Boston College quietly put together one of the best defenses in the country a year ago, based on the strength of its front seven.
The Eagles ranked No. 2 in the nation in rush defense, No. 11 in total defense and had 33 sacks. Why stop there? Headed into this season, the BC defense believes it can be even better. Defensive tackle Connor Wujciak said in a recent phone interview, "We want to have a top 5 defense in the country."
To get there, the Eagles will have to rely on its talented and experienced defensive front. Headed into 2015, BC is as deep as it has ever been under coach Steve Addazio along the defensive line, with the ability to rely on eight or nine players.
Three starters return; so does defensive tackle Mehdi Abdesmad, who is healthy after dealing with season-ending knee injuries the past two seasons.
Wujciak admits, "I've never had depth like this before." The thought of playing 50 snaps in a game, as opposed to 70, is as appealing as it gets for a defensive lineman, because it helps each player stay fresher. Given the depth on the line and relative youth at linebacker and in the secondary, BC has placed a heavy emphasis this fall on improving its four-man pass rush.
Last season, defensive linemen accounted for 20.5 sacks. But nobody had more than 4.5. The four schools in the ACC with more sacks than BC a year ago had at least one defensive lineman with seven or more.
For a guy like Wujciak, improving pass rush skills has meant, "Using my hands when I'm rushing more. Don't be such a Neanderthal and rush down the center of guys. Try to be more active with my hands."
For a guy like Harold Landry, it has meant using his athleticism off the edge while getting into much better shape. Landry played as a true freshman a year ago, but he admits he was 15 pounds overweight. During the offseason, he set out to improve his body.
When he went home to Fayetteville, North Carolina, in the offseason, he used the gym at nearby Fort Bragg to continue the workouts the strength and conditioning staff gave him at BC.
Landry is now down to 250 pounds and has been a force throughout preseason camp. He has earned a starting spot opposite junior Kevin Kavalec, the top returning player in sacks with 3.5.
"I really was on a mission this offseason to prove to everybody that I could be a guy they could depend on in games and practices every single day to get the job done and make plays," Landry said. "I've gotten a lot better at it and I feel like a better overall athlete."
Landry has set his goal to get between 8-10 sacks this season.
"I think we can have a really good defense," Landry said. "Of course, we'd like to improve from last year. I think we can have the top defense in the ACC. I really believe that."