Believe it or not, UTSA doesn't have many unknowns on its defense in 2015 despite returning few full-time starters. We know Drew Douglas is going to be a rock at middle linebacker. Mauricio Sanchez will be dependable at Rover safety. Michael Egwuagu will be a play maker at the Dawg hybrid spot. The two biggest questions for me in 2015 are depth along the defensive line and newcomers ability to match the production provided by some of last year's stars. Let's hop into it:
1. Jason Neill
The 6'2, 260 pound defensive end has the talent to be the best defensive end in Conference USA and the Roadrunners are going to need that level of production from him in 2015. Neill has struggled with injuries throughout his entire college career but defensive line coach Eric Roark will need 12 healthy weeks from Neill this season due to UTSA's limited depth at defensive end. If Neill can lock down the strongside and apply consistent pocket pressure it will lead to great success for the defense. If Neill is forced to miss time again this season it will likely cause UTSA to burn the redshirts of freshmen TJ King and/or Josiah Tauaefa to provide depth.
2. Nate Gaines
Gaines is probably staffed with the toughest task on defense-- replacing former Roadrunner and current Seattle Seahawk Triston Wade at free safety. The Mesquite, Texas product hinted that he was up for the challenge last season with his explosive play on special teams and solid reps with the first team defense. Gaines certainly has the athleticism to be a great free safety but so much of the position depends on anticipation and ball skills. Will Gaines be able to blanket the secondary?
3. Marcus Davenport
As mentioned earlier, UTSA is severely lacking in depth at defensive end. Davenport is expected to start alongside Neill at defensive end. Similar to Gaines, Davenport really impressed as a true freshman last season, utilizing his quickness and length to dance past offensive tackles. Davenport's role this season will change from a situational pass rusher to a three-down player. While Davenport stands at 6'6", he's a little bit light for the position at
215 230 pounds. Davenport will need to dig in and fight off blocks to prevent offenses from targeting his side of the line in the power run game.
4. Bennett Okotcha
It speaks volumes about Okotcha's potential that most fans thought he had a down year in 2014. The first team preseason all-conference selection and former Oklahoma cornerback will need to lock down the best receiver for each team UTSA faces this season. If Okotcha can shut down receivers such as Rashard Higgins and Cayleb Jones it could open up a path for him to play on Sundays and take some heat off of the rotation of young but speedy cornerbacks on the opposite side of the field.
5. Vontrell King-Williams
Our third defensive lineman on the list, King-Williams will be assuming the role of plugging the A gap in UTSA's defense. A former Illinois signee, VKW has more than enough size to bounce running backs to the outside. At 6'2", 325 pounds the JUCO transfer will be a mountain in the middle of the defense. His ability to keep offensive linemen from releasing to block on the second level is instrumental to the success of the defense as a whole.