In 2010, college football brought us some stellar play from many unsung heroes inside the trenches.
One of the major components of a great football team is its ability to win the battle at the line of scrimmage, which stops the opponent’s rushing attack and pressures the opposing quarterback into hasty decision making that often results in a turnover.
Both of these feats can be achieved with a dominant defensive line, and it should serve no surprise that many of the nation’s best defensive lines also happen to rank in the Associated Press Top 25.
This is a slide show of seven college programs who are considered to be in exceptional shape for the 2011 season. Factors include:
- Recent success
- A low attrition rate of defensive linemen versus returning starters
- A robust class of incoming recruits
- A stable coaching environment
- A paucity of significant injuries to the team's key d-linemen
Let’s take a look at some programs that will be especially troublesome against the run…
Gone are senior starters Cameron Heyward and Dexter Larimore, who had served as pillars of the Buckeye defensive line and will likely be playing on Sundays in 2011.
Taking over for Larimore at DT will be mammoth freshman Johnathan Hankins, who weighs in at 6’3”/335 and will be a load for opposing linemen to block as he continues his maturation towards starter status.
Junior end Nathan Williams and sophomore tackle John Simon played respectably for the OSU d-line in 2010, and should return to their starting roles, barring unforeseen developments from their impressive incoming recruits.
Defensive ends Steve Miller, Kenny Haynes, and Chase Farris are all coveted four-star prep athletes who will provide ample depth off the edge. Indiana-born Joel Hale is considered by Rivals.com to be a top-30 recruit at defensive tackle and will likely begin his college career backing up Hankins.
With the Big 10 set to expand to 12 teams in 2011, the extra depth along the defensive line will be needed for Ohio State to continue its run of success in a conference with a reputation for playing a physical brand of football.
‘Bama’s two losses on their defensive line will be reserve DT Luther Davis, who contributed 21 total tackles in 2010, and stud DE Marcell Dareus, who knocked Texas QB Colt McCoy out of the 2009 BCS Championship Game.
Dareus was suspended for the first two games of the season for attending a sports agent’s party in Miami, Fla. in 2010 and receiving improper benefits. Regardless of past transgressions, the versatile defensive lineman will likely be an early pick in April’s NFL Draft.
Otherwise, the Crimson Tide will bring a wave of new recruits to Tuscaloosa, including two four-star junior college prospects that should be ready to plug into the rotation since they already matriculated in the spring and have had extra time to learn the new defensive schemes.
Quinton Dial had initially signed with the Tide back in 2009, but academic issues forced him to take a detour via East Mississippi Community College to get his grades up. Now that he’s back, the four-star JuCo transfer will serve as a sizable run stuffer.
Jesse Williams is another four-star transfer from a two-year school, but he hails from a different background altogether. The Australian-born Williams hadn’t started playing football until his teenage years, was solicited by 25 different universities after only a year of high school football, and he chose Alabama after a call from Coach Nick Saban. With his 6’3”/310-pound frame, Arizona Western Junior College will surely miss having this Aussie at defensive tackle.
Incoming 2011 defensive end recruits Xzavier Dickson, LaMichael Fanning and D.J. Pettway each drew at least an 80 rating from ESPNU, will help to ensure that the Crimson Tide defensive line will be extremely athletic and will be a nuisance to opposing quarterbacks for years to come.
Although Boise State may not have the largest, most imposing defensive line in the nation, the Broncos’ front four has developed a formidable chemistry that had produced wondrous results over the last couple of seasons.
Senior DE Ryan Winterswyk finished his four years of eligibility, but his starting spot will be filled by either Jarrell Root or Tyrone Crawford. Root, who will be a senior next year, contributed three sacks in 2010, while Crawford led the team with 13.5 tackles for loss to go along with seven quarterback takedowns.
DT’s Billy Winn and Chase Baker will return for their senior seasons, as will DE Shea McLellin. With the nation’s sixth-ranked run defense last season, this program might struggle to see an improvement in its first year as a member of the Mountain West Conference in 2011. With Nevada, Tulsa, Air Force, and TCU on the schedule for 2011, the Broncos will get tougher sledding against four of the nation’s top-20 rushing attacks.
The Broncos will receive some recruiting reinforcements next season what with the arrival of athletic DE Sam Ukwuachu. The three-star prep star will need to pack on a few pounds before he is ready to take on Division I linemen but certainly has the athletic potential to flourish at the college level.
DT Robert Ash is another three-star recruit who has the ability to play on both sides of the ball. Although he played defensive end in high school, the versatile Californian possesses the physicality to move inside and stuff the run as well as sufficient speed to contain the quarterback in the pocket.
The Bearcats, who ranked in the top 25 in 2010 with under 3.5 yards-per-carry allowed, will enjoy the addition of a trio of three-star defensive ends in Chad West, Silverberry Mouhon, and Dwight Jackson without losing any of their existing personnel to graduation or early departure for the professional ranks.
Starting DEs Brandon Mills and Dan Giordano will return for their junior years and will fight off Monte Taylor and Steve Hancock for their starting spots.
With a somewhat soft out-of-conference schedule that features Austin Peay and Akron in addition to Tennessee and Miami (Ohio), Bearcats fans are hopeful that Cincy’s 68th-ranked defense will demonstrate marked improvement after a disappointing 4-8 campaign in 2010.
One might think the Knights would be satisfied with their run defense that ranked 10th in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Based on their aggressive recruiting of down linemen, the program is aiming even higher to contain the most explosive rushing attacks in the nation.
UCF lost DE's David Williams and Bruce Miller, as well as DT Wes Tunuufi-Sauvao to graduation but will enjoy as bountiful a harvest as any program during this recruiting season.
Thomas Niles, Demetris Anderson and Dalton Wertz are a trio of defensive tackles who will fortify the Knights’ d-line with a bevy of three-star recruits. Add junior college transfer Jose Jose to the fold, and Central Florida looks capable of withstanding a rash of injuries to their front four.
At defensive end, Deion Green, Miles Pace, Kevin Miller, and Joey Grant are all three-star recruits with enough athletic ability to pressure the quarterback while keeping the opposing running game between the tackles. Cameron Henderson and Toby Jackson are two more talented recruits that transferred from two-year schools to play defensive end for UCF in 2011 and beyond.
The Gamecocks finished the year allowing an impressive 3.2 YPC in 2010 and will enjoy an influx of recruits that should infuse fresh talent along their defensive line.
Although seniors Ladi Ajiboye and Cliff Matthews are set to graduate, DT's Kenny Davis and Byron Jerideau are capable of replacing their production along the defensive line in 2011. Furthermore, starting DE Devin Taylor and Melvin Ingram, who led the team with nine sacks last season, should bring plenty of heat off the edge with another year of seasoning.
Four-star DT recruit Kelcy Quarles will provide a potentially dominant presence up the middle that could command extensive double-teams, and three-star tackles Deon Green, Gerald G. Dixon and Gerald Dixon Jr. (no relation) will add ample depth to an already stout defensive line that ranked ninth in the FBS in rush defense last season. DE Lorenzo Mauldin figures to serve as a backup to Ingram until the senior graduates.
The Horned Frogs will still have one more year to dominate the Mountain West Conference before they move to the Big East for the 2012 season. As the defending Rose Bowl champs proved that they belong in the BCS championship conversation with an undefeated season, their success coupled with the conference switch could facilitate national recruitment of upper-echelon players as the program simultaneously expands its coverage area.
Coming off an undefeated season that can be largely attributed to their third-ranked rush defense that allowed 3.1 yards per carry, TCU will lose elite DE Wayne Daniels, DT Cory Grant, and DT Kelly Griffin to graduation. However, they’ve been busy on the recruiting trail and have landed some talented run-stuffers who can help to maintain Texas Christian’s suffocating level of play.
DT Davion Pierson is a big, physical body that plays a headsy style of defense. DT Chuck Hunter showed enough explosion off the ball and is has a stocky build at 6’0”/290 that’s ideal for bullrushing the quarterback.