mitch Unrein leading the 3-4. Weston Johnson and Gabe
Knapton are good veteran linebackers to rely on, while Brian
Hendricks is about to be a star taking over in place of
long-time star Ward Dobbs on the weakside. The secondary could
eventually be special with the Gipson brothers, Marcell and
Tashaun, starring at the corners and Chris Prosinski a playmaker
at free safety.
Tackles: Gabe Knapton, 92
Sacks: John Fletcher, 4.5
Interceptions: Chris Prosinski, 3
Star of the defense:
Senior DT John Fletcher
Player who has to step up and
become a star: Junior SS Jamichael Hall
Unsung star on
the rise: Sophomore LB Brian Hendricks
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Fletcher, 2) DE Mitch Unrein, 3) CB Tashaun Gipson
Strength of the defense: Experience, Line
the defense: Takeaways, Pass Rush
The line found its star two years ago with the emergence of
John Fletcher, and he
came up with another strong year making 54 tackles with 4.5
sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss earning second-team All-Mountain
West honors. He wasn’t the pass rusher he was two years ago, but
the tweener in the 3-4 should be a terror once again with 6-6,
272-pound size to stuff the run and the quickness and non-stop
motor to get into the backfield on a more regular basis once
he’s 100% healthy again. He got banged up this offseason but
will be fine to start the year.
Stepping up this spring
on the nose was Alex
Stover, a 6-3, 265-pound sophomore who might be undersized
to play in the middle of the line, but he’s active and tough. He
only made three tackles with a
sack in his limited work last year, but he’s feisty and
will find a way into the backfield when he gets his turn into
Mitch Unrein didn’t
come up with the monster season expected, but he wasn’t bad
making 54 tackles and 1.5 sacks. The 6-5, 270-pound end has been
a practice superstar over the last few years and has earned
honorable mention All-Mountain West honors, but it hasn’t always
translated to the field. With a non-stop motor and excellent
toughness, starting the last 24 games, he has the want-to to go
along with the size and quickness. Now he has to put it all
together in his final year to be the star he was supposed to be
a few years ago.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior
Fred Givens has been the regular on the nose for the last few years
and will likely end up grabbing his starting spot back early on
this year. At 6-0 and 305 pounds he has the base and leverage to
be block on the inside. He’s quick enough to get into the
backfield, but his job is to gum up the works to allow the rest
of the line to operate. He made 45 tackles with 2.5 tackles for
loss, but he could do more to get behind the line.
256-pound senior Mike
Neuhaus has been a key backup over the last few years
playing both at end and tackle. He only made eight tackles with
two tackles for loss, but he made one of the biggest plays of
the Wyoming season with a 55-yard interception return in the
13-7 win over Tennessee. He’s not much of a pass rusher, but
he’s been around long enough to be counted on.
freshman Corey Orth
is a 6-5, 240-pound who’s expected to grow into a pure pass
rusher. Not a tackle, he’ll work on the end with the hope he’ll
get to the quarterback on a regular basis. He’s a great tackler
who came up with 28 sacks in his last two years of high school,
and while he still needs time and seasoning, he has a quick
first step and should eventually become a key playmaker.
Watch Out For
... a rotation on the nose. Givens is the solid veteran who’ll
eventually take back the job, but Stover could be too good to
keep off the field.
Strength: Experience. The
key starters have been around for a few years and know what
they’re doing. Unrein and Fletcher are all-stars who need to
used their experience and their talent to dominate.
Weakness: Pass rush. This was a major disappointment
last season as the supposed stars failed to do nearly enough to
get to the quarterback. There’s too much talent up front to only
generate 17 sacks.
Outlook: The front three has
talent, experience, size, and depth. Now it has to be more
consistent and more productive. The line is too good to finish
94th in the nation in sacks and 112th in
tackles for loss, and while part of the idea is to hold up
against the run and allow the linebackers to shine, John
Fletcher and Mitch Unrein have to dominate.
Ward Dobbs is gone after leading the team in tackles in each of
the last three years, and now it’ll be up to
Brian Hendricks to be the new star on the weakside. While the 6-1,
223-pound sophomore isn’t going to be Dobbs, he was strong
throughout spring ball making every play possible. A top running
back for Burlington High in Colorado, Hendricks ran for 2,132
yards and 29 touchdowns, averaging nine yards a pop, in his
senior season. Not just a great football player, he was a star
wrestler, getting offers from Oklahoma State and Nebraska, and a
state champion-level sprinter. If that wasn't enough, he had a
good enough academic career to get Stanford interested. In other
words, he has all the tools to be a big-time producer.
Gabe Knapton is back
after finishing second on the team with 92 tackles and 2.5
tackles for loss in the middle. While he’s slightly undersized
at 6-3 and 238 pounds, the sophomore makes up for it with his
defensive back speed and big hitting ability. He has unlimited
range and can play any of the team’s four linebackers positions.
A stat-sheet filler, he’ll be an all-star in a hurry.
Senior Weston Johnson
used to be a key backup before becoming a steady starter on the
strongside. The 6-3, 233-pounder is a fantastic athlete who made
78 tackles with four tackles for loss, but he needs to do more
to get into the backfield and he’s too good to not do more
against the pass. He’s more of a weakside prospect playing on
the strong, but he’s fine where he is. He’s also one of the
smartest players on the defense.
Getting the start at the
Buck, the other outside linebacker spot, will be
Matt Barella, a
reserve last year who made eight tackles. He’s more like a big
safety at 6-2 and 228 pounds and he has spent most of his career
on special teams, but now he has to do a little of everything in
the fourth linebacker, part defensive end role.
Projected Top Reserves:
Redshirt freshman Matt
Birkeness is only 6-4 and 226 pounds, but he’s tough and
athletic. The former tight end moves well and should be able to
hold up well against the run. He has already beefed up ten
pounds since joining the program, but he has room to get a lot
Wyoming was able to get
Ben Durbin away from
Iowa last year and now needs him to grow into a factor on the
weakside. At 6-3 and 233 pounds he has the size to play on the
inside if needed, but the tackling machine will work better in
space where he gets room to roam. Not just a tough tackler, he
was also a high school track star in the 400 and 800 meters.
Able to play either safety or linebacker,
Bryson Studnicka is a
6-3, 234-pound hitter who came to Wyoming as a possible tight
end and has quickly taken to the backup role on the outside. The
sophomore only made four tackles with a tackle for loss, but
he’ll push hard for time on the Buck.
Watch Out For
... Hendricks. He has everything you’d want in a linebacker with
smarts, range, and toughness. He’ll blow up now that he’ll get
the starting job on the weakside.
Tackles. This will be a good-hitting group that will fly to the
ball and won’t miss many stops. It’ll be a shock if the four
starting linebackers don’t finish among the top six tacklers.
Weakness: Pass rushing. There’s too much quickness on
the outside to not make plays behind the line on a regular
basis. The new coaching staff will look to change this right
away, but it’s going to take a little bit of time to make this
Outlook: There weren’t quite
enough good linebackers to run a strong 4-3 last season, but now
there are. Brian Hendricks will be the new star who gets to
everything, while Gabe Knapton is a strong inside presence
who’ll make close to 100 tackles. The depth is undeveloped and
young, but there’s athleticism and a lot of good promise.
Tashuan Gipson turned
into a star right away at corner making 56 tackles with ten
broken up passes. While he didn’t pick off any passes, the 6-0,
190-pound sophomore made his presence felt in all areas and will
be one of the team’s top defensive players on the field side
with great range and lock-down coverage skills.
brother, Marcell Gipson,
has All-Mountain West talent on the Boundary side who came back
after missing most of 2007 with family issues to make 45 tackles
with a sack and ten broken up passes. While not as big as his
brother, the 5-10, 178-pound junior is a bit quicker and more
athletic. A bigger hitter than his size might indicate, he can
do a little of everything and will be one of the league’s best
Looking to become a major factor at strong
safety will be Jamichael Hall, a 6-2, 190-pound former JUCO transfer who has range
and hitting ability. He was expected to see time last year after
coming over from Mesa C.C. in Arizona, but he redshirted and now
has two years remaining. Expect him to be one of the team’s top
tacklers and a playmaker who comes up with at least two picks.
is a 6-1, 208-pound junior who doesn’t miss tackles. The free
safety finished second on the team with 92 tackles last season
with 61 solo stops on his way to honorable mention All-Mountain
West honors. He started every game and was a steady hitter, but
he has to start making plays when the ball is in the air after
failing to come up with an interception and with only three
broken up passes. With tremendous speed and a year of experience
as the starter, he has the potential to be even better.
Reserves: 5-9, 190-pound senior
T.J. Atwater was
supposed to take over one of the corner jobs but he got hurt
early on and got bounced out of a job by Tashaun Gipson. With
tremendous quickness and great athleticism, he has good range
and the versatility to play either corner spot or free safety,
where he’ll start out behind Chris Prosinski.
Redshirt freshman David
James is a good all-around athlete who might be one of the
team’s fastest players. The 5-11, 175-pounder from Oklahoma will
work behind Marcell Gipson and could be a nickel back to get his
10.65 100-meter speed on the field.
Keith Lewis isn’t the
best athlete in the secondary, but he has good skills and enough
experience to be counted on now and then behind Jamichael Hall
at strong safety. He made 20 tackles with three broken up passes
in a variety of roles, and while he could see time at corner,
he’ll be better at safety.
Tramaine Brown is a
5-9, 172-pound former JUCO transfer who was supposed to make a
big impact in the corner rotation but didn’t. He’s quick and can
be used on either side of the field, but he’ll be best suited
play on the field side behind Tashaun Gipson.
Watch Out For ... the Gipson brothers to be special.
They had good seasons as steady, reliable playmakers on the
outside, and now that they have experience to go along with
their skills, they should be fantastic.
Experience. Between the Gipson brothers and Prosinski, the
secondary has three excellent playmakers to work around. The
backups might not have a ton of experience, if any, but they’ve
been around the program long enough to not be green.
Weakness: Interceptions. This has been a major problem
for the last few seasons and it was a big issue last year with
no picks from the corners and just four picks total from the
secondary. There are plenty of broken up passes, but there need
to be more game-changing plays.
Outlook: Considering there wasn’t any help from
the pass rush and there were a few new pieces to the puzzle, the
secondary did a fantastic job. There were times when some
mediocre passing teams went nuts, like San Diego State and TCU,
but for the most part the defensive backs held their own. Now
they should take another step forward in their production with
the Marcel Gipson and Tashaun Gipson excellent corner options
and Chris Prosinki a budding star at free safety.
Projected Starters: Senior
Jake Scott missed two
chip shots last season, but he finished the year hitting 5-of-8
field goal attempts including two from beyond 40 yards. He has a
big leg and he should be more consistent, while junior
Nick Landess will be used on kickoffs and in a pinch after hitting
2-of-3 field goal attempts.
Austin McCoy had a
rough true freshman season averaging a paltry 37.8 yards per
kick, but he forced 19 fair catches and put 13 inside the 20. He
has a big leg and can boom it here and there, but he’ll have to
be more consistent or Landess could start to see more
Corner Marcel Gipson
will take over the kickoff return duties from Devin Moore, who
averaged 21.5 yards per try. Gipson only got six attempts but he
made the most of them averaging 23 yards per pop. WR
struggled averaging just 4.9 yards per punt return, while
David Leonard wasn’t much better averaging 7.4 yards per try.
Watch Out For ... Scott. He wasn’t awful
last year by any stretch, outside of a few hiccups, but he
should be more of a weapon this year after showing in spring
ball that he has the range and the consistency the team will
Strength: Experience. Everyone is back in
all the key spots except for Devin Moore on kickoff returns.
Marcell Gipson will be more than solid in his place.
Weakness: Punting average and punt returns. The Cowboys
have to do a better overall job in the punting game after
finishing 114th in the nation in net punting,
averaging 31.55 yards per exchange, and 5.45 yards per punt
Outlook: Calling the special teams a
disaster is a bit strong considering the placekicking wasn’t
awful and the kickoff return game was fine, but the punting
needed more pop and the punt returns were non-existent. With all
the experience returning there should be an improvement across
the board. Considering the offense still isn’t going to be
anything special, the UW special teams can’t be a liability in
2009 CFN Wyoming Preview |
2009 Wyoming Depth
2008 UW Preview |
2007 UW Preview |