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2010 Wyoming Preview – Defense
Posted Aug 9, 2010 2010 Preview - Wyoming Cowboy Defense

Wyoming Cowboys

Preview 2010 - Defense

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- 2010 Wyoming Defense | 2010 Wyoming Depth Chart
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What You Need To Know: The defense isn’t ultra-aggressive and it doesn’t take a whole bunch of chances, but it’ll have to with a mish-mosh of players working around the defensive front seven. With star linemen John Fletcher and Mitch Unrein gone, the Cowboys are scrambling to come up with a front four for the 4-3, and unlike last year, there won’t be a lot of 3-4 used. Several linebackers will move to the front meaning a few untested prospects will have to shine around star Brian Hendricks in the middle. The strength of the defense, and the team, should be the secondary that welcomes back all four starters including tackling machine Chris Prosinski at safety and the Gipson brother, Marcell and Tashaun, at the corners.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Chris Prosinski, 140
Sacks: Josh Biezuns, 3.5
Interceptions: Shamiel Gary, Tashaun Gipson, 3

Star of the defense: Junior LB Brian Hendricks
Player who has to step up and be a star: DTs Mike Purcell and Alex Stover
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Shamiel Gary
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Tashaun Gipson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hendricks, 2) FS Chris Prosinski, 3) Tashaun Gipson
Strength of the defense: Secondary, Quickness
Weakness of the defense: Defensive Tackle, front seven experience

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: There’s a lot to do on the defensive front and it’s going to take some linebackers to make things happen on the end. Gabe Knapton finished second on the team last year in tackles making 128 stops with 4.5 tackles for loss as a linebacker, and now he’ll spend most of his time on the end to try to become a top pass rusher in place of John Fletcher. The 6-3, 248-pound junior was a bit undersized as a linebacker, beefed up a bit, and now should use his burst and hitting ability to give quarterbacks problems … at least that’s the hope.

Stepping in at one end will be another outside linebacker, Josh Biezuns , a 6-2, 245-pound junior who made 65 tackles and was great at getting into the backfield with 3.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. He’s strong enough and physical enough to shine in the transition to the line, but he’ll likely spend his time in a hybrid role working in several spots as the defense shifts from a 3-4 to a 4-3 and back again. It’s not a stretch to call him the potential key to the defensive front seven.

It’s going to be a revolving door at tackle with junior Alex Stover looking to finally produce at a high level after he comes off a groin injury. At 6-3 and 282 pounds he’s one of the biggest options on the inside after beefing up over 20 pounds in the last year, and he needs to be more of a space-eater after coming up with just three tackles in five games of work. When healthy, though, he has the try-hard potential to get into the backfield on a regular basis.

Also trying to get back healthy is Mike Purcell , a 6-2, 276-pound sophomore who got his feet wet last season making nine tackles in a limited role. Out this offseason with a shoulder problem, he will be a big part of the rotation using his interior quickness to try to provide an interior pass rusher who needs to be focused on. Tough and athletic, he has as much upside as anyone on the line.

Projected Top Reserves: Don’t write the depth chart in pen, especially at tackle where former linebacker Ben Durbin was tried out in spring ball with so many injury problems depleting the line. At just 6-3 and 250 pounds he’s woefully undersized for the interior, but he’s an interesting prospect with phenomenal speed. He was a high school track star in the 400 and 800 meters.

Also looking for time at tackle, or anywhere he can find a spot, is Patrick Mertens , a 6-5, 260-pound redshirt freshman with the frame to get a little bigger and the interior quickness to be used in a variety of ways. He’s not a nose guard in a 3-4 and needs to be a one-gap tackle, but he has the athleticism to shine right away if he gets help around him.

6-4, 226-pound sophomore Matt Birkeness is a former tight end who spent last year getting his feet wet on the end. He only made one tackle and spent time on special teams, but he’ll be a key part of the rotation on the right side if he doesn’t move to linebacker. He’s a tough prospect who’ll be used in a variety of ways.

Watch Out For … A revolving door of players. With the loss of several key players and the injury problems up front this offseason, it’s going to take a while before the coaching staff settles on the front four, or front three depending on the scheme.
Strength: Quickness. If nothing else, the Cowboys have athletes up front who can move with converted linebackers beefing up a bit to be more physical. Getting into the backfield will be a must since …
Weakness: … there’s no size whatsoever. If Purcell and Stover aren’t healthy and productive, the interior of the line should be worn down instantly. This could be the team’s Achilles heel if the rotation of players doesn’t work out well.
Outlook: Uh oh. The line loses its two top players, Mitch Unrein and John Fletcher, and it didn’t do much against the run with those two. It’ll take a slew of linebackers moving positions to make the line better, and someone has to show up and shine at tackle or else the season could get very long against beefier teams.
Unit Rating: 4


Projected Starters: Able to play any of the three linebacker spots is 6-1, 228-pound junior Brian Hendricks , a strong all-around talent who hits well and has excellent range. He stepped up into a starting job last season and finished third on the team with 116 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss despite missing two games dinged up. 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.

With all the changes on the defensive front and with linebackers working on the line, it’ll be important for sophomore Ghaali Muhammad to be a star on the weakside. Originally a strong safety prospect, the 6-0, 225 pounder has terrific speed and quickness and should show unlimited range closer to the line. He made 21 tackles with an interception and 1.5 tackles for loss as he was used more and more as the season went on. It’ll be a shocker if he doesn’t finish as one of the team’s top three tacklers.

There’s a battle going on for the left outside linebacker job, and Keith Lewis will be a major factor as a speedy option. The former corner moved to safety and now will do more at linebacker, and while he’s not huge at 5-11 and 213 pounds, he’s physical. Mostly a special teamer so far, he made 20 tackles last year and now could be one of the team’s most disruptive playmakers.

Projected Top Reserves:
6-3, 225-pound redshirt freshman Devyn Harris will have to shine at one of the outside linebacker spots after spending last year hitting the weights. A tall, thin linebacker, and not a defensive back, he’s a tough tackler and good speedster with excellent straight-line speed and the potential to be a dangerous pass rusher as well as a tackler. If nothing else, he’ll be turned loose from time to time as a specialist who can get into the backfield.

Senior Alex Toney has been a career reserve and made 12 tackles last season with two interceptions. The 6-1, 220-pounder missed all of 2008 with a back problem and is just now fully healthy and ready to be a big part of the rotation on the inside. He has good range and is physical for his size.

Todd Knight spent last year getting a bit bigger, but he’s still a safety-sized 6-2 and 210 pounds. A great recruit for the program, Knight spurned bigger places like Cal, TCU and Boise State for Wyoming with his terrific athleticism and great range. He’s a natural athlete for the weakside, but he could see time anywhere in the linebacking corps.

Watch Out For … Major shifting around at all the spots. Hendricks will get one spot somewhere, and that’s about all that’s certain with so many linebackers playing on the line and likely to move back and forth where needed.
Strength: Quickness. The UW linebacking corps is essentially a group of beefed up, tough defensive backs who can fly all around the field. The linebackers might have problems with the more physical running games, but they’ll get to the ball.
Weakness: Experience. The linebacking corps might be among the best in the Mountain West if it’s Hendricks, Josh Biezuns, and Gabe Knapton, but Biezuns and Knapton will play on the line. The coaching staff is hoping for a few miracles out of some of the young, unproven players.
Outlook: This won’t be a good group early on, but the speed and athleticism is there for this to be a dangerous and disruptive corps. It might take a little time and there’s no developed depth whatsoever, but expect a lot of feistiness and a lot of range from a try-hard group that should be a strength … next year.
Unit Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: Senior Chris Prosinski had a nice sophomore season making 92 tackles and was one of the best open-field tacklers in the Mountain West, and he got even better with a phenomenal 140-tackle junior campaign highlighted by a 16-stop day against BYU and a 17-tackle game against Texas. The 6-1, 210-pounder is just okay when the ball is in the air, breaking up six passes, but he’s a strong playmaker who returned a fumble 98 yards for the team’s only touchdown against TCU, and he forced two fumbles. He has tremendous speed and wraps up well, and now he should be among the most productive free safeties in America stat-wise.

Shamiel Gary stepped in as a true freshman and was terrific from the start finishing with 98 tackles, three interceptions (with two coming against UNLV), and broke up three passes. The 6-1, 210-pound sophomore is one of the most promising defensive backs in the Mountain West, and he’s just scratching the surface. While he’s not an elite athlete, (he was expected to be a tight end when he came to Wyoming) he found his niche and is growing into a star.

Junior Tashaun Gipson had a great freshman season making 56 tackles and ten passes, and he followed it up by becoming even more of a playmaker with 59 tackles, three interceptions and six broken up passes. At 6-0 and 195 pounds he has good size and is physical, and while he’ll take a few too many chances and isn’t a rock, he wins more than his share of battles.

Marcell Gipson , Tashaun’s brother, is a great-hitter for his 5-10, 183-pound size. The senior made 71 tackles with two sacks and seven broken up passes while leading the team with three forced fumbles. He’s not afraid to throw his body around and has joined his brother as a strong cover-corner with the quickness to hang with any receiver in the Mountain West.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Kenny Browder stepped up and was a nice backup corner in his first season making 16 tackles and breaking up four passes. The 5-11, 175-pounder is thin, but he’s not afraid to try to stick his nose in against the run and is good enough to be used as a regular in nickel and dime packages.

Eric Mitchell is a special teamer and a try-hard walk-on who made four tackles and will try to see more action at free safety. The 6-0, 195-pound junior can move well and will be a big hitter when he gets more of a chance.

Larry Mitchell (no relation to Eric) is a tall 6-3, 197-pound redshirt freshman who got looks from Oklahoma State and Kansas before he settled on Wyoming. He can be used in a variety of ways, and while he’s not necessarily a corner, he can play either safety position with his size and his quickness.

Watch Out For … the national attention to start coming. This wasn’t always a rock of a secondary last year, but with all the experience and the returning production, the stats will be too good to not get a little more of the limelight. This is a good group that could end up being great.
Strength: Experience. With all four starters returning, and all four with All-Mountain West potential, this is the team’s best unit and it’s not even close. There are few secondaries in the league that can tackle as well.
Weakness: Locking down. This is a great secondary when it comes to tackling and being the last line of defense, but it gave up a ton of yards allowing 250 or more in five of the first six games, got lit up by BYU, and was saved stat-wise by playing a few passing-challenged teams like Air Force and Colorado State.
Outlook: This might not be the most talented secondary around, but with the experience and tackling ability it should be a group of defensive backs that the coaching staff can rely on to make up for a lot of mistakes from the front seven. The pressure is on, because if the DBs aren’t terrific, it’s going to be a long year.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Sophomore Ian Watts will handle most of the placekicking duties after coming through with a nice true freshman season. A walk-on who played at Wyoming on a whim, he became great right away. While he doesn’t have a cannon for a leg, he was good enough to hit 12-of-15 kicks with his three misses coming from beyond 40 yards. Ultra-reliable from close range, including three game-winning kicks, he should earn all-star honors with another good year.

Punter Austin McCoy had a terrific year and was one of the team’s most important players averaging a tremendous 43.3 yards per boot with 29 put inside the 20. He turned his game up several notches after a rough sophomore year, and now he should be among the best in America if he can improve a little bit more and can put it deep a bit more after giving away nine touchbacks.

David Leonard a receiver by trade, was one of the Mountain West’s top punt returners averaging 12.9 yards per try, while CB Marcell Gipson and RB Alvester Alexander are fantastic kickoff returners helping the Cowboys average 22.3 yards per try last year.

Watch Out For … McCoy. He was a mediocre field goal kicker when he got his shot, but he has grown into a whale of a punter who went from lousy to terrific in one year. Considering how many question marks there are on both sides of the ball, he needs to bail the team out of several jams.
Strength: Production from the kicking and return games. Wyoming, arguably, had the best special teams in the Mountain West last season as Leonard was fantastic on punt returns, the kicking game became a rock, and the kickoff return game was excellent.
Weakness: Kicking range and kickoff coverage. Watts hasn’t shown off much of a leg and it has proved costly. UW allowed 22.6 yards per kickoff return and didn’t hit a field goal longer than 43 yards. Watts is good, but he doesn’t have a cannon.
Outlook: The expectations are high as Wyoming has to win this phase of the game to pull off some close wins. After the massive upgrade in production last season, and with all the key parts returning, this needs to be one of the team’s strengths.
Unit Rating: 8

- 2010 Wyoming Preview | 2010 Wyoming Offense
- 2010 Wyoming Defense | 2010 Wyoming Depth Chart
- Wyoming Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006