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Posts Tagged ‘Defensive Line’

New in Blue (again): 2017 DT Aubrey Solomon

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017


(247 Sports)

Aubrey Solomon – DT | 6-3, 305 | Leesburg, Ga. (Lee County)
ESPN4-star, #5 DT Rivals: 5-star, #2 DT 247: 5-star, #5 DT Scout: 5-star, #2 DT
247 Composite: 5-star #2 DT, #25 nationally
Other top offers: Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, Ohio State, Ole Miss, FSU, Florida, USC, Clemson

Michigan kicked off National Signing Day by landing its biggest fish left on the board. Leesburg, Ga. defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon committed to the Wolverines for the second time just before 10am Wednesday morning on ESPNU — and this time it’s for good.

Solomon had long been considered a Georgia or Alabama lean as he lives less than 200 miles from Athens and 250 miles from Tuscaloosa, but the 6-foot-3, 305-pound senior-to-be decided to head north instead after a long and winding recruitment. He first committed to Michigan last June following Jim Harbaugh’s satellite camp at his high school in Leesburg, Ga.

“I was in love with the football aspect of Georgia,” Solomon said at the time. “I was cool with players there, but at the end of the day, it comes down to what will help me 10 years, 20 years after football and Michigan provides the best opportunities for me.”

But he decommitted just two months later after Michigan mistakenly sent him a thank you for attending the summer barbecue, which he didn’t attend. They also spelled his name wrong. However, the work Harbaugh’s staff has done in the five months since then was enough to get him to re-up with the Wolverines.

Solomon is a five-star recruit according to three of the four major recruiting services with ESPN the lone outlier listing him as a four star. When he originally committed last June all four had him as a four-star. Rivals and Scout rank him the highest as the second-best defensive tackle in the 2017 class, while ESPN and 247 rank him fifth. Nationally, Scout has him the highest as the 11th-best recruit in the class. 247 lists him 30th, Rivals 31st, and ESPN 63rd. The 247 Composite has Solomon 25th overall and second-best defensive tackle.

Scout lists his strengths as athleticism, lateral range, quickness off ball, and suddenness, while listing his area to improve as pad level. They elaborate on that as well.

“An athletic defensive lineman who knows how to get off the ball. He is most effective with his quickness. He has good anticipation and he reacts quickly in the trenches. Really gets up the field. Can make plays in the backfield. Gets consistent penetration. Can use his hands, but needs to improve that, and his moves to counter offensive linemen. When he struggles, he tends to play high, so he can work on bettering his pad level. Just a quick defensive lineman who can make plays. Plays hard and plays fast for a guy his size.”

Solomon boasted offers from most of the major powers in the south, including Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, Florida State, Florida, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, in addition to Ohio State, USC, and more. He’s the seventh defensive lineman in the class, joining Corey Malone-Hatcher, Deron Irving-Bey, Kwity Paye, James Hudson, Luiji Vilain, and Donovan Jeter, and he’s the second-highest ranked player in the class behind receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.

Predicting Michigan 2016: The defensive line

Thursday, August 25th, 2016


Predicting Michgian 2016-DefensiveLine
Chris Wormley(Calros Osorio, AP)

Previous: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Tight Ends, Offensive Line

For Michigan, the defensive line is the position group everybody wants to see. Thanks to a strong recruiting class and minimal attrition to the NFL, the Wolverines return a very deep defensive line that was excellent in 2015 until being struck by injury.

When Michigan sported a top five defense through the first half of the season, it was led by a defensive line that completely stuffed opposing running games and caused a little bit of mayhem in the backfield. Players like Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling enjoyed breakout seasons, but some of their success has to be attributed to the work done in the trenches.

Will Michigan be even better on the defensive line this year?

Major contributors:

Instead of naming starters, let’s take a look at all the defensive linemen who should play major minutes as starters or heavily-used backups this season.

Last season, everything started with defensive end Chris Wormley, who racked up an insane 14.5 tackles for loss. It wasn’t just sacks for Wormley – though he did have 6.5 – as he regularly got great jumps off the edge and stuff running backs behind the line.

Taco Charlton

Senior end Taco Charlton is getting first-round talk entering the season

Wormley has evolved into Michigan’s smartest defensive lineman and the Toledo, Ohio native should be just as productive as a fifth-year senior. Look for him to improve on his All Big Ten Third Team honors.

The other returning defensive end who saw major playing time in 2015 is Taco Charlton. Charlton was enjoying a solid season through 10 games, but really broke out against Penn State. He exploded for two sacks and three tackles for loss, including a bone-rattling hit on battered quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Charlton is a pure pass rusher who has quietly picked up 14 sacks the last two seasons. He’s only made four starts in his career 35 games, but this season he’ll see his role increase as a senior.

Then there’s Rashan Gary. We haven’t seen the freshman play a single snap at the college level, but I’m still expecting him to be an impact player wherever he lands on the defensive line. He’s listed as a defensive end, but Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Don Brown won’t be afraid to move him around and take advantage of his versatility. Gary is an elite pass rusher and an able run blocker, so he can play in any situation. He put on a clinic in the Under Armour All-America Game, tallying three sacks and taking home the MVP. Gary is one of the most highly-touted recruits ever, and the first No. 1 to come to Michigan. Fans should expect a special season.

Moving to the inside of the line, Michigan has one rock who holds the whole group together: Ryan Glasgow. The fifth-year senior won’t have much success rushing the quarterback, but he’s the best run stopper on the roster. Glasgow recorded five tackles for loss last season, but his real value came in plugging up the inside running lanes. When he went down with a chest injury, the run stopping game fell apart. Indiana and Ohio State absolutely shredded the Wolverines in the running game and D.J. Durkin had no answer without Glasgow anchoring the tackles. He’s not the flashiest lineman, but Glasgow is vitally important to the defense.

Maurice Hurst complimented Glasgow well on the inside of the defensive line, providing support against the run, but also recording three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Hurst played in every game last season but should see more snaps this season with Willie Henry off the roster.

One of the biggest wildcards for the entire Michigan team could be Bryan Mone, who was a solid run stopper for the Wolverines as a true freshman in 2014. Mone was expected to be a game-changing nose tackle last season, but a devastating ankle injury ended his year before it even started. Mone will get a chance to reestablish himself as a good defensive tackle and combine with Glasgow to stuff opposing running backs.

Career Stats – Wormley
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
38 44 39 83 12.0 24.0 1 1 0
Career Stats – Charlton
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
35 36 15 51 9.0 14.4 1 0 0
Career Stats – Glasgow
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
32 26 23 49 1.0 9.0 1 1 0
Career Stats – Hurst
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
21 20 18 38 3.0 7.5 0 0 0
Career Stats – Mone
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
12 2 7 9 0.0 1.5 0 1 0
Other contributors:

With Gary and Mone joining the rotation and taking up snaps, I think Matthew Godin might see a bit of a decreased role. Godin was a less effective version of Glasgow last season, specializing in stopping the run but struggling to do so after Glasgow’s injury. Godin will still be a part of the rotation because he’s a solid, reliable tackle, but there are a few players with higher upside ahead of him.

Two other players to keep an eye on are Lawrence Marshall and Chase Winovich. Marshall played in only three games last season, but his potential to be a pass rusher off the edge gives him a chance to get into the rotation. Winovich played in six games last season, but didn’t make much of an impact. He should be a depth guy heading into his junior year.

Career Stats – Godin
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
22 9 17 26 1.5 2.5 0 0 1
Career Stats – Marshall
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
3 1 0 1 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Winovich
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
6 2 0 2 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
New faces:

Gary stole the headlines for Michigan at defensive line, and for good reason. But there are two other commits from the line in the 2016 class.

Defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour is a valuable tackle who can get pressure up the middle. He racked up seven sacks and 21 tackles for loss in his high school senior season and could make an impact if he doesn’t redshirt in 2016.

Shelton Johnson is a less heralded commit from the 2015 class and is off to a rough start after being suspended by Harbaugh for an unknown issue. Johnson is a solid pass rusher off the edge, but took a step back during his senior season at Riverview High School in Florida, tallying only three sacks. He might not see much of the field in 2016.

Camden, N.J. native Ron Johnson was a 247 Composite four-star with offers from Alabama, Oregon, Stanford, Ohio State, Michigan State and other major programs. The potential is there for the defensive end, but the depth Michigan has along the line will mean a likely redshirt season for him this fall.

Meet the rest:

Michael Wroblewski: Senior, 6-2, 242, from Saint Clair Shores, Mich. (Detroit Jesuit)
No career stats
Salim Makki: Junior, 6-0, 264, from Dearborn, Mich. (Fordson)
No career stats
Garrett Miller: Senior, 6-4, 271, from Adrian, Mich. (Sand Creek)
No career stats

New in Blue: 2017 DT James Hudson

Monday, August 8th, 2016


James Hudson (Scout.com)

James Hudson – DT/SDE | 6-5, 280 | Toledo, Ohio (Central Catholic)
ESPN4-star, #30 DE Rivals: 4-star, #8 SDE 247: 4-star, #7 SDE Scout: 3-star, #28 DT
247 Composite: 3-star #13 SDE
Other top offers: Michigan State, Alabama, Tennessee, Nebraska, Iowa, Miami, WVU

On the heels of Michigan’s biggest recruiting event of the summer and on the day the current squad opened fall camp, the Wolverines picked up a commitment from 2017 defensive lineman James Hudson. He announced his decision on Twitter on Monday.

Three of the four major recruiting services rate Hudson a four star, while Scout is the outsider that gives him just three. 247 Sports ranks him the highest as the seventh-best strongside defensive end in the 2017 class, while Rivals ranks him eighth. ESPN has him lower as the 30th-best defensive end and Scout ranks him as the 28th-best defensive tackle. 247 and Rivals both rank Hudson nationally at 220th and 229th, respectively. The 247 Composite has Hudson as a three-star, the 13th-best SDE, and 340th nationally.

Scout likes Hudson’s ability to play anywhere on the defensive line.

“Big kid who offers some flexibility because he can play on the edge or move down inside depending on situation and package. Light on his feet for a big guy and naturally powerful. Can bend well enough to get the leverage needed to use that strength. As he’s gotten bigger, in our view, he’s transitioned from more of a pure edge guy to a five-tech or potentially even a true tackle depending on the scheme.”

The Toledo Central Catholic star recorded 82 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks as a junior last season.

Hudson chose Michigan over in-state rival Michigan State. He also held offers from Alabama, Tennessee, Nebraska, Iowa, Miami, Pitt, and West Virginia, to name a few. He’s the 19th commitment in Michigan’s 2017 class and the third defensive lineman, joining Phillip Paea and Aubrey Solomon.

Predicting Michigan 2015: The defensive line

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-DefensiveLine

Willie Henry(Jim Rogash, Getty Images)

For fans who watched Michigan football struggle through a miserable 5-7 season a year ago, including the team’s first shutout loss in decades and another pounding at the hands of Michigan State, encouraging signs were few and far between.

But the defensive line stood out as a strong unit in 2014, holding opponents to just 3.2 rushing yards per carry and picking up 29 sacks on the season. Michigan was the 11th toughest team to run against in the country and the second toughest in the Big Ten, behind Penn State (No. 1 in the nation).

Unfortunately, Jim Harbaugh will have to fill a huge hole on both ends of the defensive line as Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer have moved on to the NFL. Some of the depth players who contributed in the regular rotation last season will have to step up and take on a bigger role.

Probable starters

With openings on both ends of the line heading into camp, veterans Chris Wormley and Mario Ojemudia are likely to step into the starting roles. Wormley, a Toledo native, started six games as a redshirt sophomore and picked up 21 tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks. He played his best football down the stretch, recording 13 of his tackles in the final four games of the season. Wormley is one of the most explosive Wolverines off the line and could turn into their best defensive lineman as a junior.

Ojemudia, who recorded 32 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 11 games last season, is just 6-foot-2 and around 250 pounds. He played a rotational role from 2012-13, but burst onto the scene as a key contributor last season. Like Wormley, Ojemudia has a good burst from around the edge, but he’s also a strong run stopper. With Clark and Beyer gone, fans will get their best look at the senior this season.

The middle of the defensive line will be a familiar sight as starters Ryan Glasgow and Willie Henry return for their redshirt junior seasons. Glasgow started 11 games at the nose tackle position last season, making 22 tackles, four for loss. Henry had 20 tackles, 5.5 for loss, three sacks and an interception while starting six games. This duo specializes in clogging the middle and stopping the run, though Henry does offer a slight threat to find the quarterback up the middle.

Michigan lost a candidate for a starting spot when Bryan Mone went down for the season. The defensive tackle played in all 12 games as a freshman, recording nine tackles. He was primed for a breakout season in the middle of the line in 2015, but will instead miss the year with a broken ankle.

Instead, Taco Charlton will have to step up as a top rotational player for the Wolverines after picking up 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks as a sophomore. Charlton is one of the few Michigan defensive linemen who can really wreak havoc in the backfield, so he’ll likely see a ton of snaps in a rotation with Wormley and Ojemudia.

Projected Stats – Wormley
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
30 8.0 6.0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
25 19 21 40 5.5 9.5 0 1 0
Projected Stats – Ojemudia
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
40 8.0 5.0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
34 37 26 63 6.0 11.5 1 2 1
Projected Stats – Glasgow
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
25 3.0 0.0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
23 13 11 24 0.0 4.0 1 1 0
Projected Stats – Henry
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
25 5.0 3.0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
21 27 25 52 3.5 8.5 0 0 1
Projected Stats – Charlton
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
30 6.0 5.0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
22 15 6 21 3.5 6.0 0 0 0

Returning contributors

Michigan developed solid depth in the middle of the line last season with Matt Godin and Maurice Hurst each playing in over half of the team’s games. Hurst, a four-star recruit in 2012, picked up three tackles in his redshirt freshman season, playing sparingly at defensive tackle. He’s quick for a lineman and was brought to Ann Arbor to disrupt the quarterback, which will keep him in the rotation.

Godin is much bigger, 6-foot-6 and 290 pounds, and plays more of a run-stopping game. Unlike Hurst, he’ll likely be used as a plug in the middle of the line.

Tom Strobel is the only returning defensive end (other than those listed above) with any on-field experience for the Wolverines. He played in five games last season and recorded his only tackle against Minnesota. He’s 6-foot-6 and was recruited as a pass rusher, but he’ll be behind a few others who can do the same.

Lawrence Marshall did not see the field last season, but could be a factor as a sophomore in 2015. The former four-star has perhaps the highest ceiling on the line, and could emerge as an elite pass rusher when he earns regular reps.

Career Stats – Godin
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
11 4 5 9 1.0 1.5 0 0 1
Career Stats – Hurst
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
8 3 0 3 0.0 1.0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Strobel
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
7 2 1 3 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Marshall
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 0 0 0

New faces

The 2015 recruiting class brings a pair of defensive ends to the Michigan roster – Reuben Jones and Shelton Johnson.
Johnson was the more highly-sought recruit out of high school, where he was a regular in opposing backfields. He has the tools to be a solid lineman for the Wolverines, but he likely won’t play much of a role as a true freshman.

Jones figures to have a better chance to play early in his career because of his ability to both defend the run and disrupt the quarterback. The more experienced linemen will likely push Jones out of the rotation in 2015, but he has an outside chance to play a role.

Meet the rest

Cody Zeisler — sophomore, 6’3″, 255 from Ann Arbor, Mich. (Skyline), no career stats
Brady Pallante — sophomore, 6’1″, 276 from Naples, Fla. (Barron Collier), no career stats
Garrett Miller — junior, 6’4″, 270 from Adrian, Mich. (Sand Creek), no career stats

New in Blue: Defensive lineman Darian Roseboro

Friday, August 29th, 2014


Darian Roeboro(Lincoln Times-News)

Darian Roseboro – DL | 6-4, 283 | Lincolnton, N.C. – Lincolnton
ESPN: 4-star, #20 DT Rivals: 4-star, #6 DT 247: 4-star, #6 SDE Scout: 4-star, #14 DT
Other top offers: Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Notre Dame, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Clemson, UCLA, Texas

A day before Michigan begins its season against Appalachian State, the coaching staff received good news from a 2015 recruit. Lincolnton, N.C. defensive lineman Darian Roseboro announced his commitment to the Wolverines via an ESPN.com live stream.

Roseboro is a consensus four-star, ranked in the top 200 nationally by all of the major recruiting services. Rivals lists him the highest at 42nd overall and the sixth-best defensive tackle. 247 Sports has Roseboro as the sixth-best strong-side defensive end and 157th overall, while Scout has him 14th and 151st and ESPN ranks him 20th and 165th. His size is pretty similar across all four. Scout lists him at 6’3″ but the other three have him at 6’4″. His weight ranges from 283 to 293.

Scout’s Chad Simmons had this to say about Roseboro: “A versatile defensive lineman who can move around depending on the scheme. Growing into likely a defensive tackle. Plays with a good motor. Does a sound job playing his gap, doing his job. Can set the edge at end and be disruptive up the field. More of a power player that is very successful when playing with good pad level. Can play high and needs to improve his moves and explosion off the ball. Plays with good balance.”

Last season, Roseboro tallied 125 tackles and 10 sacks. In 2012, he recorded 107 tackles, 30 for loss, eight sacks, forced four fumbles, and recovered four fumbles. As a freshman in 2011, he had 107 tackles, 12 for loss, and seven sacks.

Roseboro had offers from Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Clemson, UCLA, and Texas to name a few. He also spurned home-state North Carolina and N.C. State to commit to Michigan. Roy Manning, who landed Jabrill Peppers, was the main recruiter for Roseboro.

Roseboro is the 11th commitment in the 2015 class, joining quarterback Alex Malzone, receiver Brian Cole, running back Mike Weber, tight end Chris Clark, offensive linemen Grant Newsome and Jon Runyan Jr, defensive backs Tyree Kinnel and Garrett Taylor, linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr, and kicker Andrew David. The commitment pushes Michigan ahead of Alabama in Scout’s average star rankings, though Alabama has 21 commits.

With only one or two scholarships left — perhaps more depending on attrition between now and February — the coaches can be very selective in filling out the class. Another defensive end, five-star Keisean Lucier-South, has an official visit set for Oct. 10 and will likely come down to Michigan or his home-state UCLA.

Big Ten football position rankings: Defensive line (part two)

Thursday, July 10th, 2014


Big Ten position rankings header-DL

This week, as part of our summer-long preview of Michigan football in 2014, we at Maize and Go Blue are ranking who will be the best defensive linemen in the Big Ten this upcoming season. The players listed are whom we believe will be the most successful in 2014, not necessarily those who have had the most success in previous years. Part One of our defensive line rankings was posted yesterday. It revealed who is in the bottom half of the Big Ten’s top-10 defensive linemen. If you have not had the chance to read it yet, I recommend that you do so before proceeding. Read it? Great! Let’s unveil who will be the five best defensive linemen in the Big Ten this fall.

Previously
Quarterbacks: Part One, Part Two.
Running Backs: Part One, Part Two.
Wide Receivers: Part One, Part Two.
Tight Ends: Part One, Part Two.
Offensive Line: Part One, Part Two.
Defensive Line: Part One.

5. Noah Spence, Ohio State | Junior – 6’3”, 252 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks QBH
2013 24 28 52 8.0 14.5 4
2012 7 5 12 1.0 1.0 0
Career Totals 31 33 64 9.0 15.5 4
(Adam Cairns, The Columbus Dispatch)

(Adam Cairns, The Columbus Dispatch)

Although this was written before Part One of my 2014 Big Ten Defensive Line Rankings was posted, I would be willing to bet that some feathers may have been ruffled when Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun was ranked at No. 6 on this list. Some, especially Spartan fans, would argue that Calhoun will be the best defensive player in the Big Ten. Last season, he recorded 37 tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, 7.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, one interception, and a national-best three defensive touchdowns. This stat line earned Calhoun a spot on the All-American second team and the Smith-Brown Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year honor among other accolades.

However, what separated Calhoun from the rest of a deep pool of talented Big Ten defensive linemen were his takeaways and defensive touchdowns. These were more the consequence of luck than ability. This should not discredit what Calhoun accomplished in 2013, but it does not mean he will recover as many fumbles or score as many touchdowns in 2014. In actuality, the odds of this reoccurring are very low. This, coupled with the observation that Calhoun struggles when locked one on one with NFL-caliber offensive tackles, leads to the conclusion that Calhoun is overrated and should underwhelm given his lofty expectations. Accordingly, Calhoun will not be one of the five best in a very talented group of Big Ten defensive linemen next season.

The man who swiped Calhoun’s spot at No. 5 is Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence. Spence arrived in Columbus in 2012 with heaps of hype. He was a consensus five-star prospect and listed at No. 5 in 247 Sports’ 2012 composite national rankings. Spence was so highly-regarded because he had freakish athletic ability as an edge rusher. After spending his freshman season as a reserve, Spence demonstrated last year why scouts slobbered over him in high school. He registered 50 tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, 7.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and two pass break-ups in 13 contests. Notice that this was 13 more tackles and the same number of tackles-for-loss and sacks as Calhoun. And Spence did all of this in one less game than Calhoun.

Spence also is one spot ahead of Calhoun because he dramatically improved over the course of the season. Spence became more explosive and dangerous off the edge, whereas Calhoun sputtered down the stretch. In Spence’s final six games, he accumulated 24 tackles, eight tackles-for-loss, and 4.5 sacks. In Calhoun’s final five games, he had only 15 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, and one sack. Spence seemed to really find his rhythm as a starter by season’s end against Big Ten competition while Calhoun thrived against only inferior opponents.

However, Spence is not without faults. His two-game suspension to open the 2014 campaign must be addressed. Prior to Ohio State’s meeting with Clemson in the Orange Bowl, Spence tested positive for a small amount of ecstasy. It was enough to be handed a three-game suspension. The first game was served in the Orange Bowl; the next two will be served the first two weeks this fall. Not only will the suspension limit the production Spence can generate this season, it may even cause him to lose the rhythm he had at the end of last year.

Additionally, Spence is extremely undisciplined at defensive end. This is his flaw for having been gifted with such athletic ability. He has a knack for overrunning plays, especially against the run, rather than executing his assignments and containing when necessary. Offenses have been able to exploit his aggressive tendencies for big gains. It will be interesting to see if Spence will be smarter this season and realize that there is more to defensive football than rushing the passer. But very few in the Big Ten can rush the passer like Spence. Whereas Calhoun struggles to beat top offensive tackles on his own merit, Spence does not have that problem with his athletic ability. Accordingly, Spence should produce better statistics than Calhoun this season, even if he must do it in a fewer number of games like in 2013.

4. Carl Davis, Iowa | 5th-yr Senior – 6’5″, 315 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks QBH
2013 11 31 42 4.0 1.5 1
2012 6 8 14 1.5 0 0
2011 0 2 2 0 0 0
2010 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 17 39 56 5.5 1.5 0
(Brian Ray, The Gazette)

(Brian Ray, The Gazette)

Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis’ impact on the defensive line is dissimilar to the others’ on this list. Much of the analysis when discussing the other defensive linemen in these rankings has been centered on the number-of-tackles and sacks those players have registered. However, if the analysis is limited to only those statistical categories, Davis easily would be overlooked. Last season, Davis produced only 42 tackles, four tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, and a pass break-up. That is it. Further, he generated no turnovers whatsoever, failing to tally a single forced fumble, fumble recovery, or interception. A quick glance at Davis’ statistical profile likely would elicit an apathetic response from an uninformed observer.

Yet Davis was one of the best defensive tackles in the Big Ten last season. The key is to dig into Iowa’s defensive numbers as a team. In 2013, Iowa had one of the best defenses in the nation. The Hawkeyes finished ninth nationally in scoring defense, sixth in total defense, 19th in rushing defense, and ninth in passing defense. Although these basic statistics do not account the game’s tempo or the level of competition, even advanced statistics agree that Iowa had one of the stingiest defenses, especially against the run. The Hawkeyes were seventh nationally in rushing defensive S&P+ and 14th in adjusted line yards, which compares the rushing yards allowed per carry to what is statistically expected and then adjusts for quality of the opponent. Further, opponents struggled to penetrate Iowa’s rush defense for touchdowns. Iowa was the last team in the country to allow a rushing touchdown—not allowing one until its seventh game—and conceded eight all season—tied for the second-fewest in the nation.

So what was Davis’ role in all of this? One look at his game film and the picture becomes clear. Davis may not have been the one making the bone-crushing tackles, sacking the quarterback, or forcing turnovers, but he was the one who made it all possible for his teammates. Davis—using his 6’5”, 315-pound frame—consumed double teams at the line of scrimmage over and over again. This created space for Iowa’s trio of senior linebackers to surge through the gaps and make the plays that appear on the stat sheet. Evidence? Those three starting linebackers combined for 322 tackles, 35.5 tackles-for-loss, and 11.5 sacks. And none of it would have been possible without Davis executing his assignment in the middle play after play.

Davis will continue to have the same type of impact in 2014. He will be back in the middle fighting double teams along with fellow defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat, who just missed the cut on this list, which will open holes for Iowa’s crew of linebackers. However, Davis may want to try to add a few more tackles-for-loss and sacks to his stat line this season. Iowa will be breaking in three new starters at linebacker, and it seems unlikely that these newcomers will produce at a similar rate as Iowa’s three seniors last year. Nonetheless, Davis’ impact as a space-eater is sufficient to be No. 4 on this list. Even if you do not notice Davis’ presence when you watch Iowa, NFL scouts certainly will. They currently rank Davis as the second-best defensive tackle in the 2015 draft class and project him as a first-round pick. See? There is much more to defensive line play than tackles-for-loss and sacks.

3. Michael Bennett, Ohio State | Senior – 6’2”, 288 lbs.
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks QBH
2013 18 24 42 11.5 7.0 1
2012 6 5 11 1.0 1.0 0
2011 13 4 17 5.0 3.0 1
Career Totals 37 33 70 17.5 11.0 2
(Greg Bartram, USA Today Sports)

(Greg Bartram, USA Today Sports)

As Iowa’s Carl Davis has demonstrated, a defensive tackle does not need to make plays to boost his own stats to be effective, but it certainly does not hurt to do so either. No Big Ten defensive tackle made more plays on his own accord last season than Ohio State’s Michael Bennett. In 13 starts, he totaled 42 tackles, 11.5 tackles-for-loss, seven sacks, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. Bennett was one of only three Big Ten defensive tackles to register double-digit tackles-for-loss and is the only one of those three to be back this season. Further, Bennett’s seven sacks were tied for the sixth-most in the conference and just 2.5 off the lead. And no other Big Ten defensive tackles came within two sacks of his total. Bennett accomplished this by using his impressive acceleration and quickness to knife his way into the backfield. His burst surprised offensive linemen and left them unable to contain him. Accordingly, Bennett was the best pass-rushing defensive tackle in the conference.

Bennett’s role in Ohio State’s pass rush did not end there, though. As the season wore on, opponents began to recognize his ability to slice through offensive lines and make stops in the backfield. They attempted to neutralize his effectiveness by double-teaming him more frequently. However, what they failed to realize was that this left Ohio State’s talented defensive ends, Joey Bosa and Noah Spence, with one-on-one matchups on the edge. Bosa and Spence capitalized on the opportunities Bennett provided for them, using their speed and skill to blow past most of the Big Ten’s offensive tackles. Consequently, the Buckeyes finished seventh nationally and led the conference in sacks per game (3.00). By season’s end, Ohio State’s pass rush had become one of the most dangerous in the country, and it was because Bennett made plays for himself and facilitated chances to his fellow defensive linemen.

However, if there is one area where Bennett can improve, it would be his run-stopping ability. At 6’2” and 288 pounds, Bennett is not near the space-eater that Davis is. It is much tougher for Bennett to fight off double teams and plug holes against the run. There were too many times last season when Bennett’s pad level would elevate, and a double team would force him out of the area to open a hole for the running back. It was a key reason why the rushing yards Ohio State allowed per carry once sacks were removed (4.29) were just so-so. To be fair, Bennett held his ground plenty, too. Notwithstanding his limited size for a defensive tackle, he has incredible strength and generates power in a flash when his pad level remains down. When he did this, the Buckeyes’ ends and linebackers swarmed to the football to make the tackle. But Bennett needs to complement his excellent pass-rushing skills by stopping the run more consistently in 2014. If he can do so, he will solidify his status as the best defensive-tackle prospect in the 2015 NFL Draft.

2. Randy Gregory, Nebraska | RS Junior – 6’6”, 245 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks QBH
2013 40 26 66 19.0 10.5 18
2012 (Arizona Western CC) 0 0 0 0 0 0
2011 (Arizona Western CC) 21 61 82 20.5 9.0 ?
Career Totals 61 87 148 39.5 19.5 18
(Joe Robbins, Getty Images)

(Joe Robbins, Getty Images)

In high school, Randy Gregory had a plan to play Big Ten football. But the plan did not involve Nebraska in any way, shape, or form. The native of Fishers, Indiana, had planned to stay in-state to play football when he signed his letter of intent with Purdue in 2011. However, when Gregory tried to enroll at Purdue, he was declared academically ineligible and forced to spend at least one year in junior college to remedy his grades. To Gregory, this was a minor road bump. In his mind, he would spend time at Arizona Western, where he would dominate the competition, before transferring back to Purdue for the remainder of his collegiate career.

Everything was going according to plan until Gregory broke his left leg in the 2012 opener at Arizona Western after recording 82 tackles, 21 tackles-for-loss, and nine sacks in 2011. Gregory recognized that the coaching staff that recruited him to Purdue in 2011 was on the hot seat and may not be in West Lafayette the following season. He realized that he needed to open up his recruitment to other schools in case the Purdue staff was canned and the new staff was not be interested in a junior college player recovering from a broken leg. That is when the Huskers came calling. Gregory took an official visit to Nebraska and wanted to commit on the spot. He decided to wait until he had talked with the Purdue staff first to notify them of his intentions. But then the Purdue staff was fired, and he never heard from the Boilermakers again. So Gregory committed to Nebraska, and the Huskers could not be happier.

In his first season at Nebraska, Gregory exploded onto the scene and became one of the Big Ten’s premier pass-rushers. While starting in 10 of Nebraska’s 13 games, Gregory led all Big Ten defensive linemen in tackles (65), tackles-for-loss (16), and sacks (9.5). He also added a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown for the Huskers. What was more impressive about Gregory’s performance was his consistency. He assisted on at least one tackle-for-loss in each of Nebraska’s final 12 games. He was never a player that would disappear from long periods of time. Gregory made his presence felt every game because he had a knack for fighting off blockers and then using his remarkable closing speed to get to the quarterback. Offensive tackles could keep him out of the pocket for only so long until he used his athleticism to bring down a quarterback or running back in the backfield. At the end of the season, Gregory was named to the All-Big Ten first team and even projected by some to be the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

You are probably wondering how a player that some consider to be the first overall pick in next year’s draft to be only No. 2 on this list. Well, there are two red flags. First, Gregory needs more size. It was reported that he played at around 240 pounds last season. While this certainly benefited his pass-rushing ability as a speed demon on the perimeter, it left him quite ineffective as a run-stopper. Gregory needs to add at least 15 to 20 pounds to his frame to become more of a polished, all-around defensive end. Second, Gregory will be the only Nebraska defensive lineman that opponents will worry about next season. Gregory’s pass-rushing partner from last year, Avery Moss, who complemented Gregory very well, was banned from campus until at least 2015 for violating a condition of his sanctions stemming from a 2012 incident during which he exposed his genitals to a student worker. With Moss no longer there to attract some attention away from Gregory, Gregory may see more double teams than he ever has before. He still will be one of the elite defensive linemen in the Big Ten, if not the nation, but the lack of help he will have from his teammates on the defensive line slide him behind the next fellow.

1. Joey Bosa, Ohio State | Sophomore – 6’5”, 285 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks QBH
2013 29 15 44 13.5 7.5 6
Career Totals 29 15 44 13.5 7.5 6
(Jerry Lai, USA Today Sports)

(Jerry Lai, USA Today Sports)

Given some of the names that are on this list, it may be a surprise to some that Ohio State strong-side defensive end Joey Bosa will be the best defensive lineman in the Big Ten in 2014. But, given the potential he has always possessed, it should not be. In high school, Bosa was a high four-star prospect and ranked No. 37 in 247 Sports’ 2013 composite national rankings. He was recruited heavily, earning scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin among others. If Bosa had not committed to Ohio State about ten months before National Signing Day, he very likely would have had many more offers than he received. Nonetheless, it was clear when Bosa arrived on Ohio State’s campus last summer that he had the potential to be special.

Last season, Bosa stepped right in and started 10 games for the Buckeyes as a true freshman. He got off to a slow start in the first half of the season, which is no surprise for a true freshman. Bosa was trying to get his feet wet and get a feel for what college football is really like. However, near the midpoint of the 2013 season, Bosa had acclimated himself to college football. Accordingly, he went full throttle. After recording only 18 tackles, four tackles-for-loss, and two sacks in the Buckeyes’ first eight contests, Bosa made 26 tackles, 9.5 tackles-for-loss, and sacked the quarterback 5.5 times in the remaining six contests. He not only demonstrated that he had the strength to hold up at the point of attack and bull rush, but also had the speed and moves to beat offensive tackles to the edge. It is rare to see a defensive lineman have this array of moves and abilities. And Bosa displayed this as a true freshman.

Next season, Bosa should  become an unstoppable monster. It is expected that Bosa will make a leap of some sort as a true sophomore. What Bosa accomplished as a true freshman was more about his pure physical abilities and talent. As a sophomore, he will have a year of experience under his belt as well as a much better understanding of the mental aspects of the Ohio State’s defense and the game of college football itself. This progression should scare the living daylights out of the rest of the Big Ten.

Plus, unlike Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, Bosa will have some help on his defensive line. Bosa will be lined up alongside weak-side defensive end Noah Spence and defensive tackle Michael Bennett. Not only should Spence and Noah be expected to be two of the top five defensive linemen in the Big Ten next season, they are projected to be future first-round draft picks. With this much talent on the defensive line, opponents will not be able to afford to double team either of the ends. The double teams likely will be focused on Bennett, which will clear space for Bosa and Spence to attack the offensive tackles one on one. And, while Spence is a tremendous player, Bosa will be the one that shines the brightest. Expect Bosa to lead all Big Ten defensive linemen in tackles-for-loss and sacks next season as he transforms in to the Big Ten’s best defensive lineman.

Do you agree with our list? Or did we get it wrong? Will Ohio State’s Joey Bosa be the best defensive lineman in the Big Ten next season? Or will it be Nebraska’s Randy Gregory? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Next week, we will preview the other position that contributes to a defense’s front seven: the linebackers.

Big Ten football position rankings: Defensive line (part one)

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014


Big Ten position rankings header-DL

This is the sixth installment of Maize and Go Blue’s series that ranks the best Big Ten players at each position for the upcoming season. Each week until Michigan’s opener, one position will be previewed, looking at the players who will excel in 2014, not necessarily the ones who did so in previous seasons. The analysis provided is thorough and in-depth, so each position preview will be split into two parts. The best Big Ten players at each offensive position have been covered. This week, it is time to begin previewing the defense, starting with the defensive line. Here is Part One:

Previously
Quarterbacks: Part One, Part Two.
Running Backs: Part One, Part Two.
Wide Receivers: Part One, Part Two.
Tight Ends: Part One, Part Two.
Offensive Line: Part One, Part Two.

10. C.J. Olaniyan, Penn State | 5th-yr Senior – 6’3”, 252 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks QBH
2013 28 22 50 11.0 5.0 4
2012 6 9 15 1.0 1.0 0
2011 3 0 3 0 0 0
2010 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 37 31 68 12.0 6.0 4
(Gene J. Puskar, AP)

(Gene J. Puskar, AP)

I will begin this post by declaring that I have committed a great injustice by limiting these rankings to only the Big Ten’s best defensive linemen. Okay, that may be a bit over the top. But there is no doubt that the position at which the Big Ten has the most top-end talent and depth is defensive line. The Big Ten is flooded with NFL talent here. First-round talent, too. What I should have done is split the defensive line preview into two separate weeks, so certain defensive ends and defensive tackles that did not make this list would receive the praise and attention they deserve. However, given how I organized this series’ structure, there is only enough time to dedicate one week to the defensive line.

For example, Minnesota defensive ned Thieren Cockran is one of the most underrated players in the Big Ten. Last season, Cockran surged onto the scene in his first year as a full-time starter. He is one of just eight returning Big Ten linemen that had double-digit tackles-for-loss in 2013. His 7.5 sacks were tied for the second-most in the Big Ten. And his four forced fumbles were tied for the most in the conference. Despite all of this, Cockran was snubbed by the Big Ten coaches from their All-Big Ten team; they did not even reward him with an honorable mention. If there is any Big Ten defensive player that deserves some recognition for his accomplishments, it is Cockran.

Yet, Cockran just missed the cut on this list. As I clarified above, the purpose of this list is to rank who will be the best in 2014, not necessarily who was the best last season. I have two worries about Cockran. First, he padded his stats against inferior competition. Half of his 10 tackles-for-loss and three of this 7.5 sacks were against floundering New Mexico State and FCS foe Western Illinois. Second, Cockran no longer will have former Minnesota nose tackle and second-round NFL draft pick Ra’Shede Hageman eating up double teams in the middle. Big Ten offenses will game plan around Cockran because no other Gophers defensive lineman poses a legitimate threat. Cockran is a skilled defensive end, but he does not have the talent or presence to make opponents pay the price all by himself.

Accordingly, Penn State defensive end C.J. Olaniyan has filled the No. 10 spot rather than Cockran. Olaniyan produced similar statistics to Cockran. Olaniyan finished with 50 tackles, 11 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and an interception. It could be said that Olaniyan was more involved with Penn State’s rush defense while Cockran was more of a pass-rushing threat. Nonetheless, looking only at their total numbers, there is not much of a discrepancy.

However, what separates the two are that Olaniyan produces more against Big Ten competition and will have more help on the defensive line this fall. In conference play last season, Olaniyan recorded 35 tackles, eight tackles-for-loss, and four sacks. Cockran? Only 15 tackles and 4.5 tackles-for-loss. It is clear which one performs better against the cream of the crop. Further, despite losing defensive tackle and 2013 All-Big Ten first-team selection DaQuan Jones to the NFL, Olaniyan still has defensive end Deion Barnes to help relieve the pressure. Barnes slumped last season, but was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2012 for a reason. Barnes has talent and should be able to keep some of the attention off of Olaniyan—at least more than any Minnesota defensive lineman will for Cockran. Therefore, Olaniyan should have more of an impact on the field than Cockran in 2014.

9. Darius Hamilton, Rutgers | Junior – 6’4″, 260 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks QBH
2013 20 28 48 11.5 4.5 4
2012 4 13 17 1.5 0 1
Career Totals 24 41 65 13.0 4.5 5
(Nelson Chenault, USA Today Sports)

(Nelson Chenault, USA Today Sports)

You may be wondering to yourself, “Drew, are you telling me that a former consensus five-star recruit that blossomed as a true sophomore last season is only No. 9 on this list?” Yes, this is exactly what I am telling you. I cannot stress enough just how deep the Big Ten’s defensive line corps will be this fall. Darius Hamilton was one of the most sought-after recruits in the 2012 class. He reportedly had scholarship offers from the likes of Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, Penn State, South Carolina, USC, and Wisconsin. But Hamilton spurned all of them to stay within his home state of New Jersey and attend Rutgers.

After servicing as a reserve as a true freshman in 2012, Hamilton slowly lived up to his potential throughout his first season as a starter last year. He posted 48 tackles, 11.5 tackles-for-loss, 4.5 sacks, three pass break-ups, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. These are splendid stats, but the key is to focus on how Hamilton finished the season. In Rutgers’ final four games, he registered 19 tackles, 6.5 tackles-for-loss, and 3.5 sacks. A sample size of four games—with three against AAC opponents—is too small to extrapolate to a full season in the Big Ten. Nonetheless, it would be foolish to presume that these performances were just anomalies given Hamilton’s raw talent.

Further, Hamilton did more than just boost his individual numbers down the stretch. He also anchored one of the stingiest run defenses last season. The Scarlet Knights were fourth in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game (100.77) and fifth in the nation in rushing yards allowed per carry (3.10). Rutgers’ rush defense was not predicated on forcing stops behind the line of scrimmage; Rutgers was only 45th nationally in team tackles-for-loss. Rather, the Scarlet Knights relied on their defensive tackles to occupy multiple offensive linemen and plug holes at the line. It was quite effective given the results.

But this strategy will not be as successful in the Big Ten this fall unless Hamilton gains a solid chunk of weight. Last year, he played at 240 pounds, which is incredibly light a for a three-tech. He still was able to survive, but only because he faced the smaller offensive lines of the AAC. Hamilton will not be so fortunate against the mammoth offensive lines of the Big Ten. Currently, Hamilton is listed on the roster at 260 pounds, and it has been reported that he will add an extra ten pounds. This would give Hamilton better odds to tussle with Big Ten offensive linemen, but he still will not have the luxury of a larger tackle lined up alongside of him. No Rutgers defensive lineman is listed with a weight above 280 pounds. Accordingly, Hamilton will be forced to combat double teams, and there may not be much he will be able to do to prevent them from escorting him from the premises. Thus, Hamilton sits at No. 9 on this list, even if he is projected to be one of the first ten defensive tackles selected in the 2016 NFL Draft.

8. Frank Clark, Michigan | Senior – 6’2”, 270 lbs.
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks QBH
2013 19 24 43 12.0 4.5 7
2012 16 9 25 9.0 2 0
2011 3 7 10 0.5 0 0
Career Totals 38 40 78 21.5 6.5 7
(Carlos Osorio, AP)

(Carlos Osorio, AP)

Michigan fans have been waiting for half of a decade for the next elite pass-rushing defensive end to don the maize and blue. In 2009, Brandon Graham was brilliant on the field for Michigan despite receiving little assistance from his defensive brethren. He tallied 63 tackles, 10.5 sacks, and became just the fourth Wolverine to surpass 25 tackles-for-loss in a season in school history. He was the lone standout for a defense that finished only 82nd and 77th nationally in total and scoring defense, respectively. For his efforts, Graham was selected with the 13th pick overall in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Since then, Michigan has not been close to having a defensive lineman replicate Graham’s production. In the past four seasons, no Michigan defensive lineman has notched more than 12.5 tackles-for-loss or 5.5 sacks. For context, a Big Ten defensive lineman has had no less than six sacks in a season 21 times in that same span. Michigan fans hope that this lack of production from the defensive end spot will come to a close soon. In fact, they are encouraged that this drought will finally end this season.

Enter: Frank Clark. Last summer, like this summer, Michigan fans were optimistic that Clark would have a breakout season in the fall. Hype was rampant. Praise was never-ending. It seemed like there was a new quote from the coaches or rumor complimenting Clark and his athletic ability. Fans saw glimpses of this ability, especially during an eight-game span in the middle of the season. During this stretch, he had 37 tackles, 11 tackles-for-loss, 4.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, and a defensive touchdown. He was a force to be reckoned with as his combination of strength and agility was too much for offensive tackles to handle. Because most of the games during this stretch were during conference play, Clark was named to the All-Big Ten second team.

However, Clark’s season was marred by inconsistency. He would vanish from games just as often as he had an intimidating presence. He opened the campaign with a very slow start—a start that caused fans to question whether the preseason hype was deserved. In the first three contests, Clark made only four tackles and one tackle-for-loss. Then, Clark settled into his aforementioned eight-game groove, which caused many to believe that Clark had put his inconsistency issues behind him. But Clark was shut out in Michigan’s final two games against Ohio State and Kansas State, during which he managed only two tackles and little else.

So how will Clark finally transform into the next Brandon Graham in 2014? Or will he continue to disappear for entire games? The answer lies somewhere in the middle. Clark is one of the most physically gifted defensive ends in the conference. Offensive linemen will continue to have trouble contained Clark as he forces his way to the quarterback. He also will benefit from having a fully healthy Jake Ryan at linebacker behind him. Ryan’s prowess as a pass-rusher is well known, but his ACL injury limited him last season. With Ryan at 100 percent, offenses would be remiss to focus their pass protection solely on Clark. Additionally, another offseason under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Greg Mattison should help Clark further learn from his mental miscues and somewhat cure his inconsistency. But there is little chance that these errors will be completely remedied. Consequently, Clark will not be the next Graham. But the first Michigan defensive lineman with more than 12.5 tackles-for-loss and 5.5 sacks since 2009? It would be a stunner if Clark did not hit both marks.

7. Andre Monroe, Maryland | 5th-yr Senior – 5’11”, 275 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks QBH
2013 25 17 42 17.0 9.5 1
2012 0 0 0 0 0 0
2011 15 5 20 7.5 5.0 0
2010 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 40 22 62 24.5 14.5 1
(Mitch Stringer, USA Today)

(Mitch Stringer, USA Today)

I have repeated over and over again that the Big Ten is littered with NFL talent along the defensive line. According to NFL Draft Scout, there are 19 Big Ten defensive ends or defensive tackles that are ranked in the top 15 at their respective position in their respective draft class. For context, a defensive lineman ranked in the top 20 at their respective position will be an NFL Draft pick. So, not only will all 19 of these Big Ten defensive linemen likely be NFL draft picks, they likely will be selected in one of the first five rounds. Nine of the 10 players that made this list are projected to be no worse than a fourth-round draft pick. The lone exception: Maryland defensive end Andre Monroe.

One may not find Monroe on any NFL team’s draft board, but this does not mean that Monroe lacks talent. In 2011, he was a freshman All-American according to multiple media outlets when he totaled 7.5 tackles-for-loss and five sacks as a reserve in just nine games. Although Monroe missed the 2012 season due to a significant knee injury he suffered during fall camp, he returned as strong as ever last year. Monroe finished with 42 tackles, 17 tackles-for-loss, 9.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and a pass break-up in 13 games. His 17 tackles-for-loss and 9.5 sacks were fifth and sixth in the ACC, respectively. This output is impressive from a lineman that was the five-tech in Maryland’s 3-4 defensive scheme. Generally, a five-tech in such a scheme will have a difficult time knifing his way through the offensive line to generate a pass rush. But Monroe did just that, demonstrating he can be effective at stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback.

So why is Monroe not projected to be an NFL Draft selection? Size. Monroe is listed only at 5’11”, and many NFL scouts do not believe that his production will translate to a much bigger NFL. But the purpose of this exercise is to rank who will be the best players in the Big Ten in 2014, not the best future professionals. In spite of his physical limitations, Monroe has an array of pass-rushing moves. And he will have more an opportunity to show them off this fall. Monroe will transition from the five-tech to the outside, where he will have a clearer path on the edge to rush the quarterback. Even with the move, it is difficult to project that Monroe will have more sacks in the Big Ten this season than the 9.5 he had in the ACC last year. However, there is little doubt that Monroe will be one of the better defensive ends in the conference despite having little chance to play on Sundays like the others on this list.

6. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State | RS Junior – 6’4”, 257 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks QBH
2013 20 17 37 14.0 7.5 18
2012 4 2 6 2.5 1 5
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 24 19 43 16.5 8.5 23
(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

The sound you hear in the distance that is slowly rising in volume is a stampede of Michigan State fans charging at me for slotting defensive end Shilique Calhoun at No. 6 and outside the top five. They have a fair argument. Last season, in his first full year as a starter, Calhoun had one of the most productive campaigns of any defensive player in the Big Ten. He was tied for second in the conference with 7.5 sacks and tied for sixth with 14 tackles-for-loss. Although there were other Big Ten defenders with a similar number of sacks and tackles-for-loss, what made Calhoun’s statistical profile so sparkly were his takeaways. He forced two fumbles, recovered four fumbles, and intercepted a pass. He then converted three of these into defensive touchdowns—the most by any player in the nation. And Calhoun did all of this while starting on a defensive line that allowed the second-fewest rushing yards per game in the nation (86.6) and the third-fewest rushing yards per carry (2.85).

It was an excellent season for Calhoun, and everyone took notice. Calhoun earned second-team All-American honors from Walter Camp, the Associated Press, SI.com, USA Today, and Athlon Sports. He was the recipient of the 2013 National Defensive Performer of the Year by the College Football Performance Awards. He was one of six finalists for the Ted Hendricks Award, which is given to the nation’s best defensive end. He was named the Smith-Brown Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. He also was selected to the All-Big Ten first team by both the coaches and the media. Ultimately, Calhoun was one of the most, if not the most, decorated Big Ten defensive players last season. With all of these accolades in hand, the NFL took notice as well. Calhoun could have been a third-round-or-better selection in the NFL Draft this past spring. Instead, he opted to return for his redshirt junior season and now is projected to be one of the first players taken the 2015 NFL Draft.

Yet Calhoun sits here at No. 6. Why? In three words: He is overrated. This is not to say that he is not a skilled defensive end, but he is not as talented as many claim him to be. What made Calhoun’s statistical profile stand out so much were his takeaways and three defensive touchdowns in the first two games. While this is a notable feat, it is more of a reflection of good luck and fortunate bounces than his ability. Ability is forcing an opposing player to fumble the football. Luck is seeing that fumble bounce and roll towards you, so you can pick it up. Will Calhoun be so fortunate to once again recover the second-most fumbles in the nation this fall? Doubtful.

If Calhoun is unable to use fumble recoveries and defensive touchdowns to boost his resume, then he will need to rely on his ability to create stops by racking up tackles, tackles-for-loss, and sacks. However, he had only 37 total tackles and more than three tackles only three times in 14 contests last season. This was because Calhoun’s game was more about rushing the passer the stuffing the run. This is fine, except when one looks at Calhoun’s game tape against Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, and Stanford’s NFL-caliber offensive tackles. When he went one-on-one against those tackles, Calhoun was rendered ineffective. He was unable to disengage from the offensive tackles and create plays by himself. It generally was only when defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi used stunts to get Calhoun into space or when Michigan’s leaky offensive line slid away from Calhoun that he made an impact.

To be clear, this is not to say that Calhoun is subpar or not a Big Ten-caliber defensive end. Calhoun had a very productive first full season as starter as a redshirt sophomore. With another offseason of development and coaching under Narduzzi, coupled with his size and athleticism, Calhoun could transform into the player many expect him to be in 2014. But I would caution that this very well may not be the case and to expect what many would consider an underwhelming season for what many project to be a top-10 pick in the next NFL Draft. And, for any Michigan State fans that want to call me a Michigan homer for Calhoun’s rank, just wait until we reveal my top five tomorrow.

What do you think so far? Do you agree with our rank of the five players listed above? Is Michigan’s Frank Clark too high or too low at No. 8? Will Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun duplicate his 2013 campaign this fall? Or will his production slip? Who do you think will be in the top five? Please post your comments below as we will reveal tomorrow who will be the five best defensive linemen in the Big Ten in 2014.

Predicting Michigan: The defensive line

Monday, July 7th, 2014


Predicting Michigan-DL

Frank Clark

Previously: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Tight Ends, Offensive Line

For much of the 2013 season, Michigan effectively stopped the running game with a defensive line that appeared to be the strongest unit for Greg Mattison. The defense dominated the rushing attack of weaker opponents and allowed an average of just 89.5 yards per game through six games.

But as the schedule got tougher, opponents found it much easier to bully Michigan’s line. Big Ten teams averaged nearly 190 rushing yards per game against the Wolverines in the final six regular season games, and Kansas State polished off the campaign with 149 yards on the ground in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

Michigan returns most of its major contributors on the defensive line this season as Mattison tries to instill consistency into a group that showed flashes of greatness in 2013. Starting tackles Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington both graduated, but a wealth of talented young options will step in to fill the void.

The Starters

A pair of senior defensive ends will help anchor Michigan’s young defense as Frank Clark plays across from Brennen Beyer, who returns from a year in the linebacking core. Beyer was asked to fill the void that Jake Ryan left after tearing his ACL during the 2013 offseason. The versatile defensive lineman stepped into the role and became an important piece to an otherwise thin group of linebackers. This year he’ll move back to his position of strength, where he wreaked havoc for the Wolverines during much of the last three seasons.

Clark was Michigan’s most reliable defensive lineman last season, recording 12 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. The junior earned second team all-Big Ten honors and figures to be one of the strongest lineman in the conference as a senior.

A host of defensive tackles earned time between the seniors at the spring game, but two standout sophomores are likely to get most of the snaps when the season begins on August 30. Chris Wormley showed his elite playmaking ability in limited time during his freshman season and looks primed for a bigger role in 2014. The Toledo native demonstrated that he can get into the backfield for a defense desperate to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Willie Henry has every opportunity to snatch a starting position despite seeing limited action during the spring game in April. Henry was named to the ESPN.com all-Big Ten freshman team in 2013 and started six games during the second half of the season for Mattison.

Career Stats – Clark
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
38 38 40 78 6.5 21.5 1 3 1
Career Stats – Beyer
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
35 30 27 57 2.0 4.5 2 0 1
Career Stats – Wormley
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
13 9 10 19 2.5 4.5 0 1 0
Career Stats – Henry
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
13 15 17 32 0.5 3.0 0 0 0

Veteran Depth

Ojemudia and Charlton give Mattison a pair of young, quick defensive ends

Ojemudia and Charlton give Mattison a pair of young, quick defensive ends (Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

Michigan owns an abundance of options at defensive line if the projected starters fail to stand out during fall camp.  Ryan Glasgow appeared in 11 games as a redshirt freshman last year and played with the first team at nose tackle during the spring game. Glasgow has every opportunity to make an impact for Michigan alongside his classmate Wormley after earning the trust of the coaching staff with his steady run stopping in 2013.

Sophomore Matthew Godin will also play an increased role after appearing in six games as a redshirt freshman. Godin took first-team reps at defensive end during the spring game and gives Michigan a reliable lineman to mix in with playmakers like Clark and Wormley.

Mario Ojemudia played in all 13 games and registered 20 tackles for the defensive line last season and will likely see time behind Frank Clark this year. Taco Charlton took second team reps across from Ojemudia and should see increased minutes as the coaching staff takes advantage of Beyer’s versatility and moves him around the field.

Of course, we can’t forget about the highest-rated of the bunch, Ondre Pipkins, who tore his ACL against Minnesota last season and missed the rest of the season. The former five-star was expected to play a key role behind Quinton Washington in 2013, but the injury derailed his progress and allowed for the rise of Henry and Glasgow. If he’s fully healthy this fall, expect Pipkins to be a big part of the rotation in the middle.

Tom StrobelMaurice Hurst Jr., and Henry Poggi are a trio of young four-stars hoping to work their way into the rotation. Strobel saw action in one game as a redshirt freshman last season and recorded a pair of tackles. Hurst and Poggi both redshirted.

Career Stats – Glasgow
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
11 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Godin
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
7 2 1 3 0 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Ojemudia
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
22 20 11 31 2.5 4.0 1 2 1
Career Stats – Charlton
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
10 1 1 2 0.5 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Pipkins
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
18 3 11 14 0 1.0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Strobel
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
1 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Hurst Jr.
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Poggi
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Newcomers

Brady Hoke added one major piece to the defensive line in his fourth season in Ann Arbor, tackle Bryan Mone out of Salt Lake City. Mone joins a defensive line that features at least eight players hoping to see significant time on the field, but the coaches made sure the freshman also got some work during the spring game. The enormous 315-pound lineman demonstrated surprising quickness and spent most his time in the backfield during an outstanding high school career. The freshman recorded 144 tackles in three seasons en route to an invitation to the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game.

Countdown to kickoff: 96 days

Monday, May 26th, 2014


Countdown to kickoff-96

Predicting Michigan: The defensive line

Monday, August 19th, 2013


As we continue our position preview and prediction series, it’s time to move on to the defensive side of the ball. If you missed the offense, we looked at the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, offensive line, and tight ends over the past couple of weeks.

Shouldering The Load: A Critical Group

Since Greg Mattison has taken over as Defensive Coordinator, his unit has turned into one of the top in the Big Ten. A demoralized defense that struggled under Rich Rodriguez was turned around immediately because of Mattison’s presence. This season, he will have to work with the young defensive players that have made up the strong recruiting classes the past few seasons. Leaders like Jordan Kovacs have graduated and it will be critical to establish new veteran leaders to help the rest of the defense mature.

Jibreel Black gives the line a proven vet to rotate in

Head Coach Brady Hoke coached the defensive line during his days under legendary Bo Schembechler, and he obviously still takes pride in that group of players as the head man. In 2013, the defensive line will be absolutely critical. Great defenses are those that can get pressure on opposing quarterbacks without blitzing linebackers or defensive backs. Michigan will need to get pressure from the pass rushers on the line to help a secondary that seems to have many questions at this point in the preseason.

Veterans: The Few

This season’s defensive line will be anchored by the few returning players that will likely play big minutes again this year. Frank Clark has had a nice camp and figures to play a bigger role on the line this season. He has played all over the field on defense during his time in Ann Arbor, but this year he will play predominantly at defensive end, where Hoke expects him to be an effective pass rusher and leader. Perhaps the most satisfying play of the entire 2012 season for the Wolverines was Clark’s hit on Braxton Miller when he came through untouched against the Buckeyes in Columbus. After that hit, it is unsurprising that Clark has been moved permanently to the defensive end position.

The interior line seemingly has more stability, as proven defensive tackles Quinton Washington and Jibreel Black return as candidates to start. Washington, a redshirt senior, was solid in 2012 recording 32 tackles but only one sack. He has been steady on defense since his move from offensive line midway in 2010 and will be crucial as one of the two seniors on the defensive line. Black, the other senior, was more of a big-play threat last season. Though he only had 20 total tackles, he recorded three sacks and five tackles for loss.

The only other upperclassman on the line is redshirt junior Richard Ash, who will be a role player at defensive tackle again this season. Players like Ash are crucial to having a strong line, because so many players contribute during the course of one game due to the number of substitutions in the trenches.

Career Stats – Clark
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
25 19 16 35 2.0 9.5 1 1 1
Career Stats – Washington
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
35 16 19 35 1.0 3.0 1 0 0
Career Stats – Black
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
39 28 17 45 4.5 6.5 2 0 0
Career Stats – Ash
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
9 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Filling In: Talented Youth

While the rest of the defensive line is largely unproven coming into 2013, there is no doubt the talent is there. Two strong recruiting classes in a row have helped establish depth at an important defensive position for the Wolverines. Freshman Taco Charlton could be one of the most important players on the defense, because of his standout ability as a pass rusher. Most of the returning players on the defensive line were adequate run-stoppers last season, but there is definitely a hole in the pass-rushing department. Charlton was recruited to fill that gap, and will likely get a chance to rush the quarterback in some meaningful games this season. Hoke likes what the true freshman has shown midway through camp.

Big things are expected from Taco Charlton

Another exciting young player is sophomore Ondre Pipkins. Pipkins played in every game as a true freshman, so he could be considered a veteran on an otherwise inexperienced defensive unit. Though he didn’t start any games last year, Hoke and Mattison showed great trust in Pipkins by giving him meaningful minutes in every game of the season. This year, the sophomore has an opportunity to move up into a starting position at defensive tackle.

Tom Strobel did not see any playing time last year, as he was given a redshirt to mature. However, he was a highly-ranked recruit and could be right in the mix to play big minutes as well this season. The Ohio native has a big body and is strong in the run-blocking category which is a strength of this unit.

Fellow redshirt freshman Mario Ojemudia has caught Hoke’s attention during the offseason with his ability to jump snaps and get quick pressure on the quarterback. Ojemudia is a smaller defensive lineman, at 6’2″, but he uses that to his advantage as a quicker defender and can get around bigger offensive lineman because of that. He was given a redshirt to work on his size and strength, since that seems to be the one issue that could stop Ojemudia from being a star.

Henry Poggi and Chris Wormley were recruits that also created some buzz. Wormley is a big athlete who moves very well for a player of his size. In high school he showed incredible disengaging skills and was able to overpower his opponents the majority of the time. Poggi, who was recruited as a four-star out of Baltimore, Maryland, may be the victim of Michigan’s depth at defensive tackle and take a redshirt this season. Players like Washington, Black and Pipkins figure to receive most of the snaps at defensive tackle, so coaches may take the opportunity to let Poggi mature for a season.

Career Stats – Pipkins
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
13 2 5 7 0 0.5 0 0 0
Career Stats – Ojemudia
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
9 8 3 11 1.0 2.5 1 1 1

Depth: An Exciting Future

Having too many good players is a nice problem to have, and Michigan may have difficulty finding time for some very good young players this season because of the traffic jam on the defensive line. True freshman Maurice Hurst Jr. comes to Ann Arbor after being labeled a very talented recruit, and can help fill in at defensive line this year if Michigan needs him. It is likely that Hurst could get a redshirt along with Poggi, and we’ll see them make a major impact in a few years.

Keith Heitzman has played 12 games as a backup defensive end in his short career so far, and will continue to contribute this season, potentially winning a starting role.

Redshirt freshman Matt Godin will likely pick up a similar role this year. Godin is one of the bigger lineman on the team at 6’6″ and 280 pounds. Godin’s classmate Willie Henry is also a huge interior lineman, listed just over 300 pounds. These players will see playing time throughout the course of the season, and will need to be solid while they give the more well-known players a breather. Luckily, Hoke and Mattison are the right coaches to have around a defensive line with so much potential.

Career Stats – Heitzman
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
12 2 5 7 0 1.0 0 1 0

Wrapping Up

Michigan’s defensive line is similar to many of the other groups on the 2013 team. Two outstanding recruiting classes have established important depth, and the few veteran players will need to be leaders to help those youngsters mature. Washington, Black and Clark will be the big name veterans on the line, but there’s a great chance that some of the newer players step up and make a name for themselves early as well. Fans in Ann Arbor should be excited to see players like Charlton and Pipkins play major minutes and cause havoc on the defensive line.

The rest of the defense has their own responsibility, but the line is the really crucial group to watch in 2013. If the young pass-rushers can keep quarterbacks from getting comfortable in the pocket, the rest of the defense should fall into place. Mattison will look to his defensive line to set the tone this season.