Star of the defense:
Sophomore LB Mychal Sisson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Cory Macon
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore FS Elijah-Blu Smith
Best pro prospect: Sisson (as a strong safety)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sisson, 2) CB Gerard Thomas, 3)
SS Klint Kubiak
Strength of the defense: Mychal Sisson, cornerback
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense, pass defense, pass rush
Only one starter returns to the line, and he’s hurt. 6-6, 296-pound
James Morehead played in
every game last season finishing with ten tackles, but he’ll be limited
for a while with a shoulder injury. He’s one of the team’s biggest
defensive linemen and now he needs to play like it. The defense
desperately needs him to go from being a mediocre part of the equation
to an anchor.
Working on the nose will be Guy
Miller, a 6-3, 288-pound junior who made 18 tackles as a key
reserve. The former offensive lineman has made the transition complete,
and while he’s not going to do much to get into the backfield, he’s a
mauler who should be decent against the run with his great strength and
Taking over on the right side will be
Cory Macon, a 6-6, 239-pound
junior from Alaska who made 19 tackles as a reserve. He has all the
tools and has all the athleticism to be a pass rusher, but he hasn’t
become one yet. With enough experience under his belt, he should be fine
from the start. Now he has to be disruptive.
6-3, 250-pound senior Sam Stewart
saw a little bit of time in four games after coming over from the
JUCO ranks, and now it’s his job on the left side. An all-star at the
lower level after transferring from Nevada, he had a few big-time offers
from places like UCLA and TCU, and now he has to show why he was such a
hot prospect b using his quickness to become a pass rusher.
Projected Top Reserves: Until James Morehead’s shoulder is
ready, 6-5, 270-pound junior Ty
Whittier will man one of the positions on the inside. He got seven
starts at tackle last season and made 18 stops, but he didn’t get into
the backfield. Despite having all the athleticism, and all the size,
needed to produce at a high level, he hasn’t been able break through.
But the former walk-on is a nice backup who should be a solid part of
Sophomore Steve Collins
didn’t get much action as a redshirt freshman, but the 6-3, 233-pounder
Is a pure pass rusher who could turn out to be the answer to the
problems up front. A phenomenal athlete, he should be a blur into the
backfield when he gets a step on a tackle, but he’s going to have to
prove it on the field.
Watch Out For ... more of a rotation at tackle. The
coaching staff is looking for more production against the run on the
inside, and while there are some decent veterans to get fired up about,
the team needs more from both spots. Keeping everyone fresh will be a
Strength: A fresh start. Three starters need to be replaced, but
that’s not a bad thing. There will be good completion for time at all
Weakness: Proven production. It’s not like the line is starting
from scratch with a few veterans returning, and now someone has to do
something right. This might have been the least productive line in
America last season and some of the culprits are back.
Outlook: This was a disaster area finishing 102nd
in the nation against the run, second-to-last in tackles for loss, and
dead-last in sacks with a pathetic 10 on the year. For good and bad, all
the key players are gone, but there’s just enough experience returning
to not have to start over. The line can’t play any worse, so there are
opportunities for anyone able to play well to see playing time. Finding
one thing the line can do well will be a must with the hope being that
someone, anyone, can hit the quarterback.
With all the turnover and all the drama in the linebacking corps, the
team needs one thing it can count on. That’ll be
Mychal Sisson who provides a
star to build around. The 5-11, 201-pound sophomore might be small, but
that’s by design on the weakside as he looks to get even faster after
leading the team with 105 tackles and six tackles for loss. A strong
all-around playmaker, he fought through an ankle injury to come up with
the breakthrough season. Extremely athletic, he’ll do more this year in
all phases and could end up being moved to the middle from time to time
depending on how the rest of the corps rounds into shape.
Taking over for Jeff Horinek in the middle will be
Alex Williams after a five
tackle season as a reserve. The 6-2, 220-pound junior saw time in every
game, mostly on special teams, and while he’s not going to be the tough
tackler that Horinek was, the walk-on isn’t a bad athlete.
Michael Kawulok is a 6-3,
220-pound athlete who saw seven games of action in his true freshman
season making six tackles. While he saw a game of starting time, he was
just getting his feet wet for what’s expected to be a big-time career.
The smart, speedy sophomore should be a fixture on the strongside for
the next three seasons.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore
Luke Diehl was one of the team’s top recruits a few years ago and
now has to show why. The 6-1, 214-pound sophomore didn’t do anything in
his redshirt freshman season, but with his combination of skills and his
upside, he’ll find time at one of the outside positions. He’ll start out
working on the strongside.
5-11, 220-pound redshirt freshman
Chris Gipson will get every chance to win the starting job in the
middle. A good recruit last year, he has good range and hits like a much
bigger player. While he’s quick enough to play on the outside, he’s a
prospect for the inside.
Watch Out For ... a major shuffling and reshuffling over
the course of the season. No spot is safe, outside of Sisson being
assured of playing somewhere. It could take a while to find the right
Strength: Sisson. He’ll make up for a lot of mistakes all across
the corps. Lightning fast, expect him to be all over the field and
making well over 100 tackles.
Weakness: Players. The linebacking corps could’ve been a
strength, but several problems have left the coaching staff scrambling
for bodies. There wasn’t nearly enough production from the group in
place last year, and now a few unknowns will have to show they can play.
Outlook: The linebacking corps spent a few years going
through some growing pains in the hope of a big payoff to come as early
as last year and certainly this season. So much for that. Ricky Brewer
was booted off the team while Jake Pottorff had to quit because of a
nagging shoulder injury. Now there’s Mychal Sisson and … uh … yeah.
Walk-on Alex Williams will try to earn a scholarship in the middle and
Michael Kawulok has promise on the strongside, but it’ll be an open
casting call for jobs and backup spots.
Senior Nick Oppenneer was one of the few corners coming into last
season with any semblance of experience, and he came through with a
surprising season finishing fifth on the team with 74 tackles with a
pick and three broken up passes. While he’s not all that big at 5-10 and
175 pounds, he’s a strong open-field tackler. However, he’s not fast
enough to stay with any receiver with a measure of talent and speed.
Back on the other side is Gerard
Thomas, a 5-9, 166-pound sophomore who started in ten games as a
true freshman and made 54 stops with a pick and three broken up passes.
Extremely quick and athletic, he’ll have to grow into the team’s No. 1
corner and become more of a ball-hawker. He might not be all that big,
but he can tackle, isn’t afraid to mix it up, and has good upside.
Senior Klint Kubiak has had a
rough stretch being hospitalized two years ago with an ulcer that cause
internal bleeding and a sharp, rapid drop in blood pressure and was in
danger for more than just seeing his football career come to an end. He
returned last season and started in six games at free safety making 28
tackles and picking off a pass before suffering a knee injury. Expected
to play strong safety this year, he should be able to do more against
the run. A good tackler but not great in pass protection, he was a bit
out of position at free safety.
5-11, 181-pound sophomore Elijah-Blu
Smith was thrown into action last year at safety after starting his
career at corner. He was fortunate to be able to play after having
problems with a nagging foot injury early on, and he eventually took
over in the middle of the season and became a whale of a tackler making
36 tackles in his limited time with a sack, three tackles for loss, and
forced fumble. Now he has to be more of a ball-hawker.
Projected Top Reserves: Pushing for time at one of the
safety spots, most likely at free safety, will be
Jarrad McKay, a 6-0,
193-pound sophomore who was supposed to play a big role last year before
suffering a knee injury suffered before the season began. One of the
team’s fastest players, and one of the strongest defensive backs, he can
play any of the four positions.
Sophomore Brandon Owens got in some good work as a backup corner
making 13 tackles with a broken up pass. A wisp at 6-0 and 179 pounds,
his game is all about speed and smarts. One of the team's fastest
players, he should be able to handle himself without any problem against
the faster Mountain West receivers, but he'll have problems with the
more physical ones.
Watch Out For ... a steady improvement as the season goes
on. The corners were supposed to be a problem last year, but they turned
out to be decent with a little time. The safeties will be solid once the
rotation is set, but the secondary, as a whole might need a while before
it’s any sort of a strength.
Strength: Speed at corner … other than Oppenneer. The Rams have
plenty of speedsters on the outside and enough all-around athletic
ability to make up for the lack of pure foot-speed from Oppenneer. The
corners can tackle, too.
Weakness: The defensive line. There was no help whatsoever from
the pass rush and things aren’t likely to change too much this year. The
corners will be on their own for a half-second more than they should
normally have to be.
Outlook: The secondary wasn’t good, but it wasn’t the big
problem area it was expected to be. The corners were the concern, but
now there are veterans and speed to play around with, while the safeties
need to be healthy and need Klint Kubiak to be 100% at one of the spots.
The worst pass defense in the Mountain West last year won’t be a brick
wall, but it should be better with a bit more time. If there’s a pass
rush this season from the front four, the secondary could see a major
Sophomore Ben DeLine stepped in early on when starter Jason Smith went down
with a broken arm, and he was fine hitting 4-of-5 field goal attempts
including three, and the game-winner, in the 23-20 win over Sacramento
State. While he doesn’t have a huge leg, he’ll be fine.
Anthony Hartz decided to leave the team after averaging 44.1 yards per
kick, putting the pressure on
Cody Hartner, a redshirt freshman who’ll have to be stellar to keep
the job. On the way is Pete
Kontodiakos, a star
recruit who earned prep All-America honors with a big, booming leg and
the ability to hang it up in the air for a day.
Speedy RB Alex Square needs
to add more pop to the punt return game after averaging just 5.5 yards
per try last season, while John
Mosure will work more on kickoff returns after averaging 23.8 yards
per try on his 16 attempts.
Watch Out For ... Kontodiakos. If he’s half as good as
he’s supposed to be, the Colorado State punting game will be a major
strength. It’s asking a lot for him to be a star right away, but he just
might live up to expectations.
Strength: Mosure. With his speed and open field cutting ability,
he should do even more than last year when he was such a weapon.
The kicking game will be good in time.
Weakness: Coverage units. This has been a nightmare area for the
last few years and it got worse last season. The Rams allowed a whopping
25.5 yards per kickoff return and gave up 12.5 yards per punt return.
The coverage teams have to hack off around five yards from each spot.
Outlook: There are a lot of question marks here, but
things should turn out to be okay. Den DeLine has the potential to be a
decent kicker with a little more responsibility, while new punter Pete
Kontodiakos has good potential. The return game will be fine and
potentially explosive, but the coverage teams have to be better. Night
and day better.