Preview 2009 - Defense
2009 CFN Western
| 2009 WMU Offense
2009 WMU Defense
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What you need to know: The entire
defense returned last year and the results weren’t anything
special. The Broncos were mediocre overall, but they were great
at getting into the backfield. That’ll be the case again with a
good linebacking corps that’ll do a little of everything right
and a front four that can get make big plays. There isn’t much
size in the front seven, but that’s hardly the biggest issue.
The secondary struggled last year with four great starters
returning, and now they all have to be replaced. Miami transfer
Doug Wiggins will be a good new safety leading a secondary that
won’t be as bad as it might appear.
Tackles: Austin Pritchard, 86
Sacks: Justin Braska, 6
Interceptions: Several at 1
the defense: Senior
LB Austin Pritchard
Player who has to step up and become a
star: Sophomore CB Josh Price
Unsung star on the rise:
Junior FS Doug Wiggins
Best pro prospect:
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pritchard,
2) LB Mitch Zajac, 3) S Mario Armstrong
Strength of the
defense: Quickness, plays in the backfield
the defense: Experienced defensive backs, size in the front
Gone is the star of the
defensive front, Nick Varcadipane at defensive tackle. Getting
the first shot to take over is
Drew Nowak, a 6-4,
250-pound undersized option who should be great at getting into
the backfield. Needing to be part of a rotation because of his
size, he made 11 tackles as a freshman to do along with a sack
with two tackles for loss. He’s a pure pass rusher who needs to
be camped out in opposing backfields to be a factor for the
Next to him will be senior
Cody Cielenski, a
regular along the line who started the final five games of the
year finishing with 36 tackles, four sacks and ten tackles for
loss. At 6-2 and 280 pounds, he’s one of the team’s biggest
linemen and will have to hold down the fort on the nose. He
might be one of the team’s most valuable players; the line can’t
afford to use his bulk.
Part of the mix on the right side
will be redshirt freshman
Freddie Bishop, an excellent athlete who has 6-4, 247-pound
size to go along with his speed. He’ll be given every shot to
grow into a pass rushing specialist.
There will be a
rotation of players on the right side with 6-4, 245-pound
sophomore Weston Peiffer
getting the first look. He got the start against Eastern
Michigan and saw time in eight games as a true freshman, but he
only made one tackle with a sack. With his quickness, he has the
potential to grow into a top pass rusher.
Projected Top Reserves:
Justin Braska was a
nice reserve who started over the second half of the season in
place of Greg Marshall. The 6-4, 234-pounder was one of the
team’s best all-around defenders with 52 tackles and a
team-leading six tackles and ten tackles for loss. With a
non-stop motor and good want-to when it comes to getting to the
quarterback, he has the potential to be a statistical star once
Looking to take over an end job right away is
T.J. Lynch, a 6-3, 238-pound JUCO transfer who’s a pure pass rusher
who was a tackling machine in high school. Extremely active, he
has to be the all-around playmaker the defensive line will be
missing on the other side of Braska.
Adding a little bit
of experience to the inside is
Chris Pyant, a 6-3, 269-pound tackle who saw time in six games and
made two stops. Very quick with good strength, he handles
himself well on the nose for his size.
Bringing more bulk is 6-0, 275-pound redshirt
freshman Ryan Byrne, a bowling ball of a defender who was a strong high
school wrestler and a good interior pass rusher in high school.
He’s a strong all-around athlete who can do a little of
everything well, and now he’ll have to show it all off playing
behind Drew Nowak at tackle.
Watch Out For
... a major rotation. Size is a problem and experience is a big
issue. It’ll take time before the undeveloped backups are ready
for prime time, while the starters will need help, too.
Strength: Quickness. The Broncos have athleticism and
pass rushers at all four spots. The line should be able to get
into the backfield from inside and out.
Depth. There’s nothing to count on behind the starters,
while the front four also needs work. This is a very, very
young, inexperienced group that’ll be great next year, but there
will be some growing pains.
defensive front was a bit of a disappointment last year with so
much talent and experience returning, but there won’t be the
same expectations for this year’s group. Justin Braska is a
fantastic pass rusher, but he needs help as the line needs to
find a few all-around playmakers who can stop the run as well as
get into the backfield. The tackles will get behind the line,
but there will be major problems against power running teas. If
Cody Ceilenski goes down, there won’t be any size whatsoever.
Austin Pritchard was
supposed to be a star two years ago, but he hurt his knee and
was out for the season. He came back healthy and was an
all-star, settling in at the weakside spot over the second half
of the season finishing with 86 tackles, two sacks, and 12.5
tackles for loss. This year, the 6-4, 233-pound senior will
bring his tremendous speed and athleticism to the strongside,
where he started four times last season.
Back again in
the middle is Mitch Zajac,
a 6-1, 220-pound senior who started in the middle over the final
five games of last year and finished with 29 tackles and 1.5
tackles for loss. He’s not all that big, but he’s tough, mobile,
and decent in pass coverage. Now that he knows what he’s doing,
he should be a statistical star.
6-4, 220-pound redshirt
freshman Chris Prom
spent last year as a star scout teamer and now will be the main
man on the weakside. A top tight end recruit, he’s a phenomenal
athlete who can jump out of the stadium and be a key pass rusher
in certain situations.
Projected Top Reserves:
Waymon Ross will
turn into the team’s main backup at outside linebacker on both
sides after spending last year on the scout team. The 6-1,
225-pound redshirt freshman is a fantastic tackler and should
eventually blossom into a strong pass rusher.
215-pound sophomore Matt Pickens was a good recruit for
the program and has the speed and range to grow into one of the
team's top producers, but he hasn’t shown it off yet. After
making just four tackles two years ago, he saw a little bit of
time last season and didn’t do much of anything. He’ll combine
with 240-pound redshirt freshman
Deauntay Legner and
5-10, 230-pound redshirt freshman
Joe Smith in the middle to back up Zajac.
junior Harrison Porter
got a few starts on the outside over the first half of the
season but he only saw time in eight games. Injuries have kept
him from becoming a regular contributor, but he was still able
to come up with 21 tackles, a sack, 2.5 tackles for loss and an
interception. Now he’ll be the try to come back to be the main
man on the weakside.
Watch Out For ...
Ross. He’ll work with 6-3, 210-pound
Doug Scott, a
promising redshirt freshman who has the wheels to grow into a
situational pass rusher. The Broncos need quality reserve
linebackers, and Ross will be counted on to do big things early
on with Scott not far behind.
and quickness. Size is sacrificed for speed, and while this
group will have problems with tough running teams, it’s great at
getting to the ball and making plays behind the line. All three
players can swarm.
Weakness: Proven backups.
This was an issue last year, and the team turned out to do just
fine with a lot of 4-2-5 alignments when needed. There are some
promising athletic players like Ross and Scott to get excited
about, but they haven’t done anything yet. Injuries to the
starting three would be disastrous.
The Broncos are still in a bit of a rebuilding mode at
linebacker after the tremendous corps of a few years ago that
blew threw everything in its path, but this group has the
potential to be excellent. Austin Pritchard is a terror on the
outside, while Mitch Zajac is emerging as a star in the middle.
Now there has to be more big plays, more takeaways, and more
stops into the backfield. Last year was about everyone getting
their feet wet. This year is about producing.
Projected Starters: Three starters are gone
off last year’s underachieving secondary, but they’ll all be
missed. The biggest hole is at free safety where Louis Delmas is
off to be an NFL star after leading the team with 111 tackles
and four interceptions.
Doug Wiggins might not be Delmas, but he could be really,
really good. The 6-0, 180-pound junior transfer from Miami has
next-level speed and big-time upside. He was a tremendous
recruit for the Hurricanes two years ago, but he didn’t fit.
The other big hole is at one corner spot with Londen Fryar
gone. While he hasn’t seen a lot of time, 6-0, 194-pound
Andy Dorcely is the
only senior in the secondary and he has been a backup for the
last few years. Able to play corner or free safety, the
speedster was a good high school receiver who made four tackles
in a limited role after making eight stops in 2007.
Working at the other corner spot in place of E.J. Biggers is
David Lewis, a 5-10,
170-pound sophomore who made two tackles in a limited time; he
missed most of the year with a broken arm. While he’s not all
that big, he has tremendous speed and the potential to be used
as a kick and punt returner if needed.
Mario Armstrong is
back after being a spot starter at strong safety and finishing
with 64 tackles with an interception and three broken up passes.
The 6-0, 188-pound junior has been a key part of the secondary
for the last two years and has shown flashes of being the team’s
next-big-thing safety with speed and nice hitting ability. He
could play either safety spot or be used in a nickel role.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior
Jamail Berry will be used from time to time at free safety if Doug
Wiggins isn’t quite ready. He only made 11 tackles, but the
former JUCO transfer is versatile enough to play either safety
spot and he’s a good open field tackler.
The new star of
the show should eventually be
Josh Price, a nice hitting 6-0, 195-pound sophomore who made 18
tackles and a sack in a backup role. One of the team’s fastest
players, he can be used as a corner or be used at either safety
spot if needed.
With help desperately needed for the
secondary, receiver Deshon Lawrence will move over to corner to play behind Josh Price.
Extremely fast, the 6-0, 175-pound sophomore will be on the
field in a variety of ways in nickel and dime packages.
Watch Out For ... Wiggins. He comes in with plenty
of hype and a lot of potential, and WMU might be in big trouble
if he’s not the real deal. The secondary needs him to be a major
league producer from day one.
Hitters. All Western Michigan defensive backs are able to pop.
Sometimes that’s been a problem, going for the big hit over the
routine, but there aren’t going to be many misses.
Weakness: Veterans. A strength going into last year, now
there are just two lettermen returning and no starters. There
will be some growing pains to go through, but the production
can’t be too much worse than it was last year.
A disappointment last year, finishing 12th in the
MAC and 102nd in the nation even with all four
starters returning, nothing will be expected out of this year’s
secondary. Doug Wiggins, a transfer from Miami, is needed to
take over the role as the team’s top safety with Louis Delmas
gone, but the real star will likely be Mario Armstrong, who
should be among the team’s top tacklers. There need to be more
interceptions and more third down stops after struggling against
anyone who could throw.
Projected Starters: Sophomore
John Potter came up with a nice year hitting 11-of-16 field goals,
but he didn’t show off his big leg. He missed both his attempts
from beyond 50 yards with his longest kick coming from 45 yards
out. He’ll be fine with more time and more experience.
Sophomore Ben Armer
struggled in his first year even though he averaged 40.6 yards
per kick. The coverage teams didn’t give him a lot of help, but
he didn’t do enough to air it out; he needs more hang time after
only forcing two fair catches.
Running backs Brandon
West and Aaron
Winchester are solid kickoff returners with West averaging
22.8 yards per try and Winchester averaging 23.5 yards per
return. Miami transfer
Doug Wiggins is getting the first shot at replacing
Schneider Julien as the team’s top punt returner. It won’t be
tough with Julien averaging just 6.2 yards per try.
Watch Out For
... the special teams to be better. After struggling through two
freshmen kickers and a mediocre punt return game, there should
be far more production all across the board.
Kickoff returns. West is a veteran who has been steady for
the last two years, while Winchester provided even more pop last
Weakness: Punt coverage. This will likely
improve as Arner starts hanging up his kicks a bit more, but the
Broncos can’t allow 13.3 yards per return.
The numbers weren’t there last year and there wasn’t much to
get excited about other than the kickoff return game and the
emergence of John Potter as a decent placekicker. With almost
everyone returning, and Doug Wiggins coming in as the new punt
returner, the special teams could quietly be one of the team’s
biggest areas of improvement.