Perhaps the deepest position on the team, Colorado State returns seven players that saw playing time last season, including five who played in every game. Returning are the first and second tackle leaders on the team in Aaron Davis and Max Morgan, standout underclassmen Cory James and Nu'uvali Fa'apito, and senior leader Shaq Barrett. Preseason All-Mountain West selection Barrett looks to improve on a successful 2012 campaign switching back to outside linebacker after playing much of last year at defensive end. James was a Freshman All-American and has the potential to be the next star defensive player for the Rams.
Expect to see a lot of different faces for the Rams as the coaching staff likes to utilize a heavy rotation in the backer corps. Two players to watch are redshirt freshmen Danny Nwosu and Bryan Ohene who have the ability to be solid backups.
ILB: A. Davis, Morgan, Fa'apito, Nwosu
OLB: Barrett, James, Kevin Davis, Steven Michel
Another position filled with young returning players, the Rams will have both starters from 2012 in Conner Roggy and Trent Matthews returning as well as experienced backup Kevin Pierre-Louis. Gone is two-year starter Austin Gray who is moving to wide receiver after a season of concussion issues. Roggy filled in for Gray while he was out with injuries and did a good job being a leader on the defense. Matthews was fourth on the team in tackles, led the team in pass breakups and, despite his youth, may be the next legitimate NFL prospect on the roster. All three players will see significant minutes with Nick Januska providing a solid backup choice.
Projection: Matthews, Pierre-Louis, Roggy, Januska
Leb by senior Shaq Bell, Colorado State's corners came on towards the end of the season combining for five turnovers and two touchdowns while helping the Rams defense hold opponents to less than 200 yards passing a game the last seven games. Behind Shaq Bell are junior Bernard Blake and sophomore Deandre Elliot. Elliot led the team in interceptions and returned one of those 76 yards for a touchdown against Hawaii. Together with reserve Jason Oden, they make a solid rotation of capable corners.
Projection: Bell, Elliot, Blake, Oden
One of the biggest weaknesses for the team last year, Coach McElwain and company immediately grabbed junior college transfers LaRyan King and Terry Jackson to add some depth to a depleted group. In the Rams defensive system, the linemen are expected to stick their gaps and suck up blockers so the rest of the defense can clean up. And to succeed at that it all starts with the big man anchor in the middle, Calvin Tonga. Tonga is big, 6' 3" 330 pounds, and does a good job stuffing the middle; but he will need help from others if the Rams want to improve on their run defense.
King and Jackson will contribute immediately while true freshman Austin Berk might be a Mountain West All-Freshman nominee if he can get adapted to the college game quickly. He will play rotate with returning defensive end Eli Edwards. Tight end transfers Johnny Schupp and Brett Jordan will look to make an impact with their 6'5" bodies while former offensive lineman Justin Hansen brings much needed heft to the tackle.