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2009 Colorado State Preview - Defense
Colorado State LB Klint Kubiak
Colorado State LB Klint Kubiak
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 24, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Colorado State Ram Defense

Colorado State Rams

Preview 2009
- Defense


- 2009 Colorado State Preview | 2009 Colorado State Offense
- 2009 Colorado State Defense | 2009 Colorado State Depth Chart
-
2008 CSU Preview | 2007 CSU Preview
| 2006 CSU Preview   

What you need to know: There hasn’t been much of a defense in Fort Collins for the last few years. Last year was a nightmare with the worst pass rush in America leading to a tough year in pass coverage. Making matters worse was the lack of production against the run. Now, for good and bad, everyone of note has to be replaced on the line while the linebacking corps has to undergo a major change with Ricky Brewer getting booted from the team and Jake Pottorff needing to retire thanks to shoulder problems. The secondary has upside, but it needs far more help from the dead defensive front that has quickness, but little pass rushing potential. Mychal Sisson should have another huge year at linebacker as he’ll have to come up with big plays all over the field.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Mychel Sisson, 105
Sacks: Elijah-Blu Smith, 1
Interceptions: Klint Kubiak, Gerard Thomas, 1

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

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: 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 toughness.

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 the rotation.  

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 priority.
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 four spots.
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.
Rating: 5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: 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 combination.
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.
Rating: 5


Defensive Backs


Projected Starters: 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 improvement.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: 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.
Rating: 5.5