The 2010 Wyoming Cowboy defense was sixth in the Mountain West in total defense and gave up 413 yards per game. They were joined by Colorado State, New Mexico and UNLV in giving up more than 400 yards per game. That number is expected to be less for the 2011 Cowboy defense, because on the line they return four starters off of last years team.
The Cowboys and the New Mexico Lobos had the same problem in that neither team was successful in getting into the back field to disrupt plays. Well the 2011 defensive line is expected to be a strength for the Cowboys and not a weakness. The Cowboys return all four starters and multiple key backups at the defensive line position.
The best player on the line is expected to be Gabe Knapton who played his first year at the right defensive end spot after playing 2009 as a linebacker. He did not lead the defensive line in tackles for less or sacks, where he had seven and four respectively, but his potential is what is giving Wyoming optimism. Knapton bulked up and added about 20 pounds of muscle since the season ended in late Novemeber.
The entire defensive line seemed to add weight to help take on the grind against opposing teams offensive lineman. This seems to be the big difference in current head coach Dave Christensen to former head coach Joe Glenn. Under Glenn the players were there but the conditioning seemed to be lacking and it seemed to not be a big concern under Glenn's watch.
The anchor on the left side is also a former linebacker in Josh Biezuns who was the lines leader in sacks and tackles for loss. His speed is what has the potential to make him special and give him a pass rush by using that speed to beat the offensive lineman or tight end off the line of scrimmage. Pressure is what the Cowboys were lacking last year from the line.
This unit is high on experience and depth, but the actual production on the field has yet to be seen, however expect the Wyoming defensive line to be above average in the Mountain West and with the depth they have it can keep starters more fresh late in games.
The linebacking corp has speed not a ton of size which can be good and bad. The size will be a hinderance on short yardage plays, but the speed will help in attacking and gang tackling runners and receivers. The top linebacker is Brian Hendricks who had 80 tackles last year which was good for third on the team. He is extremely athletic as he was recruited to wrestle at Nebraska and Oklahoma State and was a state qualifier sprinter out of Colorado.
Hendricks is a senior who has the experience to lead this defense and with that experience the coaching staff is moving Hendricks to the outside linebacker spot to make room for Olive Schober who comes from Munich, Germany and is still learning to play football. Last year in a limited roll Schober had 46 tackles. With an offseason to learn the staff is hoping for big things from Schober.
Wyoming also brought in junior college transfer Mark Jones and then found another German native in Mark Nzeochas. Jones had 106 tackles at Garden Community College and is a player who will not get into the backfield but can lay a hit and tackle a running back in the open field. Nzeochas did enroll in January and is really a safety who will play linebacker. Not sure if he is going to redshirt or play in 2011, but here is a highlight video from Rivals.
The defensive backs were probably better than what their productivity showed since the defensive line was rarely able to provide a pass rush to give the secondary a fighting chance. The hope is that their will be a pass rush and allow the defensive backs to not have to cover the receivers for more than a few seconds.
The problem in the secondary this year is that they return only one starter in Tashaun Gipson, but he is a good one. Gipson has bee on the field significantly in all four years at Wyoming. Last year he had three picks and broke up nine passes. The replacements have experience in nickel situations but not a lot in starting experience. The starter opposite Gipson is going to be Marqueston Huff who is extremely athletic, but lacks experience. The coaching staff feels Marquestion can turn into a great corner, but in the mean time he will share some time with James Caraway.
The Wyoming defense should be improved due to a better pass rush up front with four returning starters, their linebackers has speed to keep pace with most any offense in the Mountain West and the secondary has one shutdown corner, but he rest lack experience.