Rating the Big Ten - Defensive Line
By Tony Gerdeman
The way to a championship starts on the defensive line, even though it ends on the offensive line. With a stout defensive line, a team can set the tone very early on, and they can do it from a number of directions. The better the front four, the more versatile the rest of the defense can be.
Unfortunately, the Big Ten is on a downturn when it comes to the defensive line, which is how a team like Ohio State, with zero starters returning, can essentially be the default #1 on this list.
Penn State also has claim to the top spot on this list, but depth will continue to be an issue in Happy Valley for the next few years.
1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes have to replace all four of their starters from last season, but they do it with three five-star sophomores and a four-star junior. Defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington both played as true freshmen last season. Washington finished second on the team among defensive linemen with three sacks. Spence was unblockable in the spring, and there are a ton of expectations for him this season. Defensive tackle Tommy Schutt was actually the first and only freshman defensive lineman to start last year. Michael Bennett is an explosive, yet slightly undersized defensive tackle. There is very little experience, but a great deal of young, talented depth.
2. Penn State
Sophomore defensive end Deion Barnes was a Freshman All-American last season, leading the Nittany Lions with six sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones started 11 games last season, notching 22 tackles and two tackles for loss. Defensive end Anthony Zettel had four sacks off the bench as a redshirt freshman, and is expected to be more productive this season. He will be battling with two others for the job opposite Barnes. They need to find another defensive tackle, and it looks like they'll be choosing from a trio of redshirt freshmen. It worked out last year with Barnes and Zettel, however. DL coach Larry Johnson is one of the best, so he'll get the most out of them.
3. Michigan State
Defensive end Marcus Rush may end up being the best defensive end in the conference. Just a junior, he already has 27 starts to his credit, and was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten performer last season. The other three defensive line spots are open, but there is a ton of starting experience to choose from. Defensive tackles James Kittredge (5 starts last season) and Tyler Hoover (13 career starts) will be joined by Lawrence Thomas, who moves from fullback. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun had a solid freshman year last season with five QB hurries, and he will likely battle with senior Denzel Drone (six career starts) for the other end spot.
Wisconsin has moved from a base 4-3 defense to a 3-4, and if the spring is any indication, it was a very good decision by new head coach Gary Andersen. Beau Allen (6-3 335) moves to his preferred nose tackle spot right over the center. He was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten performer last season with 7.5 tackles for loss. Defensive end Ethan Hemer was also Honorable Mention last season, and he will be a four-year starter. Defensive ends Tyler Dippel and Pat Muldoon combined for nine starts last season. Dippel had five sacks and Muldoon had 5.5 tackles for loss. The new alignment should also give the Badgers a slight advantage in that B1G opponents won't see a true 3-4 much in conference play.
Northwestern returns two starters, but one of them is defensive end Tyler Scott, who notched nine sacks last season. He is an All-Big Ten candidate this season. The other starter is defensive tackle Sean McEvilly, who picked up 20 tackles last season. The Wildcats have three other defensive ends vying for the other starting spot, with Deonte Gibson and Dean Lowry the most likely candidates. Lowry had six QB hurries as a true freshman last season. The third candidate is redshirt freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo, who was a High School All-American. The other defensive tackle spot should be a battle between Chance Carter, C.J. Robbins and Will Hampton.
The Wolverines will be replacing three starters on the defensive line, yet they could still be better than they were last year. Defensive tackle Quinton Washington is the lone full-time starter returning. He had a couple of moments last season, but didn't provide much production. Fans are pointing to defensive end Frank Clark, who is indeed a playmaker. He started four games last year and finished second on the team in tackles for loss (7). He needs to show that he is a complete defensive end this year. Brady Hoke has brought in quite a few defensive tackles, and he also has senior Jibreel Black to rely on. The defensive end opposite Clark may not produce much, but defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will get the most out of him.
The Hawkeyes have some promise on the defensive line. Dominic Alvis started every game at defensive end last season and expects to do the same this season. He will need to increase his five tackles for loss, however. True sophomore Drew Ott played in five games last year, but has already been penciled in opposite Alvis. Obviously, the coaches like what they saw this spring. Defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat returns. He finished with an impressive 40 tackles last season as a sophomore. The other tackle will likely be Carl Davis (6-5 315), who has a ton of promise, but has yet to display it.
Relatively speaking, the Minnesota defensive line is pretty deep, and has some promise. Defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten player last season, recording six sacks. Former walk-on Cameron Botticelli will likely line up next to him, as he did last year. Senior Roland Johnson will also rotate in after a solid first year last season coming over from junior college. Defensive end Michael Amaefula started all 13 games last year, coming away with 2.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. Theiren Cockran played in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman last year, and should be the starter opposite Amaefula. There is also junior DE Ben Perry, who started 12 games in 2011.
The Boilers lose Kawann Short, so they will be hurting in that regard, but they still return plenty of experience up front. Defensive tackle Bruce Gaston will be a four-year starter, but he will need to be more of a playmaker this season. Brandon Taylor is also a senior, and he has nine career starts at defensive tackle. However, there are a couple of other options with more potential, but they are young. Defensive end Ryan Russell was second on the team in sacks last year with four, but he really needs to double that this year. The opposite end will be contested between Jalani Phillips and Greg Latta. Phillips had a promising spring. There is some depth, but not much in the way of excitement.
The Huskers gave up 27.6 points per game last year, and based on the amount of returning talent on the defensive line, that number might not get much better in 2013. Defensive end Jason Ankrah returns following a year where he started nine games and came away with two sacks. Defensive tackle Thad Randle is a senior who started six games last year, but came away with just one tackle for loss. The staff is high on redshirt freshman defensive end Greg McMullen, and people are excited about young defensive tackles Vincent Valentine and Kevin Williams. However, there is very little here in the way of experience. Expect some struggles up front.
Replacing defensive tackles Larry Black and Adam Replogle will be nearly impossible for the Hoosiers. Replogle was a four-year starter and Black was a three-year starter. They will be replaced by a number of first and second-year players, as well as some junior college players. Defensive ends Zack Shaw and Ryan Phillis return, as both we starters last season. Shaw finished with five tackles for loss as a redshirt freshman. Phillis had 3.5 tackles for loss as a junior last year. Both need to produce much better in 2013. Kevin Wilson is increasing the defensive talent through recruiting, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see some freshmen involved.
Defensive end Tim Kynard is the lone defensive line starter returning from last season, and even he lost his job due to a lack of production halfway through the season. In fact, the defensive line only returns six career starts and very little production. Illinois will play more 3-4 alignments this season to better utilize their linebackers (and hide their defensive line). Considering the trouble that the Illini had on defense last season, coming into this season with virtually no experience on the defensive line isn't just a recipe for disaster, it's a guarantee.
Donate by Check :
1380 King Avenue
Columbus, Ohio 43212
Help us bring you more Buckeye coverage. Donate to the-Ozone.
Click here to email this the-Ozone feature to a friend...or even a foe.
(c) 2010 The O-Zone, O-Zone Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, rebroadcast,rewritten, or redistributed.