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2009 Wyoming Preview - Defense
Wyoming DT John Fletcher
Wyoming DT John Fletcher
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 5, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Wyoming Cowboy Defense

Wyoming Cowboys

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Wyoming Preview | 2009 Wyoming Offense
- 2009 Wyoming Defense | 2009 Wyoming Depth Chart
- 2008 UW Preview | 2007 UW Preview | 2006 UW Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
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
Best pro prospect: Fletcher
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Fletcher, 2) DE Mitch Unrein, 3) CB Tashaun Gipson
Strength of the defense: Experience, Line
Weakness of the defense: Takeaways, Pass Rush

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
:
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 the rotation.

Senior 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.

6-3, 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.

Redshirt 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.
Rating: 7

Linebackers

Projected Starters
:
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 bigger.

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.
Strength
:
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 group feared.
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.
Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
:
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.

Tashuan’s 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 cover corners.

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.

Chris Prosinski 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.
 
Projected Top 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.

Junior 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.

Senior 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.
Strength
:
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.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

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.

Sophomore 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 opportunities.  

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 Brandon Stewart 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 need.
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 return.
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 any way.
Rating: 6

- 2009 CFN Wyoming Preview | 2009 Wyoming Offense
- 2009 Wyoming Defense | 2009 Wyoming Depth Chart
- 2008 UW Preview | 2007 UW Preview | 2006 UW Preview