Wednesday, August 17, 2005

2005 Opponent Position Preview - Defensive Line | by Pat

The position preview makes its way to the other side of the ball as we cover the opponents who will be lining up across the line of scrimmage from Notre Dame's offensive line.

(As always, all stats from the 2004 season. Here's a handy shorthand key: TFL = tackle(s) for loss. QBH = QB hurries. FF = forced fumble. FR = fumble recovered. LOL = laughing out loud.)


DE - Joe Clermond. 27 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FR.
DT - Phil Tilman. 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 QBH.
DT - Thomas Smith. 47 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR. - Returning Starter.
DE - Charles Sallet. 26 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR. - Returning Starter.

Smith(right) is the veteran presence on the line and is expected to be disruptive up the middle as he moves from defensive end to defensive tackle. Who will line up next to Smith is still up in the air as a number of candidates are vying for the job. Phil Tilman is the only candidate with any playing experience and definitely has space-eater size at 315lbs. On the wings, Pitt's defensive ends are prime examples of Wannstedt's defensive emphasis on speed over size. Clermond was a reserve end and linebacker last season and at 6'2" 240lbs will have to use his speed to beat large tackles like 315lb Mark LeVoir. Sallet started nine games last season, but is still rather undersized at 6'0" 235lbs. He suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out of spring practices so he will have to earn his starting spot back this fall. Depth: Hoping to take Sallet's starting spot is sophomore Chris McKillop. McKillop is slightly bigger than Sallet (6'2" 240lbs) but still relies on speed. Tilman's grasp on the starting job is being challenged by a trio of mainly inexperienced wide bodies in Craig Bokor, Ron Idoko, and Nick Wiliams. Really, with the way that Coach Wannstedt is moving players around, starters on Pitt's defensive line probably won't be solidified until right before the Irish come to town.


DE - Pierre Woods. 22 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 QBH, 1 FR. - Returning Starter.
NT - Gabe Watson. 37 tackles, 7 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FF. - Returning Starter.
DT - Pat Massey. 37 tackles, 5 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 QBH. - Returning Starter.
DE - Lamar Woodley. 70 tackles, 16 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 QBH. 3 FF. - Returning Starter.

Reports seem mixed on if Michigan will be running a 3-4 or 4-3 defense this season. Odds are they will switch back and forth a few times, based on opponent matchups. We'll go with 4-3 for the sake of this preview to cover the guys who likely will be playing should the Wolverines utilize four down lineman. The one certainty is that planet eater Gabe Watson (left) will be slamming his massive 6'4" 331lb body into double teams all season long. His effort level has been questioned, but when motivated he's about as good as any tackle in college football. Michigan will need him to live up to his potential if they want to get more pressure on the quarterback. Taking advantage of the attention paid to Watson, Massey will use his 6'8" 285lb frame to keep pressuring quarterbacks while getting his hands into passing lanes. Woodley is one of the best and most versatile defenders on the Michigan team. He can play with his hands on the ground and rush the passer, but has the speed to handle things at linebacker should Michigan switch to the 3-4. Woods is similar, but had a disappointing season last year and will need to improve on his production. Depth: At tackle, Alan Branch bring another enourmous body (345lbs) to the mix while incoming fresham Terrance Taylor could work his way into some playing time. Rondell Biggs has some experience at end and provides depth along with one-time Irish commit Jeremy Van Alstyne and Tim Jamison.


DE - Michael Bazemore. 17 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack.
DT - Domata Peko. 14 tackles, 2 QBH.
DT - Brandon McKinney. 42 tackles, 2 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 3 QBH, 1 FR. - Returning Starter.
DE - Clifton Ryan. 41 tackles, 7 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 7 QBH, 1 FF. - Returning Starter.

The Spartan defensive line returns six of its top eight from last year so they should be a fairly deep unit this season, but there are still questions about how they will perform. Ryan(right) is the rising star and has emerged as the leader of the line. A well-rounded end, he can hold his own either rushing the passer or defending against the run. The other three starters are all seniors so the line will provide a veteran presence for the rest of the defense. The Spartan front four will be one of the biggest lines that the Irish face with three lineman at or over 300lbs. McKinney in particular will be a big obstacle in the middle at 315lbs. Depth: Justin Kershaw has impressed the coaches and should see some time at end while three JUCO lineman were brought in to add depth to a thin line. One of them, David Stanton, has already been earning the praise for his work in fall camp.


DE - Brandon Ala. 18 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 QBH. - Returning Starter.
DT - Jordan White-Frisbee. 26 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 FR. - Returning Starter.
DT - Manase Hopoi. 54 tackles, 22 TFL, 9 sacks. - Returning Starter.
DE - Greyson Gunheim. 16 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks. - Returning Starter.

Washington's d-line had a rough run last season and was forced to start two freshman. Now back with experience under their belt, the line should be one of the more improved lines that the Irish will have to face next season. Hopoi(left) is an All-American caliber defensive tackle who will draw plenty of attention from Notre Dame's offensive line. Next to Hopoi, White-Frisbee will return for his sophomore year as one of the bigger lineman in the country at 6'6" 330lbs. If he can increase his strength and successfully return from a broken leg, he will pair with Hopoi to give the Huskies an excellent interior defensive line. Gunheim needs to get a bit bigger (245lbs) but has the speed to be a respectable pass rusher. Only a sophomore, he should keep getting better as the season progresses. Ala is similar in size to Gunheim and will give the Huskies another quick lineman on the outside. Depth: Mike Mapoulesega started a handful of games at end last season and now has moved inside. He will start if Frisbee-White needs additional time to recover. Competition for the starters and additional depth will be provided by Wilson Afoa and Jordan Reffert.


DE - Anthony Spencer. 33 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 8 sacks, 3 FF. - Returning Starter.
DT - Brandon Villareal. 50 tackles 17.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks. - Returning Starter.
DT - Brent Grover. 41 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 FR. - Returning Starter.
DE - Ray Edwards. 45 tackles, 11 TFL, 8 sacks, 1FR, 2 FF. - Returning Starter.

This line has been getting plenty of hype, but nearly all of it has been earned. Edwards is one of the best pass rushers in the Big Ten and will be a load to handle for any team. At 6'6" 270 he is a slighty larger version of Justin Tuck; able to handle the run and a feared pass rusher. He will team with Anthony Spencer(right) to give Purdue two defensive ends who are projected early NFL draft picks. The middle of the line is manned by a pair of seniors with plenty of size and experience. Villareal is also considered a top notch NFL prospect while Grover is the top veteran on a veteran line with 34 starts under his ample belt. Depth: Backup Rob Ninkovich is an excellent defensive end should Spencer or Edwards get hurt--although Tiller is toying with the idea of redshirting him-- and Eugune Bright is young, but very fast. Depth at defensive tackle is a bit light with potential there, but not much in the way of proven ability. The big name backup at tackle is Ryan Baker, who at one time committed to Notre Dame before switching to Purdue to play tight end.


DE - Lawrence Jackson. 32 tackles, 11 TFL, 6 sacks. - Returning Starter.
DT - Sedrick Ellis. 2 tackles.
DT - LaJuan Ramsey. 2 tackles.
DE - Frostee Rucker. 29 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF. - Returning Starter.

Not many teams took as big a graduation hit as USC. Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson were big reasons for the Trojan's tough defense and replacing them is most likely Pete Carroll's biggest challenge. Two more hits came when defensive end Manuel Wright opted for the supplemental draft and incoming JUCO Gabe Long failed to become eligble. Still, don't weep for the Trojans as they have plenty of talent, albeit largely unproven. Rucker(left) is proven and, assuming he fully recovers from a toe injury, will be a leader on the line. Jackson started games last year as a freshman and should be even better after a year of college weight training. The middle is the question mark of sorts as the physical Ellis won praise from the coaches in the spring, but still only has two tackles for his career. Ramsey is an oft-injured player but when healthy has shown the ability to produce at both end and tackle. Depth: The Trojan DL depth took another hit when potential starter Jeff Schweiger injured his knee during the summer. It is possible he could be back for the matchup in South Bend, but it's too early to tell. Another expected contributor, incoming all-everything recruit Walker Lee Ashley is still having trouble qualifying and homesickness may keep him back in his home state of Minnesota for good. Still Fili Moala and freshman Kyle Moore have been playing extremely well in fall camp and should make a contribution to the team's depth this season.


DE - Manaia Brown. 26 tackles, 9 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FF. - Returning Starter.
NT - Vince Feula. 25 tackles, 1 TFL. - Returning Starter.
DE - Justin Carlson-Maddux. 23 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 QBH. - Returning Starter.

BYU's 3-3-5 defensive alignment will return where the goal of the down lineman is to keep the offensive lineman busy while the linebackers make the play on the ball. Brown(right) is a big (6'4" 315lb) end who transferred from Nebraska and now is the star of the BYU line. Feula is the line's anchor and will command more than a few double teams. Carlson-Maddux is the pass rusher of this rotation and adds a bit of speed to the BYU line. Depth: Daniel Marquardt split time with Feula last season and gives BYU an excellent NT rotation. Recently Coach Mendenhall has been experimenting with the putting Marquardt at NT and moving Feula to DE. This might be his "big" run defense line while Carlson-Maddux and quick T.J. Sitake could play end (as they did in the spring) if Mendenhall wants a "fast"line more capable of getting a decent pass rush. Hala Paongo and Mike Marquardt round out the defensive line rotation.


DE - Jason Hall. 27 tackles, 4 TFL, 3 sacks, 7 QBH.
DT - Justin Harrell. 26 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 11 QBH, 2 FF, 2 FR. - Returning Starter.
DT - Jesse Mahelona. 42 tackles, 18.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 7 QBH. - Returning Starter.
DE - Parys Haralson. 43 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 19 QBH, 2 FR, 1 FF. - Returning Starter.

The best line that Notre Dame will face and perhaps one of the best in the nation, Tennessee's defensive line will be a tough task even for ND's veteran offensive line. Big, strong, and fast, Mahelona is an All-American tackle who has the ability to dominate a game. Haralson is an exceptional pass rusher off the edge who constantly getting pressure on the quarterback. Harrell(left) capped a productive 2004 with defensive MVP honors in the Cotton Bowl and should thrive this year, especially if teams decide to focus on Mahelona. Hall is the only non-returning starter on the line, but the one-time SEC Player of the Week (7 tackles, 2 sacks vs. Georgia) is effective against both the run and the pass. Depth: Turk McBride would probably start for just about any other team in the country and gives the Vols a 5th star lineman. And in a case of the rich getting richer, Hargrave Academy defensive tackle Demonte Bolden enrolled in Tennessee in the spring to rave reviews from Coach Fulmer. And just in case that isn't enough, Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds are ends with both speed and game experience.


DE - Jeremy Chase. 46 tackles, 11 TFL, 1 sacks, 1 FR. - Returning Starter.
DT - Larry Cylc.
DE - John Chan. 2 tackles, 1 QBH.

Navy also features the 3-4 front seven, most likely due to the difficult time of getting enough defensive lineman who are both big, strong, and fast enough to handle the position. Chase(right) is one of the three returning starters on the Midshipmen team and will have to rally a line that is short on experience and size. After gaining 25 pounds from last year and hitting 290lbs, Cylc will be the best option, such as it is, at defensive tackle. Chan reportedly is one of the strongest lineman on the Navy team, but at 6'1", 246lbs he's going to have to rely on quickness or he will get overwhelmed by larger offensive lineman. Depth: Tye Adams moved from linebacker and will add more speed to the Navy line, but at 224lbs will need to get stronger and bigger if he wants to see more than the obvious passing down. Backing up Chase falls to Andrew Tattersall, who has a bit more size than Adams at 6'4" 249lbs.


DE - James Wyche. 68 tackles, 15 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 6 QBH, 1 FR. - Returning Starter.
DT - Tony Jenkins. 49 tackles, 3 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 3 QBH, 1 FR. - Returning Starter.
DT - Kader Drame. 31 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 1 QBH. - Returning Starter.
DE - Ryan LaCasse. 32 tackles, 7 TFL, 5 sacks, 6 QBH, 4 FF.

Wyche(left) will lead a fairly robust Syracuse defensive line. Wyche is an all-Big East performer and pre-season All-American who is exceptionally fast for his size (6'6" 267lbs). Returning starters Jenkins and Drame anchor the middle and should both provide a solid run defense. LaCasse assumes full time duties and the expectations for him are sky-high. If Jenkins and Drame can command some double teams, LaCasse could have an excellent year. Depth: Chris Thorner is a load at 6'4" 313lbs and will undoubtedly seem some time at defensive tackle. Eugene Brown will start the season as Drame's backup and will need to live up to his potential if Syracuse hopes to establish a solid rotation at the tackle spots.


DE -Casey Carroll. 12 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack.
NT -Babatunde Oshinowo. 41 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks. - Returning Starter.
DE - Julian Jenkins. 47 tackles, 8 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 2 FR. - Returning Starter.

The Cardinal is the third Irish opponent that primarily uses the 3-4 defense and their version is probably the best. Both Jenkins and Oshinowo were all-conference performers last season and are 5th year seniors and three time letter winners. Jenkins(right) in particular is being called upon to be the force that he has displayed in flashes during his career at Stanford. Carroll is the lone new starter and is more of a tackle at 6'2" 290lbs but is manning the defensive end spot. However, he has played in 31 of Stanford's last 33 games so he does have some experience. Depth: The backups are lacking experience with potential being the most common adjective used to describe them. Redshirt freshman Pannel Egboh and Gustav Rydstedt have bulked up over the summer and expect to work in to the defensive line rotation. Matt McClernan is a transplanted offensive lineman who for now appears to be the backup for Oshinowo at nose tackle. One last wildcard to keep an eye out for is one time Notre Dame recruit James McGillicuddy.

2005 Opponent Defensive Line Analysis and Rankings

The impact of both Coach Weis' offense and Coach Latina's abilities as a line coach will be immediately tested as Notre Dame is scheduled to face veteran defensive line after veteran defensive line. Of the 41 lineman listed in this preview, 30 are returning starters. Only one school, Navy, has more new starters than returning starters. And on top of the experience, there are potential stars all over the place. Watson, Hopoi, Ryan, Edwards, Spencer, Villarreal, Brown, Maholena, Haralson, Wyche, Oshinowo, and Jenkins are all serious contenders for post-season All-American honors.

Now, Notre Dame does have a solid, veteran line with the talent to go toe to toe with any name on this list, but facing such quality defensive lines game after game will take its toll and could expose the lack of Irish O-line depth. I still expect the Notre Dame offense to greatly improve this season, but they are going to have to earn it against quality defenses. Here's my own ranking of the defensive line units that will line up against the Irish.

1. Tennessee - One of the best lines in the country. Big, strong, fast, and deep.
2. Purdue - A veteran line filled with NFL talent. Top notch ends and tackles.
3. Michigan - Watson is the star of this talented line. Need to show they can pressure the QB.
4. USC - Playing against USC's offense in practice will whip this unit into shape.
5. Stanford - Jenkins and Oshinowo are two of the best lineman in the Pac10.
6. Syracuse - Overlooked by many, the Orange will have a very good line this year.
7. Washington - Hopoi is a major disruption in the middle. More experience will aid the others.
8. BYU - Not too many dominant players, but a pretty deep depth chart.
9. Pitt - Speed over size may work out if Smith can adapt to playing tackle.
10. MSU - Other than Ryan, the line all need to step up their game.
11. Navy - Chase is actually a very good DE. But he can't do it all by himself.