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AAC Preseason Position Previews: Defensive Line

Some top talent returns, but many teams face depth questions heading into 2017.

Houston v Oklahoma Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

One of the great stories for the AAC is the dominance of Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver. As a five star recruit who chose to stay at home despite multiple offers from high-profile schools, he’s had a reputation to uphold since the minute he stepped on campus. He has exceeded those expectations in just one year of experience, and today we take a look at his team as well as the rest of the AAC to see where each team’s defensive line ranks.

“Room for Improvement” means exactly what you think, this team needs to get better or maybe has one returner or two but a lot of questions behind them.

“Wait and See” are teams that we’re not sold on, but have the talent or experience to be good. These teams just need time to get their players up to speed during fall camp/beginning of the season.

“Second Tier” are for teams that return valuable experience, but the depth behind them is questionable, and an injury to one or two starters could spell trouble.

“Elite” will be the top teams who have all-conference talent, and also have depth behind that talent who can step in should an injury occur.

Previous positions: Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Offensive Line

Elite

1. Houston: Did you expect anyone else? Ed Oliver is one of the best players in the country, and will demand double teams after producing 56.5 tackles and 22.5 tackles for loss in 2016. Jerard Carter returns as Oliver’s backup, and does a good job of producing in limited reps. Nick Thurman has one of the defensive end positions locked up, but someone will have to take the other side. Incoming freshman Bryan Jones is expected to make an impact and could start opposite of Thurman. The Cougars also added Texas A&M transfer Reggie Chavis, who is a former four star linebacker who made the switch to defensive line while in College Station.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Cincinnati
Mouhon and the Bearcats DL should excel under new coach Luke Fickell
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

2. Cincinnati: Luke Fickell should be able to relate to this group, as he was once a defensive lineman. His defensive work experience will benefit the defensive line immensely, and this group has some talent within the unit. Marquise Copeland, Kevin Mouhon, Cortez Broughton, and Kimoni Fitz were all sophomores last year. That experience combined with Fickell’s coaching should create a group that is extremely disruptive in the opposing backfields they face. Both Mouhon and Broughton will receive all-conference attention from offenses this year, and that could create more openings for both Fitz and Copeland along with the linebackers playing behind them.

3. UCF: Scott Frost returns nine players who contributed last season, but only one had 45 tackles and 10 for loss. Tony Guerad will be the leader of a deep unit, and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander should be able to rotate in multiple bodies. Chinander needs the line to pick up the slack while the linebackers replace three starters, so having depth will be extremely beneficial.

Second Tier

4. Temple: After losing five key players in this unit alone, you would think that the Owls would struggle. Things are different even with a new coaching staff, and new players will step up in the fall to continue a tradition of great defense. Despite their losses, the Owls return five players that saw time in at least 12 games. Michael Dogbe returns at defensive tackle, and plenty of talent will rotate in or play along side him. Freddie Booth-Lloyd, Jacob Martin, Greg Webb, and former four star Karamo Dioubate all should be in the rotation under new Coach Geoff Collins.

5. Tulane: Tanzel Smart is no longer around after entering the NFL Draft, and his presence will be missed. However, he has plenty of replacements that will limit the damage of his absence. Ade Aruna was second on the team statistically with 34.5 tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks, and will man one of the end positions. Robert Kennedy and Luke Jackson will see time as well. Replacing Smart is up to Eldrick Washington at defensive tackle but nose tackle Sean Wilson could also help.

NCAA Football: Miami Beach Bowl-Central Michigan vs Tulsa
Brubaker (8) will to need to influence a unit that needs to improve in 2017
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

6. Tulsa: There are only a couple positions where Tulsa has playmakers returning, and defensive line is one of them. Defensive end Jesse Brubaker had 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks last season, and will lead a unit that needs to improve to validate Tulsa’s New Year’s bowl game goals. There is plenty of experience in this group, but they need to translate that experience into production.

7. SMU: Defensive end Justin Lawler returns 15 tackles for loss and is the anchor of the line, but he will need help as three of their top five return. Demerick Gary and Mason Gentry both have solid size and should start in the middle. There is only one other senior in the rest of the group, and everyone else is a sophomore or freshman. That youth will need to step up to create some depth for a group that is top-heavy.

Wait And See

8. UConn: Compared to their offense, the Huskies looked outstanding on defense even if they we’re just middle-of-the-road. Their defensive front appears to be intact this year, and will be a big reason why the Huskies improve. Ends Luke Carrezola, Cole Ormsby and tackle Folorunso Fatukasi were solid, and can improve on last year’s numbers.

9. Memphis: This group was not very disruptive in 2016, and they will need to improve in order to uphold this teams championship aspirations. Jonathan Wilson and Jared Gentry return to man the middle, while Ernest Suttles and Christian Johnson will be the defensive ends. The defense struggled at times last season (see: Western Kentucky) and it all starts up front.

10. USF: Under Charlie Strong, this veteran group should excel in 2017, as there were nine players who saw action in seven games. Deadrin Senat, Bruce Hector, and Mike Love all had at least 7 tackles for loss, and those numbers could increase under Strong. If the defense improves this year, it will be because this group is dominant.

Room for Improvement

11. Navy: Who’s going to rush the passer? And will this group be better than average at stopping the run? While the linebackers should be figured out, the front line needs replacements. Jarvis Polu will hold up one of the defensive end positions while the other two spots get filled. Tyler Sayles saw limited action in all 14 games last year and could be Polu’s partner at end. Jackson Pittman also played in every game last year, but did so as a backup.

12. ECU: The Pirates were decent at defending the pass, but that had more to do with those covering the receivers. They finished dead last in sacks last year, and were middle of the pack in stopping the run. Yiannis Bowden is the lead returner, but he only had 33.5 tackles and zero sacks. If Scottie Montgomery wants to improve on his inaugural 3-9 season, fixing this front should be a priority.