Friday, August 15, 2008

Season Preview: Defensive Line

Of all the position groups defensive line, along with perhaps tight end, is the most unsettled going into this season. Veteran Jeremy Navarre is the lone returning player with significant experience and is moving from end to tackle for his senior season. Navarre has been a fixture since he broke into the lineup as a freshman and has amassed a team high 35 career starts. In those starts he has 9 career sacks and 18 tackles for a loss, which is decent if unspectacular, and 113 tackles. Navarre has a similar style of play to Virginia's Chris Long but without the big play ability. A "motor" player, Navarre is good in pursuit and will not give up in trying to get to the quarterback resorting to double and triple moves if necessary. He needs to keep moving and prevent offensive linemen from locking onto him to be successful. Navarre will sometimes get washed out on running plays and had trouble anchoring at defensive end. The move to tackle may help him focus more on getting up the field and splitting the guard and center instead of trying to hold gaps and getting blown off the line of scrimmage. He is a vocal and experienced leader who can help mentor some of the younger defensive linemen. Navarre and backup tackle Travis Ivey are the only two linemen left from a star crossed 2005 class that included Melvin Alaeze and Barrod Heggs. Navarre must replace Dre Moore who had a very solid senior season with six sacks and 63 tackles leading to 1st Team All-ACC honors and being selected by the Tampa Bay Bucs in the 4th round of the NFL draft.

At defensive end the coaches are hoping that Mack Frost can return from his knee injury to provide some stability on the end of the line. He had some knee swelling in camp so it is probable that he may struggle early in the year to stay on the field. Frost was playing well towards the middle of the season before going out with a knee injury against Georgia Tech. He has some pass rush ability and his long arms help him keep linemen from latching onto his body. Behind him the pickings are a little slim. Juniors Deege Gault and Jared Harrell are the backups at defensive end and may have some talent but are untested.

At nose tackle transfer Olugbemi "Bemi" Otulaja and Dion Armstong are battling for the starting position. Otulaja was profiled in several episodes of Terrapins Rising on Comcast Sportsnet along with DT Dean Muhtadi. The room mates are both transfers from lower level programs and fought to secure roster spots this offseason. Otulaja is a bull at nose tackle and provides what you want in that position. He can anchor at the point of attack but needs to get better at reading the blocking schemes and pursuing the ball carrier. Right now it appears that Bemi has the starting job and Armstrong will provide depth. Two freshmen, A.J. Francis (redshirt) and Masengo Kabongo, provide some talented depth at the position. While unproven this group has some potential to be very deep and perhaps allow a rotation on the inside.

At the LEO position starter Trey Covington is entering his forth season where he has been a fixture since his redshirt freshman year. Covington is an impressive physical specimen with great speed and good strength. On paper he seems to be born for the LEO position but he plays a little stiff at times and lacks great instincts which has prevented him from becoming a playmaker. He did have his best performance of the year against Oregon State in the bowl game where he finished with nine tackles and two sacks. It remains to be seen if that is any harbinger of his performance this season. Rick Costa is his backup and has shown flashes of pass rush ability in limited play. His 2007 season was a wash with injuries. Less athletic than Covington Costa has a superior feel for the game and better instincts.

No comments: