Sunday, August 27, 2006

2006 Opponent Preview - Defensive Line | by Pat

Sorry for the delay in the position previews. I'll try to get the linebackers and secondary out before kickoff, but no promises. For those just tuning in, here are the links for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends/offensive line. Now on to perhaps the hardest position to find information about, the defensive line. Phil Steele position rankings are in parentheses.

The stat legend goes as follows: TFL = tackles for loss, PBU = pass broken up, INT = interception, FR = fumble recovered, FF = fumble forced. If anyone has any additional info/corrections, please feel free to chime in.


DE - Adamm Oliver. 41 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 TFL, 1 PBU 1 FR, 1 FF. Returning starter.
DT - Joe Anoai. 26 tackles, 3 sacks, 6.5 TFL. Returning starter.
DT - Darryl Richard. (#53 DT) missed year with ACL injury. New starter.
DE - Darrell Robertson. 15 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 4 PBU, 1 INT. New starter.

The Yellow Jackets will sport a formidible defensive line in the Irish season opener with a good mix of talent, depth, and potential. Darrell Robertson assumes a full-time starting spot at defensive end after being a backup last year. He did start four games last year when the starter Eric Henderson was out with injury so he does have some decent experience. It's likely that he'll be Tech's best pass rusher. At the other end position, Adamm Oliver brings plenty of experience with 11 career starts at both defensive end positions and at 265 pounds is a solid run stopper. The tackle positions remind me of ND's tackles as both rely more on speed and quickness than size. The 280 pound Joe Anoai (pictured) is the line's veteran with 23 career starts and also has the flexibility to play defensive end, where he started one game as a sophomore. He's a pre-season All-ACC player who will be tough inside. Pairing up with him will be Darryl Richard, a redshirt sophomore who missed all last year with a knee injury after a very strong freshman campaign. Back and healthy, big things are expected from him. Depth: The Yellow Jackets have a solid 2-deep on the line starting with sophomore Michael Johnson. He has been injured a bit this fall, but he's the next big thing for Tech at defensive end and will be another quality pass rusher when he's healthy. Vance Walker, Elris Anyaibe, and David Brown round out a dependable defensive tackle rotation with a good amount of potential.


Jim Shaw. 6 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 PBU. New starter.
Ed Johnson. missed 2005 due to suspension. New starter.
Jay Alford. (#9 DT) - 37 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 11.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF.
Returning starter.

Josh Gaines. - 9 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 PBU. New starter.

The Nittany Lion defensive line was hit hard by graduation, and there are rumors they might switch to a 3-4 to take advantage of their talented linebackers, but Coach Paterno insists they will likely stick with the traditional 4-3. One player sure to start on the line is returning veteran Jay Alford (left), one of the better defensive tackles in the country. A 2nd-Team all-conference player last year and three year starter, Alford will have to adjust to more attention from opposing offensive lines as the star of this year's line. Joining him in the middle is Ed Johnson, who missed last year after being expelled from school for the summer and fall 2005 semesters. He played in every game his sophomore and junior year while making 6 starts so he's a somewhat experienced new starter. Jim Shaw is a transfer from Rice and a big player for defensive end. In fact, he started at defensive tackle for a game last year. He will be very solid against the run and could give quarterbacks a hard time if he's able to bull his way into the backfield. The replacement for All-American Tamba Hali for now is sophomore Josh Gaines, who at over 260 pounds sounds more like a run stopping type than a pure pass rusher. Depth: If State wants to get more speed off the edge, they might turn to talented freshman Maurice Evans. Jared Odrick, Tom McEowen, and Aaron Maybin are other freshman possibilities to see the field early. The main backup in the middle is the large Steve Roach, the team's only 300+ pound tackle, with sophomore Elijah Robinson also providing depth.


Lamarr Woodley. (#6 DE) - 48 tackles, 7 sacks, 14 TFL, 1 FR, 3 FF. Returning starter.
Alan Branch. (#12 DE) - 31 tackles, 5 sacks, 7 TFL, 1 FR, 1 FF. Returning starter.
Terrance Taylor. (#60 DT) 1 tackle. New starter.
Tim Jamison. 10 tackles, 3 sacks, 3.5 TFL. New starter.

Seemingly the strength of the team this year, the Wolverine defensive line features a number of all-conference caliber players. The big name is LaMarr Woodley (pictured) who has starred as a part linebacker/defensive end at Michigan. With the new 4-3 alignment under Coach English, Woodley has very high expectations from the coaching staff and fans as a permanent defensive end. It's very possible that he will end the year as an All-America type defender. In the middle, Michigan has two huge bodies in 6-0, 305 pound Terrance Taylor and 6-6, 330 pound Alan Branch. Branch won the Michigan DL of the year award last year and the coaches are very excited about the potential of Taylor, who as a sophomore is already one of the strongest players on the team. On the other side of the line Tim Jamison is battling for the starting defensive end spot and if he takes it, will provide a pass rushing compliment to Woodley that will be hard for most teams to handle. Depth: Fighting Jamison for that DE starting spot is senior Rondell Biggs who very fast in his own right and if he can stay healthy has a very good shot at quality playing time. Will Johnson, who started one game last year, will provide depth at the tackle spot along with Marques Walton. One time ND commit Jeremy Van Alstyne might also work himself into a few snaps at defensive end.


Brandon Long. 3 tackles, 1 FR. New starter.
Clifton Ryan. (#31 DE) 34 tackles , 3 sacks, 4 TFL, 1 FR, 1 FF.
Returning starter.

David Stanton. 13 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 PBU. New starter.
Justin Kershaw. 4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL. New starter.

Clifton Ryan (left) was a huge defensive end the past two years and now the 305 pounder has moved inside to tackle. The only returning starter, Ryan will be relied upon to not only stop the run, but also still rush the passer from his new position. If he can do this, the Spartan line should be fairly effective. The two new defensive ends, Brandon Long and Justin Kershaw, are both a bit undersized (244 and 252 pounds respectively) but are quick enough to give QBs some trouble if they can avoid getting locked up by opposing offensive lineman. David Stanton was a key reserve last year and now the former JUCO defensive end will have to adapt to being the starting nose tackle. Depth: Pushing Long for one of the starting DE spots is JUCO transfer Ervin Baldwin who is quickly earning the praise of coaches in fall camp. Another JUCO transfer, tackle Ogemdi Nwagbuo also provides quality depth with a history of pass rushing success at the junior college level. Nick Smith has been a Spartan backup the past two years with one game start last year and will help round out the defensive end rotation.


Anthony Spencer. (#32 DE) 23 tackles, 3 sacks, 7.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FR.
Returning starter.

Ryan Baker. 10 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 0.5 TFL. New starter.
Alex Magee. 18 tackles, 1 TFL. New starter.
Eugene Bright. 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2.5 TFL. New starter.

Anthony Spencer (right) is another lone starter returning to a line racked by graduation. A veteran with 23 career starts, Spencer might find things harder without a Ray Edwards on the other side of the line to attract attention, but he's still a very capable defender. One time ND tight end commit Ryan Baker has surfaced at defensive tackle and the redshirt sophomore has locked down a starting spot with his hustle and aggressive play. Co-defensive tackle Alex Magee started 2 games last year as a true freshman and now has the starting spot all to himself. Eugene Bright looks to be the newest pass rushing Purdue defensive end. Depth: Purdue is somewhat deep at defensive tackle, but like the starters, the depth is made up of redshirt and true sophomores. Jared Zwilling, Mike Neal, Johnathan Patton, and Jermaine Guynn are inexperienced and unproven, but at least have the size to play if and when needed. Jeff Benjamin and Mike McDonald are two JUCO transfers who will shore up the defensive end position.


Pannel Egboh. 15 tackles, 1 sack, 2.5 TFL, 2 PBU. New starter.
Ekom Udofia. New starter.
Matt Kopa. New starter.

Stanford is now running a 3-4 defense which features one nose tackle and two defensive ends. Manning the middle is the player with the most potential, Ekom Udofia. A very highly regarded recruit, the redshirt freshman will see his first playing time as a starter and expectations are sky-high for the athletic 6-2 303 pounder. Pannel Egboh has a great chance at starting which is impressive considering he broke his leg last season and was forced to miss all of spring practice. If he's all the way back from the injury, he'll give the Cardinal a solid pass rusher. Sophomore Matt Kopa is a big end at 270 pounds, but in the 3-4 the ends usually are a bit bigger. Solid against the run, Kopa is also quick enough to cause some trouble rushing the passer. Depth: Gustav Rydstedt has high expectations as he continues to develop as a defensive lineman. The junior is very athletic and posssibly could play himself into the starting lineup or at least a large number of snaps by the ND game. Chris Horn will compete with Kopa for one of the starting end spots and give the Cardinal another big end at 270 pounds. Backing up Udofia will be true freshman Sione Fua, a very solid 300 pounder. Behind Fua is redshirt junior Mike Macellari and redshirt freshman James McGillicuddy, another youngster with promise.


Bruce Davis. 28 tackles, 2 sacks, 6 TFL, 4 PBU, 1 FF. New starter.
Kevin Brown. (#14 DT) injured last year. Returning starter.
Brigham Harwell. (#16 DT) 35 tackles, 4 sacks, 11.5 TFL,2 PBU. Returning starter.
Justin Hickman. (#36 DE) 31 tackles , 5.5, 8 TFL,1 FR. Returning starter.

UCLA fought through a number of injuries and now returns a very deep defensive line with not much dropoff from the starters to the backups. Kevin Brown is a big force in the middle, but an ankle injury forced him to miss nearly all of last season. He tweaked his other ankle in fall camp, but should be back to full speed soon. Joining him in the middle is likely Brigham Harwell, a very fast defensive tackle who started out at end before being moved inside. Harwell was second on the team in sacks last year and started 11 of the 12 Bruin games. On the ends, Bruce Davis and Justin Hickman (left) return and look to improve upon their collective 7.5 sacks last year. Depth: The real reason behind the strong Bruin line is their depth. Playing last year as a 265 pound undersized freshman, sophomore Chase Moline was pushed around a bit, but he's gained 20 pounds and valuable experience for this year. Kenneth Lombard started three games last year and also might be in line for a starting spot come October. He's still a bit undersized at 270 pounds, but very quick for a tackle. Nikola Dragovic was another lineman lost for nearly the whole year last year due to injury after starting the first four games. Like Harwell and Lombard, it's possible he might take back a starting spot by the time of the ND game. (see a pattern here?) William Snead is a fast pass-rushing defensive end who started five games last year and gives UCLA another option on the end. Overall, the Bruins have a very solid 8-man rotation and one of the deepest defensive lines in the country.


Tye Adams. 13 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 FR. New starter.
David Wright. 2 tackles. New starter.
John Chan. 53 tackles, 6 sacks, 4.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FR. Returning starter.

Navy is another team that runs a 3-4 defense, which lets them replace another undersized defensive lineman with one of their veteran linebackers. Manning the middle of this line is senior David Wright. At 275 pounds he'll have a hard time, but he'll also be able to use his quickness to try and slide by opposing offensive lines and get into the backfield. On the ends, the starters get even smaller. John Chan (right) is only 249 pounds, but he's a veteran player as well and has proven to be productive in the past. He's not a consistent pass rusher, but he's a solid tackler and effective against the run. The other end, Tye Adams, is perhaps the smallest defensive lineman in the country at 6-3, 225 pounds. Obviously speed is the key to his game as he would be hard pressed to bullrush any 300 pounds offensive lineman. Believe it or not, Adams also plays some at the nose tackle position, mainly on passing downs. Depth: Navy does have a decent D-line rotation with the experiened Larry Cylc, who started 9 games last year and is the biggest Navy lineman at 290 pounds. At end, Andrew Tattersall will rotate in with Adams as Tattersall brings a bit more bulk for when the team is trying to establish the run. Heralded recruits, Nate Frazier and Andy Lark, provide depth at the nose tackle position as well, although Lark is currently out with an injury.


Brian Rackley. 15 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFL, 1 FR, 1 FF. Returning starter.
Shelton Bynum. 22 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 1 PBU. New starter.
Kyndraus Guy. 21 tackles, 3 sacks, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU. New starter.
Melik Brown. 7 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 FF. New starter.

Brian Rackley (left) is the leader of this defensive line that returns six players overall with starting experience. Even though he missed the last three games of the 2005 season with a concussion, Rackley has 14 career starts and UNC fans are hoping for a breakout season. The other returning starter is tackle Kyndraus Guy, who started five games last year while playing in all 11. Like some of the other tackles on the schedule, Guy isn't all that big at 280 pounds. Teaming up with him in the middle is Shelton Bynum, a senior who started six games and does tip the scales at 300 pounds. The final starting spot is still up in the air, but Melik Brown has as good a chance as any to grab it. He's been a reserve so far in his career, but could have a productive senior year if he takes the starting job. Depth: Battling Brown for the spot is junior Hilee Taylor, who is in the quick pass-rushing mold of defensive end. Kentwan Balmer started three games at defensive end last year, but has been moved inside to tackle for this year to add depth. Cameron Thomas also has high expectation as the 330 pound redshirt freshman was a highly regarded recruit and will add a lot of bulk to the defensive tackle position.


Jake Paulson. New starter.
Gilberto Perez. 33 tackles, 1 sack, 9.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FF. Returning starter.
Grant Thomas. 17, 0.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 PBU. New starter.
Josh Clayton. 14 tackles, 3 TFL. New starter.

The inexperienced Falcon line will look to veteran Gilberto Perez for leadership. A 1st team preseason all-conference pick, Perez will look to duplicate his production last year. Grant Thomas filled in for Perez for the final two games when Gilberto was injured and now has a starting spot next to him. He's a decent run-stopper and should benefit from the double-teams on Perez. At end, John Clayton and Jake Paulson will have to quickly prove they are capable defensive ends if they want to reverse last season's 98th overall ranking for the defense. Depth: Kevin Quinn will rotate with Grant Thomas at tackle, but at 245 pounds, he's also can play end. Tight end turned defensive tackle Chris Monson is even lighter at 240 pounds, which give the Falcons not much size behind their starters.


Brandon Thompson. 20 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 PBU. Returning starter.
Tony Fusco. 28 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL. Returning starter.
Travis Prikryl. New starter.
Cameron Craig. 56 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 TFL. Returning starter.

The Black Knights return a veteran defensive line that pretty good size and should be moderately effective this year. Cameron Craig (right) is one of the team's leaders and a strong pass rusher with 10 career sacks in 19 starts. At the other end position is junior Brandon Thompson, who earned praise during the spring for his continuing development as a run-stopping defensive end. Tony Fusco is the 308 pound man in the middle who will free up the defensive ends with his penetrating style of play. He had an impressive 7.5 tackles for loss last year, which is very good number for a defensive tackle. Travis Prikryl is the lone new starter on the line but should benefit from being surrounded by returning starters on all sides. Depth: John Wright started two games last year and provides another pass-rushing defensive end if Craig or Thompson need a sub. Likewise, Peter Harrington will backup Prikryl and Fusco in the middle, but he'll need to add some more size because at 255 pounds he's going to get pushed around.

Southern Cal

Kyle Moore. 6 tackles, 2 FR. New starter.
Sedrick Ellis. (#13 DT) 50 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 8 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FF. Returning starter.
Chris Barrett. 5 tackles, 1 PBU. New starter.
Lawrence Jackson. (#1 DE) 46 tackles, 10 sacks, 13 TFL, 6 PBU, 2 FR, 4 FF. Returning starter.

After some of the solid Trojan lines of the past few years, this one might take some time to regroup and reload, but it should be a solid line by the time the Irish roll into town. There is talk that the Trojans might play a 3-4 defense this year at times to take advantage of their stellar linebacking corp, but I'm going to stick with the 4-3 in this preview in order cover more of the Trojan depth at DL. The star of the line is Lawrence Jackson (left), generally considered one of, if not the best defensive ends in the country. He's big at 6-5, 265 pounds and as fast as most linebackers. He will be hard to handle this year. Sedrick Ellis is the returning veteran in the middle and while he's not as well-known as past star Trojan defensive tackles, he's a very capable player who should be even better now that he's a returning starter. Next to Ellis is Chris Barrett, an inexperienced player who rose to the top during spring practice, beating out more highly touted recruits in the process. Initially he might be the target of opposing run games until he can prove himself in a game. The other defensive end spot is still up in the air but 6-7, 265 pound sophomore Kyle Moore impresses everyone with his speed coming off the edge. If the Trojans stick with the 3-4, Moore's spot will be the one that is taken off the field in favor of a linebacker. Depth: Fighting Moore for that starting spot is the talented but oft injured Jeff Schweiger. Schweiger might also see some time playing linebacker in the 3-4 as he's extremely fast. Adding bulk to the defensive tackle rotation will be the job of 300 pounder Fili Moala and 295 pound Walker Lee Ashley, one of the top DL recruits from a few years ago. Alex Morrow is a solid defensive end and will be Jackson's backup. Also look for Travis Tofi and Averell Spicer, yet another top recruit, to contribute to the defensive tackle rotation.

2006 Defensive Line Analysis and Ranking

There are still some very good individual players, like Lawrence Jackson of Southern Cal, LaMarr Woodley of Michigan, and Jay Alford of Penn State, but there is no real proven, complete defensive line that jumps out like like year's Tennessee and Purdue lines. And given how the ND offensive line handled those Volunteer and Boilermaker linemen, I'm not too terribly worried about the defensive lines that the Irish will face this year.

No team returns all four starters, although technically UCLA returns a whole raft of guys who started games last year. Speaking of UCLA, these same players were the reason the Bruins finished with the 2nd-worst rushing defense in the country last year. But just as I expect an additional year of coaching and experience to help the Irish secondary, I feel the same way about the UCLA D-line. And getting back two quality players from injury (Brown and Dragovic) doesn't hurt either.

One thing to consider when looking at this preview is the lack of depth on the Irish offensive line, and even if the opposing DL isn't all-star caliber, a physical game can wear down the Irish lineman and cause injuries. My two top DL teams, Michigan and Georgia Tech, are teams we face right at the beginning of the season. This is good in that the Irish will be fresh and able to put up with a physical game, but bad in that freshman starting right tackle Sam Young will be thrown right into the fire against great competition. If he comes out of those first three games without too many mistakes, we might be looking at one of the all-time greats.

One last thing I noticed. Other than Lawrence Jackson and LaMarr Woodely, there really aren't many proven dangerous pass rushers at defensive end. That doesn't mean one of the new starters can't be a force, but at least Quinn shouldn't have to worry about too many potential All-Americans bearing down on him from the edge. And Sam Young doesn't have to worry about lining up against too many guys with the experience to take consistent advantage of a rookie.

On to the rankings. This one is pretty tough to rank, given just how much coaching scheme plays into how effective a line is, so while I did list out my picks, it's very possible that reality won't match my predictions. As usual I looked at production, new starter potential, and depth at the position.

1. Michigan - Big and strong across the board. The strength of the 2006 Wolverine team.
2. Georgia Tech - A veteran line that is strong and quick. Also have quality depth.
3. Southern Cal - Depth and the presence of perhaps the best pass rusher in the nation.
4. UCLA - No superstars, but a legit 8-man rotation with plenty of experience.
5. Penn State - Alford is solid. The new starters and freshman have some promise.
6. Stanford - Udofia should be a force as he develops. Quality depth with some experienced backups.
7. Michigan State - Ryan can't do it all by himself. The new starters need to contribute early and often.
8. Purdue - Similar to MSU, the new guys must help Spencer. Inexperienced depth.
9. Army - A solid, experienced line. More size than usually seen on an academy team.
10. Navy - More speed than size, but Chan is dependable and there is experienced depth.
11. North Carolina - Could improve on this ranking if Rackley breaks out and the others surprise.
12. Air Force - Perez is good, but the rest of the line is small and inexperienced with very little depth.

Next up....Linebackers.