Like linebacker, the defensive line is breaking in several new starters, but there’s a lot more certainty along the front four.
Defensive tackle Luther Maddy should be the star of the defense if he keeps up his stellar performance from the last two years, and he’ll eat up blockers on the line.
Corey Marshall joins him at the other DT spot. He might not seem like a natural fit at the position, considering he spent last year redshirting and working as a DE and weighs only 257 pounds, but he’s another new starter coaches raved about this spring.
Foster likes his DTs to be athletic, and Marshall seems to fit the bill. If he pans out next to Maddy, the line should be dominant once more.
The same goes for new starting end Dadi Nicolas. He looked great in limited appearances last year, but Foster primarily used him as a stand-up pass-rusher instead of a traditional DE.
Nicolas only started one game last year at end, making six total tackles and one for loss against Duke, yet he looked a little lost defending the run at times. Nevertheless, Nicolas has incredible speed, enough to make up for his diminutive 218-pound frame.
He should make for a very good starter as well, but there could be growing pains as he adjusts to the rigors of starting full time.
Fellow starting DE Ken Ekanem is the biggest question mark on the line. He was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school, but injuries have disrupted his career up to this point.
However, he insists he’s moved past those setbacks, and the coaches seem to agree. Foster will also surely rotate in promising young players like Seth Dooley and Dewayne Alford to ease some of the burden, but this is Ekanem’s job. If he impresses early, this unit will be absolutely loaded.
However, depth is a concern. The staff would surely like to rotate players at every position, but outside of Dooley and Alford, there aren’t many players available.
Nigel Williams will undoubtedly get into the mix at DT after his strong first season, as will Woody Baron once he recovers from ankle surgery.
Transfer Wade Hansen could make an impact there too, as could newly converted DE Vinny Mihota, but they’re largely unknowns.
But if the starters develop to reach Maddy’s level of excellence, then the reserves won’t be nearly as large a concern.
The line could certainly struggle, but it seems like the talent is there to make it a strong unit.