Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Preseason position reviews: defensive line
By Ted Miller
Defensive line is difficult to compare among Pac-12 teams because schemes aren't as consistent as they used to be.
Five or so years ago, just about everyone ran a 4-3. Now, most of the conference runs a hybrid 3-4. California went the other way, however, switching back to a 4-3.
In most cases, when a team runs an odd front, we counted the "rush end" as an outside linebacker, but there's always a bit of crossover into defensive end territory, whether he puts his hand down or not.
Continuing our theme of strong defenses heading into the 2013 season, this is a good position in the conference across the board. Even the "We'll see" teams probably believe they will be as good or better up front this fall.
So how do things stack up?
After a 12-sack season in 2012, Will Sutton will once again be a force on Arizona State's defensive line.
Arizona State: Everyone knows about DT Will Sutton, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, who was mostly unblockable last year, but all three D-line starters are back for the Sun Devils. While the Pac-12 Blog doesn't give too much credit to incoming players, juco transfer Marcus Hardison, ESPN's No. 5 overall junior college prospect in the country, is apparently ready for prime time.
Stanford: End Ben Gardner leads a strong, experienced unit. He and fellow end Henry Anderson combined for 27.5 tackles for a loss, and NG David Parry stepped into the starting lineup late last season when Terrence Stephens had some issues. Depth is promising but mostly unproven.
USC: The Trojans have the potential to be rugged front as they switch to a base 3-4 look if former tackles now ends Leonard Williams and George Uko take another step forward. Things are fluid at nose tackle between Antwaun Woods, Cody Temple and touted frosh Kenny Bigelow. Some depth questions remain, and the run defense was only middling a year ago.
California: In terms of name recognition from recruiting, there's plenty of potential here as the Bears transition to a 4-3 scheme: massive NT Deandre Coleman is top NFL prospect, as are ends Chris McCain and Brennan Scarlett. Tackle Mustafa Jalil is a big-time talent, but depth is a question and the results in 2012 were mediocre.
UCLA: Datone Jones is gone, and that's a big hit, but most of the depth chart is back, including DE Cassius Marsh and NT Seali'i Epenesa. The Bruins probably would be in great shape if not for some health issues. NT Brandon Tuliaupupu was lost in the spring to a knee injury, and end Owamagbe Odighizuwa remains questionable for fall camp with a hip injury. Is touted NT Ellis McCarthy ready to roll after injury issues his freshman year? And will the NCAA make Eddie Vanderdoes, who signed with Notre Dame in February but changed his mind, immediately eligible?
Washington: Talia Crichton is gone, but three of four starters are back, including NT Danny Shelton. Ends Andrew Hudson and Josh Shirley combined for 13 sacks last year. If the D-line take a step forward, the Huskies have a chance to have a top-25 defense.
Oregon State: This is a compromise grade for the Beavers, who are in great shape at end -- Scott Crichton! Dylan Wynn! -- and a decided "we'll see" at tackle, where incoming juco players need to step up, big time.
Washington State: The Cougars welcome back all three starters from late in the season, led by NT Ioane Gauta. Sophomore tackle Xavier Cooper could be poised for a breaktout season -- injuries slowed his development last year. This is a ‘better than you think unit’, one that only allowed 4.0 yards per rush, same as Oregon and Oregon State.
Utah: The Utes lose three of four starters from their 2012 line, including first-round NFL draft pick Star Lotulelei, but there doesn't seem to be much worry heading into fall camp, particularly with Trevor Reilly fully installed at end instead of OLB. Nate Orchard, who changed his last name from Fakahafua, is back at the other end, and there are a handful of 300-pound options at DT. Utah was second in the Pac-12 in rush defense last season and there is a tradition of being stout up front.
Arizona: Five of the top six from the 2012 depth chart are back, but the Wildcats D-line got pushed around last year. Only Colorado was worse against the run -- 4.6 yards per carry, 206 yards per game. Further, the Wildcats had just 16 sacks last year, last in the conference.
Colorado: With a team-high seven sacks, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe is a strong player, but his supporting cast is questionable. Still, it's not unreasonable to project significant improvement from a unit that was forced to play several young players in 2012. While the experience factor is nice, the Buffs still gave up 5.9 yards per rush last year, second worst in the nation.