2013 Spring Preview - More Top DL Battles
Nebraska DT Thad Randle
Nebraska DT Thad Randle
Posted Mar 17, 2013

More key position battles this spring - The Defensive Lines

2013 Spring Preview 

Position Watch - More DLs

- Top Ten 2013 spring defensive line battles

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The nation's No. 1 defense, run defense and scoring defense has to get over the loss of anchor and tone-setter Jesse Williams on the nose and Damion Square at the end. Also gone is key reserve Quinton Dial.  The 3-4 doesn't generate much of a pass rush from the line, but even so, Ed Stinson has decent making 30 tackles with three sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. While he might not be spectacular, he's a good one to work around as the new main man for the front three, while big Brandon Ivory needs to be the new Williams in the middle. LaMIchael Fanning is a superior talent who should be out of Nick Saban's doghouse and ready to become a factor at one end, while superstar freshmen A'Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen might play big roles right away.  

It's up to new defensive line coach Greg Colby to start making the Illini defensive front play up to its talent and potential. Out of the all the team's problems last season, the line wasn't the biggest, but it wasn't exactly a big help to the cause without the pass rush it was expected to unleash and with the league's second-worst run defense. Nose tackle Akeem Spence wasn't good enough to help the D do much but he's a good enough talent to be a prime pick in the upcoming NFL draft, and fellow tackle Glenn Foster and end Michael Buchanan are gone, too. That leaves senior Tim Kynard and sophomore Kenny Nelson as the main options to look at on the outside, while the hope is for sophomore Teko Powell and junior Austin Teitsma to be ready to shine at tackle. On the way is JUCO transfer Abe Cajuste to provide depth and be a part of the tackle rotation.

Iowa State
The Cyclones were disastrous at getting to the quarterback and didn't do nearly enough to get into the backfield, and now they have to try improving without top pass rusher Cleyon Laing in the interior and Roosevelt Maggitt on the outside. Also gone are nose guard Jake McDonough and key tackle reserve Henry Simon. Most Big 12 teams can use their high-octane offenses to make up for their mediocre defenses, but Iowa State can't do that - the line has to be better. Willie Scott and 6-7 David Irving will be the main options on the outside with junior Corey Morrissey being a bigger factor. JUCO transfer  Rodney Coe has the size for the interior but could be tried out on the end. Walter Woods III is a bowling ball on the nose while Brandon Jensen will get the first look at one of the starting tackle jobs.

The defense did what it could in a nightmare of a second half of the year. The quarterback situation was a disaster and the offense didn't go anywhere, but the D kept on plugging along finishing third in teh ACC in total defense and second against the run. This year, the other parts have to pick up the slack for the line that loses all-everything playmaker Joe Vellano on the end and 305-pound A.J. Francis on the other side of the 3-4. Darius Kilgo will be terrific on the nose, but he needs to be flanked by size and talent. Quinton Jefferson has a world of upside and talent on one end, but now he needs a chance after coming up with 13 tackles in his true freshman season. Junior Keith Bowers is a short, squatty end who can move, making 11 stops with a sack in his limited role on the the ends. Senior Isaiah Ross could be used at times as a bigger end, but he'll need to provide the depth behind Kilgo on the inside.

It's the offseason, which means it's time for Bo Pelini to demand a tougher defensive line. The pass rush wasn't bad and the run defense wasn't totally miserable, but getting ripped up by Wisconsin and Georgia to end the year put the spotlight on the front four. End Eric Martin and tackle Cameron Meredith are gone, putting the pressure on senior Thad Randle to be more of a factor in the interior and for junior veteran Chad Rome to serve as the anchor. Finding a steady pass rush will be the bigger concern with Jason Ankrah coming up with just two sacks and six tackles for loss, and now he's the seasoned vet. It's going to be a war this offseason to find the right starting combination - write the depth chart in pencil.

New Mexico
The improvement in the program under Bob Davie has started with the running game that instantly became a power, albeit at the expense of the passing attack. However, the problems over the second half of the season came on defense, and Davie, a defensive coach by nature, has to get more out of his defensive front that wasn't miserable against the run but couldn't make any big plays behind the line. End Jacori Greer was the only decent pass rusher coming up with five sacks and 32 tackles, but he needs help with key backup Jake Carr gone along with tackles Reggie Ellis and Rod Davis on the nose and defensive tackle Ugo Uzodinma. JUCO transfer Brett Bowers will give it a shot on the end, but it'll be up to Dominic witty to quickly turn into a factor at tackle after making five tackles as a reserve. 

The Scarlet Knights finished fourth in the nation in scoring defense, sixth against the run and tenth in total defense. A terrific linebacking corps led by Khaseem Greene had a lot to do with that, but the defensive front did its part with all-star tackle Scott Vallone holding down the inside and Ka'Lial Glaud a veteran on the end working in a rotation with Marvin Booker. The star of the line now is senior Jamil Merrill, an undersized tackle who gets by on his quickness and burst, coming up with 5.5 sacks with 10.5 tackles for loss. He needs sophomore Darius Hamilton to grow into a steady starter, or at least a steady backup. Senior Marcus Thompson and sophomore Max Issaka have to be more disruptive in a rotation on one end, but the hope is for both of them to shine bright enough to take over both starting jobs.

San Jose State
The key to the Spartans' 11-2 season was an ultra-efficient passing game and a good offense that always seemed to keep things moving, but the fearsome pass rush played its part finishing sixth in the nation in sacks and 21st in tackles for loss. The tackle situation is set with Anthony Larceval and Travis Raciti back after combining for 15 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss. Flying under the radar, these two should form one of the nation's best interior pass rushing tandems. The inside is set; the outside isn't. Travis Johnson projects to be a linebacker at the next level, but he was a terror of a pass rushing end making a whopping 13 tackles and 21.5 tackles for loss as an unstoppable playmaker on the outside. He's gont along with running mate David Tuitupou on the other side and key backup Vincent Abbott. That means tackle-sized sophomore Tony Popovich has to find a role somewhere up front and junior Sean Bacon has to turn into a factor after coming up with nine tackles as a backup.

The Toledo offense should be able to make the team a contender for the MAC title, but the defense loses eight starters including three up front from a group that was mediocre to begin with. Getting plays behind the line was like bulling teeth, but the team's best pass rusher, Jayrone Elliott is back to take over for Hank Keighley at one end. With senior Ben Pike returning on the other side, the potential is there to do more to get to the quarterback. The offseason is about developing the depth across the front while hoping for steady play from the starting tackles from the beginning. Phil Lewis and Danny Farr might not have held up as well as they needed to, but they were veteran presences. Senior Elijah Jones should be one of the MAC's best interior pass rushers, while Allen Covington has to use his quickness to make plays on the nose.

The Commodore defense more than held its own last season allowing just 334 yards per game and a mere 142 yards against run. The pass rush was fantastic with as much disruption behind the line as any D in the SEC. The star of the show, Rob Lohr, is gone at defensive tackle and Barron Dixon is hurting with a shoulder problem. Making matters worse is the loss of versatile nose tackle Barron Dixon to a violation of team rules - he was supposed to take over for Colt Nichter in the middle. Trying to help the problem in the interior is Torey Agee, who'll move inside from end, and offensive lineman Adam Butler, who'll add a little bit of bulk. Kyle Woestmann will be the star of the line at one end, while Walker May has to produce on the other side.

- Top Ten 2013 spring defensive line battles