2013 Spring Preview - The Big DL Battles

Posted Mar 17, 2013

How's your unit? The most important position battles this spring. The defensive lines.

2013 Spring Preview

Top Position Battles - DLs

- More key 2013 spring defensive line battles

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1. Ohio State
The defensive line wasn't always a rock throughout last season, but it was strong against the run and it came through when absolutely needed. With John Simon and Nathan Williams on the outside and Garrett Goebel and Johnathan Hankins in the interior, there was more than enough talent to hold up on the way to a 12-0 season, but now the front four is by far the biggest question mark and concern for a team with national title expectations.

Of course, being Ohio State, there's more NFL talent ready to step in and produce, but the lack of experience will still be a factor. Not helping the cause is the transfer of former superstar recruit Se'Veon Pittman, who made noise when he originally ditched Michigan State for OSU. It's going to start with junior Michael Bennett, a decent part of the end rotation with Williams last season who now has to be the crusty veteran while the young stars cut their teeth. Noah Spence is a speedy, athletic option to step in for Simon after serving as the backup making 12 tackles and a sack. F

Finding a pass rush won't be as big a problem as beefing up the interior, needing Aldolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt to grow up in a hurry after being a part of the fun as true freshmen. There isn't a 322-pounder line Hankins, but 300-pound junior Joel Hale could end up working on the nose early on. If there wasn't enough of a youth movement going on, on the way are superstar recruits Joey Bosa and Tyquan Lewis on the ends and Michael Hill, Billy Price and Donovan Munger for the interior. All will get their chances to shine this offseason.

2. LSU
After finishing ninth in the nation against the run and with steady pressure behind the line from all four spots, it's time for an overhaul. There's Anthony "Freak" Johnson at one tackle, and ... ? Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery will be starting NFL defensive ends this fall, backup Lavar Edwards will be in a camp, and tackles Bennie Logan and Josh Downs will be getting paid to work in the interior. It's LSU, so there's plenty of talent for defensive coordinator John Chavis to work with, needing Ego Ferguson to grab a starting spot in place of Logan and Quentin Thomas to be a part of the rotation. Junior Jermauria Rasco should be ready to do more on one end, but it might be up to freshmen Frank Herron, Chandler Lacouture and Kendall Beckwith to add a little bit of depth. Eventually, new recruit Greg Gilmore will be the team's star at tackle. 

3. Florida State
The Seminole defensive front lost all-star end Brandon Jenkins early in the season and it still finished third in the nation against the run. Jenkins might be healthy again, but he's off to the NFL along with All-America end Bjoern Werner and pro-sized end Cornellius Carradine. The two starting ends combined for 24 sacks and came up with steady pressure into the backfield, while defensive tackle Everett Dawkins was a rock in the interior and Anthony McCloud held firm as a huge part of the puzzle. FSU has replacements, but can they jell quickly enough to keep the line from being an Achilles heel? Demontre McAllister is the next man up in the interior with decent size and quickness, but it's Timmy Jernigan who should be the next big thing as an interior pass rusher and all-around playmaker. The ends are a big more tricky. Giorgio Newberry is a tweener who'd fit best in a 3-4 scheme, while Mario Edwards should be terrific on the outside with a little bit more time. On the way is star recruit Demarcus Walker, who needs time in the weight room first, and 300-pound Keith Bryant for the inside.

4. Georgia
The Bulldog defensive front disappeared in key stretches finished a disappointing 12th in the SEC against the run. Even so, it still hurts losing John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers to the NFL along with tackle Abry Jones and end Cornelius Washington. Not helping the cause is the departure of do-it-all linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alex Ogletree, forcing new defensive line coach Chris Wilson to do even more work to bulk up the front four. Garrison Smith is the new star on one end, while Ray Drew should become even more of a factor on the other side. The problem is in the interior where Mike Thornton has to go from being a part-timer to a big factor in the tackle rotation, while JUCO transfers Toby Johnson and Chris Mayes have to pay off right away.

5. Oklahoma
70th in the nation in sacks? 112th overall and last in the Big 12 in tackles for loss? 89th against the run?! This wasn't the normal Oklahoma defense, bottoming out by giving up 326 yards and four touchdowns on the ground to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl disaster. JaMarkus McFarland, Casey Walker and Stacy McGee are gone at tackle, meaning it's time for 320-pound sophomore Jordan Phillips to show what he can do. Sophomore Jordan Wade is also penciled in for a starting spot, but he'll be pushed hard for playing time throughout the offseason. The big hope is for JUCO transfer Quincy Russell to be ready this summer, but the coaching staff was hoping he'd be able to enroll this fall. The end situation is far stronger with Chika Ndulue and Geneo Grissom returning, but they're hardly sure things to start with Mike Onuoha, Charles Tapper and D.J. Ward three ultra-athletic prospects who'll get every shot.

6. BYU
Getting linebacker Kyle Van Noy back for one more year was the best news of the offseason. His return helps make up for the disastrous loss of experience on the defensive front that helped the Cougars finish second in the nation against the run and 22nd in sacks. The biggest loss is end Ezekiel Ansah, a freak of nature who has quickly grown into an elite pass rusher and a top 15-caliber draft pick. Russell Tialavea is gone on the other side and massive 318-pound nose tackle Romney Fuga and top backup Simote Vea are gone from the interior. Helping to ease the pain if the return of Eathen Manumaleuna, who got an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA after he got hurt early on in 2012. While he'll work at end, there should be spots for 6-7, 260-pound Bronson Kaufusi, a rising prospect who worked behind Ansah, and sophomore Remington Peck, a good athlete who could turn into a pass rushing specialist. Finding an anchor will be the key to the offseason, hoping for former star JUCO transfer Marques Johnson to play up to his 320-pound size and upside.

7. Kansas State
The defensive front was good at getting into the backfield and better against the run, but now the entire front four has to be replaced. End Meshak Williams was the star of the bunch, but the whole was better than the sum. Adam Davis was solid on the other end and tackles John Sua, Vai Lutui and Javonta Boyd will be tough to instantly replace. As always, Kansas State is tapping the JUCO ranks for options with end Devon Nash the star of the bunch and tackle Chris Brown an option to help out in the interior. However, the best new prospect is end Tanner Wood, but he might not be in right away if Alauna Finau and Ryan Mueller can become bigger factors after spending last year as key backups. It's up to Travis Britz to become the new anchor inside after getting his feet wet last year making six tackles.

8. Tulsa
Conference USA as a whole is taking a step back, making it easier for the defending champ to repeat - at least in theory. The Golden Hurricane welcomes back nine starters, but the defense takes a huge hit losing eight starters including all four main men up front from a line that helped crank out the D finish third in the nation in sacks, fifth in tackles for loss and 16th against the run. A lot of the production came from the linebackers, but end Jared St. John led the team in sacks and Cory Dorris was a force on the other side. Derrick Jackson and Daeshon Bufford brought the bulk on the inside. This offseason, Jack Jewell and Derrick Luetjen have to prove they can hold up in the interior while speedy Brentom Todd and 270-pound end Derrick Alexander will get a shot in place of Dorris.

9. Texas
Even with a world of talent and plenty of help from the Big 12's best pass rush, the run defense was a disaster getting ripped through way too easily, giving up 29 scores on the year and allowing 150 yards or more nine times. End Alex Okafor is the big loss, but the depth inside takes a little bit of a hit losing Brandon Moore early to the NFL. Chris Whaley, Desmond Jackson and Ashton Dorsey have the size and the talent, but they didn't play up to their abilities getting shoved around way too easily, meaning Hassan Ridgeway will get every chance to earn a starting spot if he can show he can get into the backfield. End Jackson Jeffcoat should be on the All-America short list once he's back from a torn pectoral muscle, but he's not coming back until the summer meaning the spotlight will be on Cedric Reed and Shiro Davis this spring on the other side of Reggie Wilson, who saw a little bit of time making two sacks and 27 tackles in the rotation.  

10. Northern Illinois
While the offense got most of the attention on the phenomenal run to a MAC title and the Orange Bowl, the defense played its part, too, leading the league in tackles for loss and doing a great job of getting to the quarterback on a consistent basis. Gone are all-star ends Sean Progar and Alan Baxter along with solid tackle Nabal Jefferson. That means Ken Bishop goes from being a decent part of the tackle rotation to a starter next to senior Anthony Wells, who came up with four sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. At 308 pounds, Bishop needs to provide the bulk while 275-pound Donovan Gordon and Jefferson have to provide the quickness. Finding replacements for Progar and Baxter will be the bigger concern. George Rainey is built more like a linebacker than an end, but he can move making 6.5 tackles for loss in a reserve role. Senior Joe Windsor and junior Jason Meehan will combine to try taking over for Progar after spending last year as understudies.

- More key 2013 spring defensive line battles