Saturday, August 25, 2007

2007 Opponent Postion Preview: Defensive Line | by Pat

Chugging along, we've finished the offense (QB, RB, WR, TE/OL) and now move on to the defensive line. With a revamped ND offensive line, just what kind of opposition will they face in the trenches?

The stat legend goes as follows: TFL = tackles for loss, INT = interception, FR = fumble recovered, FF = fumble forced. I decided to leave off the QB hurry stat since I think each school records it differently and therefore isn't terribly insightful in a side-by-side comparison. If anyone has any additional info/corrections, please feel free to chime in.


DE - Adamm Oliver. (#48 DE) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 70 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 11.0 TFL, 1 FR, 1 FF.
DT - Vance Walker. Junior. New Starter.
2006 stats: 17 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1.0 TFL.
DT - Darryl Richard. (#26 DT) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 20 tackles, 3.5 TFL.
DE - Darrell Robertson. Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 54 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 7.0 TFL, 1 FF.

The veteran on the Tech line is defensive end Adamm Oliver. He was fourth on the team in tackles last year and has 27 career starts to his name. If need be, he can slide inside and play defensive tackle. Darryl Richard is the former ND recruit who has locked down one of the starting defensive tackle spots. He’s started 17 games so far and this year will be one of the best defensive tackles in the ACC. Fellow defensive tackle Vance Walker is the lone new full-time starter on the Tech line although he has started four games in the past (including the ND game). Not quite as big as Richard at 275 pounds, Walker should do a decent job filling in for the graduated and talented Joe Anoai. Darrell Robinson (right) appears to finally have grown into the speedy yet strong defensive end Tech fans envisioned when he signed in 2004. Built like a classic weakside defensive end at 6'5", 250 pounds, Robinson has the potential to lead the team in sacks in 2007. Depth: Another extremely athletic defensive end option is 6'7" 250 pound Michael Johnson. He was second on the team in sacks last year with five and will be in a regular rotation at defensive end along with sophomore Robert Hall and talented freshmen Derrick Morgan.


DE - Maurice Evans.
(#58 DE) Sophomore. New Starter.
2006 stats: 12 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL.
DT - Jared Odrick. Sophomore. New Starter.
2006 stats: 4 tackles, 1.0 sack, 1.0 TFL.
DT - Philip Taylor. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
2006 stats: Redshirted.
DE - Josh Gaines. RS Junior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 25 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 2.0 TFL, 2 FR.

Penn State’s experienced line of last year is gone and in its place is a younger, but still talented line with a few highly regarded recruits getting their chance to shine. Defensive end Josh Gaines is the lone returning starter although he wasn't too much of a factor last year. In the middle of the line, Jared Odrick makes his debut at tackle after seeing limited action in 12 games last season at defensive end. He's a first-time starter, but he does have a bright future in the middle of the line. Next to him is massive 6'4", 337 pound sophomore Philip Taylor, who currently is still out with an MCL injury in his knee. It's not certain he'll be back for the ND game, but it is looking more and more like that will be the case. The third of four new starters, Maurice Evans, has high expectations and is expected to quickly stake his claim as PSU's best defensive lineman. He has the speed to make things tough for most left tackles and the size at 6'3" 265 pounds to hold his own in the running game. Depth: Abe Koroma was in line to start in place of Taylor, but he broke his foot last week and now won't be able to suit up for the ND game. Ollie Ogbu is now going to be thrust into the starting role at defensive tackle until Taylor can return from his injury. Even if he doesn't start against ND, expect the 6'1" 295 pound redshirt freshman to play often. Chris Baker has also seen plenty of practice reps with the first team and will probably be a part of a rotation given the Nittany Lion's inexperience along the line, assuming his role in an off-season altercation doesn't keep him from seeing the field. Redshirt freshman Tom McEowen has come back from a torn ACL last year and as he works back into game shape will help provide another body on the depth chart.


DE - Tim Jamison.
(#41 DE) RS Junior. New Starter.
2006 stats: 13 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 5.0 TFL.
DT - Terrance Taylor. (#12 DT) Junior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 23 tackles, 1.0 sack, 5.0 TFL.
DT - Will Johnson. RS Junior. New Starter.
2006 stats: 7 tackles, 1.0 sack, 2.5 TFL.
DE - Brandon Graham. Sophomore. New Starter.
2006 stats: 3 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 0.5 TFL.

The strength of Michigan’s team last season, the Wolverine defensive line is being revamped for 2007. The lone returning starter is Terrance Taylor (right), a sizable run-stuffer at 300 pounds. Taylor didn't get many tackles last year, although the presence of Alan Branch and LaMarr Woodley account for some of that. He's talented, but will need to increase his production now that he is the leader of the line. Replacing the mammoth Branch is currently career backup Will Johnson. He has only started one game so far, but has seen action in a number of games when the starters needed a break. Now he'll have to prove he can stop the run and collapse the pocket on every down. At 6'5", he should have some success in getting his hands into passing lanes. Tim Jamison has been on the verge of for a few years now and in 2007 will finally get the chance to be a full time starter. His 5 sacks in limited action last year is impressive and a sign that he could be in line for a strong 2007. On the opposite side of the line, talented sophomore Brandon Graham will look to live up to the lofty expectations placed upon him. He showed up overweight as a freshman but lost 30 pounds to get down to 265 pounds and now should have better mobility from his defensive end spot. Depth: Former ND recruit Jason Kates is in the mix at defensive tackle and will probably rotate with Will Johnson during the season. There is more depth at defensive tackle with Marques Slocum, who has overcome two years of academic ineligibility, and redshirt freshman John Ferrera. Both might need some time though as Slocum is undoubtedly rusty and Ferrera is a bit light at 270 pounds. At defensive end, sophomores Adam Patterson and Greg Banks will backup Graham and Jamison.


DE - Ervin Baldwin.
Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 35 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 6.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 FR.
DT - John Stipek. Sophomore. New Starter.
2006 stats: 2 tackles, 1 FR.
DT - Justin Kershaw. Junior. New Starter.
2006 stats: 26 tackles, 2 TFL,
DE - Brandon Long. Junior. New Starter.
2006 stats: 8 tackles, 0.5 TFL

Michigan State’s defensive line is largely going to be a work in progress this year. Justin Kershaw played defensive end last season, but the lack of depth in the middle has forced him to bulk up and slide down to defensive tackle for 2007. He was listed at 6'5" 260 pounds last year, so he still might be a bit undersized as defensive tackles go. Next to him will be sophomore John Stipek who played a bit as a freshman, but like Kershaw will be small by tackle standards at 270 pounds. Ervin Baldwin (left) will bring experience to the defensive end position but overall wasn't terribly effective. The highlight of his year was catching a gift-wrapped screen pass from Brady Quinn and returning it for a touchdown. The other defensive end, Brandon Long, saw some action last year, but his production only came against Indiana, Pitt, and Eastern Michigan. Continuing a theme, he's a bit light at 245 pounds. Depth: It appears that there are a few bodies capable of providing depth but overall it's pretty inexperienced. There are high expectations on freshman defensive tackle Antonio Jeremiah, but it might be asking a lot to expect too much by the ND game. Ogemdi Nwagbuo started six games last year at tackle and picked up 23 tackles, but lost his starting role. At end, Jonal Saint-Dic is back, but he's likely just a career backup at this point. Junior college transfer Michael Jordan is the one wildcard. Listed at 6'5" 295 pounds he's mentioned as a defensive end but has the size to play inside as well. He'll probably push for a starting job somewhere as the season progresses, assuming he transitions rapidly from junior college to the Big Ten.


DE - Cliff Avril.
(#28 DE) Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 84 tackles, 6.0 sacks, 10.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FR, 2 FF.
DT - Ryan Baker. Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 25 tackles, 6.0 sacks, 8.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FF.
DT - Alex Magee. Junior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 33 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FF.
DE - Mike McDonald. Senior. New Starter.
2006 stats: 12 tackles, 1.0 sack, 2.0 TFL.

Purdue’s line does return three of four starters, but they lost NFL 1st rounder Anthony Spencer and still were ranked last season 114th and 104th in the nation in rush and pass defense, respectively. Cliff Avril (right) did have a productive season though after being moved from linebacker. Third on the team in tackles, Avril might find things a bit more difficult without Spencer drawing most of the attention. Still, he should be a competent,if not good, defensive end. One-time ND verbal Ryan Baker returns at defensive tackle and even though he's still he did pick up a noteworthy 6 sacks last year from his interior tackle spot. Alex Magee is back at defensive tackle after seeing spot time at defensive end last year. At 295 pounds he's much more suited for the interior. Mike McDonald did start three games last year, but he doesn't have much to show for it in terms of tackles and sacks. Much more will be expected from him in 2007. Depth: 293 pound Mike Neal will provide depth at defensive tackle while redshirt senior defensive end Eugene Bright will have one final year to make an impact.


DE - Bruce Davis.
(#8) Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 47 tackles, 12.5 tackles, 17.5 TFL, 2 FR, 3 FF.
DT - Kevin Brown. (#18 DT) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 24 tackles, 1.0 sack, 6.0 TFL, 1 FR.
DT - Brigham Harwell. (#21 DT) Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 31 tackles, 1.0 sack, 6.5 TFL, 1 FF.
DE - Nikola Dragovic. RS Senior. New Starter.
2006 stats: 7 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 FR.

UCLA’s vaunted defensive line returns nearly intact, although they will surely miss the presence of departed All-American Justin Hickman. However, pre-season All-American Bruce Davis (left) is back and while he might find it a bit tougher without a bookend talent like Hickman, he still could notch double digits sacks. He's still small for an end at 235 pounds, but he's extremely quick and very tough for his size. In the middle, tough Kevin Brown is back although statistically he didn't have a great year in 2006. Next to him, 6'2" 299 pound Brigham Harwell and his 23 career starts will add even more experience to the Bruin line. The end tasked with replacing the speedy Hickman is Nikola Dragovic. Dragovic actually was the starter in 2005 for four games before a knee injury sidelined him for the season. When he came back in 2006, he was stuck behind Hickman and Davis. Depth: Chase Moline (#56 DT) has nine career starts from 2005 under his belt and will continue to provide support off the bench. The depth did take a bit of a hit when experienced defensive end Kenneth Lomard switched over to fullback and prized tackle recruit Brian Price is still waiting on academic clearance from the NCAA Clearinghouse. In the meantime, sophomore Jess Ward will pick up a few snaps here and there.


DE - Nick Larkin. Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 33 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 6.0 TFL.
DT - B.J. Raji. (#20 DT) Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 23 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 8.5 TFL, 1 FF.
DT - Ron Brace. RS Junior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 20 tackles, 3.5 TFL.
DE - Jim Ramella. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
2006 stats: Injury redshirt.

The theme to the Eagles defense is size in the middle and inexperience on the edges. Mammoth-sized tackle B.J. Raji (right; 325 pounds) and Ron Brace (325 pounds) will make it extremely hard to run up the middle. Both have lost some weight in order to improve their mobility for rushing the passer and judging from last year's stat totals it was needed. Raji is the better of the two and has started 24 of the last 25 games. Jim Ramella is back in the lineup after sitting out all of 2006 with an injured shoulder. He played a key backup role as a freshman in 2005 so he's not completely inexperienced. There will be some rust to work though, but by the time the Eagles visit South Bend he should be hitting his stride as a capable end. Nick Larkin has started 25 straight games, but he's much more in the dependable veteran mold than a true threat off the edge. Depth: The sophomore class has plenty of potential, with defensive end Alex Albright and end/tackle Austin Giles (younger brother of former ND player Zach) leading the way. Giles in fact started five games last year at defensive end and was second on the team in sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (7.5).


DE - Lawrence Jackson. (#2 DE) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 43 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 11.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 FF.
DT - Sedrick Ellis. (#3 DT) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 34 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 8.0 TFL, 2 FR, 1 FF.
DT - Fili Moala. (#8 DT) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 20 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 7.0 TFL, 1 FR.
DE - Kyle Moore. (#31 DE) Junior. New Starter.
2006 stats: 5 tackles.

One of the most talented defensive lines in the country, the Trojan line is just loaded with experience, talent, depth, and exciting new players. The star of the line is the dominating defensive tackle Sedric Ellis (left). He's a pre-season All-American and the best defensive tackle ND will face. He will give ND’s line fits all game long. Paired with Ellis is equally strong and athletic Fili Moili. Defensive end Lawrence Jackson was a pre-season All-American pick in 2006, but struggled during the season with minor injuries and didn’t record a sack until the ninth game of the season. He’s healthy now and is expected to have the sort of multi-sack year predicted in 2006. The only new starter on the Trojan line, redshirt sophomore Kyle Moore, is an extremely quick end who has been a backup so far in his career. Depth: One thing to watch out for is the play of freshman Everson Griffen, considered by some recruiting sites to be the #1 overall recruit in the nation last year. He hasn’t fully adapted to college ball yet, but his physical talents mean it won’t be long until the 265 pound end is using his speed to blow by frustrated linemen. He will rotate with Kyle Moore and possibly overtake him as the starter sometime during the season. Redshirt senior Alex Morrow has been a career backup, but he will still be able to provide depth. There is some depth at defensive tackle is decidedly young. Redshirt sophomore Averil Spicer is the only backup who has played in a game with redshirt freshman Derek Simmons and freshmen DaJohn Harris and Christian Tupuo providing the rest of the inexperienced depth.


DE - Michael Walsh. Junior. New Starter.
2006 stats: 2 tackles, 1 TFL.
NT - Nate Frazier. Sophomore. New Starter.
2006 stats: 0 tackles.
DE - Chris Kuhar-Pitters. Senior. New Starter.
2006 stats: 0 tackles.

Like at offensive line, Navy finally has some size along their defensive line. However, that size is young and almost completely inexperienced. Consider that the entire starting d-line has two career tackles and one tackle for loss (against ND as it turns out). Headlining the young line is 6'3" 285 pound sophomore Nate Frazier(right). He only saw spot duty last year and now he'll have to hold his ground against frequent double teams as the nose tackle in Navy's 3-4 defense. At one defensive end position is senior Chris Kuhar-Pitters. He hasn't registered any stats either but he's also a senior and doesn't have the promise that Frazier does. At 260 pounds he's big enough, but will still need to rely on quickness in order to rush the passer. Michael Walsh is the lightest of the three at 238 pounds and likely will have trouble with bigger offensive linemen. Depth: Joining Frazier in the young and big category is backup nose tackle Andrew Lark. At 6'0" 290 pounds, Lark is built like a nose tackle and already is one of the stronger members of the team. He should do a quality job this year spelling Frazier. At end Navy has another pair of sophomores in 240 pound Kyle Bookout and 250 pound Jordan Stephans. Neither should be that effective this year, but with all that youth Navy is slowly building a decent d-line.


DE - Jake Paulson. Junior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 15 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 3.0 TFL, 2 FR.
NT - Jared Marvin. Junior. New Starter.
2006 stats: 5 tackles.
DE - Josh Clayton. Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 23 tackles, 3.o sacks, 3.0 TFL, 1 FF.

The Air Force line also features the 3-4 alignment found at Navy (and now ND). The only new starter is nose tackle Jared Marvin. Marvin did start two games last year, including the ND game, so he's not completely new to starting. Still, he only picked up five tackles on the year. At a generous 5'11" and 270 pounds, look for him to just hunker down and try and get in the way. Defensive end Jake Paulson (left) was slowed by a dislocated elbow last year but is back healthy and is the best pass rusher that the Cadets have. At 6'5", 265 pounds he has enough size to help defend the run too. Like Paulson, Josh Clayton has his 2006 season shortened due to an arm injury. He's healthy now and should provide a decent pass rush. Still, the ability to stop the run will be a tough test for the Cadets in 2007. Depth: Just in the past few days, Keith Williams was switched from the defensive line back to the OL, where he will start at left tackle. The defensive end backups are sophomore Ben Garland and junior Ryan Kemp while sophomore Ryan Gonzales is the backup nose tackle.


DE - Patrick Bailey. Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 77 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 12.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FR.
DT - Vince Oghobaase. (#16 DT) RS Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 26 tackles, 1.0 sack, 6.5 TFL.
DT - Clifford Respress. Junior. New Starter.
2006 stats: 14 tackles, 0.5 TFL.
DT - Ayanga Okpokowuruk. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
2006 stats: 16 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2.5 TFL, 1 FR.

Duke’s defensive line underperformed last year, but they do return a very talented tackle in the form of Vince Oghobaase (right). A talented recruit who turned down offers from Miami and others out of high school, the 6'6" 300 pound Obhobaasee should contend for all-conference honors this year. His play in the middle will make things even easier for Patrick Bailey on the end. A three year starter with 20 career starts, Bailey is the veteran leader of the line and was third on the team in tackles last season. : Outdoing Oghobaase in the name department is defensive end Ayanga Okpokowuruk. He started five games last year at defensive end and now will enter the season as the full-time starter. Only a sophomore, he has the potential to turn into a solid defensive end. Clifford Respress will take over the defensive tackle spot where he saw a decent amount of snaps last season. At 275 pounds, Respress is a smaller defensive tackle but might still find some opportunity with teams focusing on Oghobaase. Depth: Pushing Respress for the starting spot is Kinney Rucker, a 6'2", 300 pound redshirt sophomore who is one of the stronger players on the team. Expected to rotate in and help out at defensive end is redshirt sophomore Ryan Radloff and junior Greg Akinbiyi. After them is a collection of freshmen and sophomores looking for their first game action, including Patrick Egboh, brother of Stanford's DE Pannel.


DE - Udeme Udofia. RS Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 39 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR.
DT - Ekom Udofia. RS Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 43 tackles, 1 sack, 1.5 TFL.
DT - Chris Horn. RS Senior. Returning Starter.
2006 stats: 27 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4.0 TFL, 1 INT. 1 FF.
DE - Erik Lorig. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
2006 stats: played tight end.

Last year Stanford ran a 3-4 defense, but under new head coach Jim Harbaugh they are switching to a 4-3 defense. As part of the switch, Udeme Udofia has transitioned from linebacker, where he has started 20 games, to defensive end. His brother, Ekom Udofia (left), had a solid first season as a starter last year and the 6'2" 310 pound tackle is expected to make more of a name for himself this season. What might slow him down is a shoulder injury that cost him all of spring practice. Next to Ekom is senior Chris Horn; recently selected team captain. Horn started every game last year at defensive end, but has moved inside with the shift to the 4-3. There might be a few growing pains with the new position, but ND doesn't play Stanford until the final game of the season and he should be well-adjusted by then. Converted tight end Erik Lorig appears to be the starter at defensive end. He's extremely athletic, but it might take him a bit of time to adjust to being on defense. Depth: The depth chart at tackle took a bit of a hit when 6'4" 290 pound Sione Fua decided to take his two year Mormon mission and Matt Kopa was moved to the offensive line. Still, versatile lineman Pannel Egboh and sophomore Levirt Griffin will provide some depth.Also, Gustav Rydstedt was moved to the offensive line in the spring, but is back at defensive tackle now. At end, Emmanuel Awofadeju will back up Udofia and Egboh has the ability to slide back out to end if needed.

2006 Defensive Line Analysis and Ranking

There were a few things I was interested in finding out when I started this preview. Would our young OL face any stacked,veteran lines and what kind of pass rushers is our new starting left tackle Paul Duncan going to face? Let's start off with the high level look. No suprise, Southern Cal is going to feature perhaps the best defensive line in college football. Their starting four is loaded and that's not even counting talented freshman Everson Griffen. But after the dangerous Trojans, the only defensive lines that really stand out are the Yellow Jacket and Bruin lines. Both of them have to replace their best player from last year, but both are still full of talented players. And both will be a tall test for the Irish, especially with the Tech line being the season opener opponent.

After those three teams though, the rest of the schedule doesn't look too bad. Yes Michigan and Penn State are replacing departing talents with highly recruited backups, but that's exactly what ND is doing at offensive line. (And let's be brutally honest here, Bob Morton had a rough 2006 at right guard and Dan Wenger should be an upgrade.) That's not to say that ND is going to shove around these teams; far from it. But this is not last year's Michigan or Penn State defensive line, even if they are filled with names familiar to recruitniks.

Beyond that, Boston College's line has some serious size in the interior which should hurt ND's power running up the middle, but I'm not exactly sold on their defensive ends. Hopefully by that game ND has developed a somewhat decent passing game. Purdue, Stanford, and even Duke return pretty decent lines, but at this point they are filled with more recognizable names and experience than successful production.

Switching to the pass rush issue, Paul Duncan is going to have some tough tests in 2007. He's one of the keys to the outcome of this season even though he rarely gets mentioned in the press. If he has a good year, the new QB will have time to pass. If he fails, ND will have to switch up the line and move Young to left tackle which negate the chemistry the line has been working on all fall. Some of the talents that Duncan will line up against include SC's Lawrence Jackson, Tech's Adamm Oliver, UCLA's Bruce Davis, Michigan's Tim Jamison, and even PSU's Maurice Evans and Purdue's Cliff Avril. All are very quick off the ball and will try every trick in their bag to blow by ND's new starting tackle. Make sure to keep an eye on how Duncan does against an athletic Yellow Jacket on September 1st. If he can handle them, then ND's chances the rest of the season will get a lot brighter.

Looking at my rankings, I'd say that the top three are on a tier of their own. #4 through #8 are pretty close with PSU getting dinged a bit due to their rash of injuries. Duke might actually surprise some people with their DL, but by then I would think that ND's OL will be doing the same. MSU, Navy, and Air Force are all in a rebuilding mode this season with young players filling in all over.

1. USC - Multiple All-American candidates in Ellis and Jackson.
2. Georgia Tech - A veteran, speedy line that will look to confuse ND's new OL.
3. UCLA - Davis should have another solid year and the depth at DT is pretty good.
4. Purdue - Nothing terribly special, but a veteran line with a decent end in Avril.
5. Michigan - Plenty of potential, but they will still be inexperienced when they play ND.
6. Boston College - Good size in the middle, average talent at defensive end.
7. Stanford - This line actually might be underrated here if Ekom Udofia stays healthy.
8. Penn State - Hurt by injuries, this line has potential but also plays ND early in the season.
9. Duke - Oghobaase will be pretty good, but it will take more than one guy.
10. Michigan State - A rebuilding year although Baldwin could turn in a solid year.
11. Navy - The line is getting bigger, but they are still young. Next year they will be better.
12. Air Force -New small starters and returning starters recovering from injuries. Not a good mix.