Last year, there wasn’t another group that dealt with key injuries more than the defensive line. Young players were thrust into unfamiliar positions, but that also provided them with valuable experience. New defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen will switch things up, going to a four man front. He will need to create a two-deep depth chart quickly, but luckily he has a few options to work with this year. Ed Oliver may not return, but this group is out to make a name for themselves.
42 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 4 passes defended
21 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble
14 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 FF
14 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 sack
10 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 PD
Willie Smith III
Willie Smith III, Sophomore
With the previous regime, he played on the inside. Smith doesn’t have the prototypical size to play defensive tackle, but he has everything else you need to be successful there. Smith’s burst off of the line is outstanding, which gives him the leverage to beat any man. His quick hands knock the offensive lineman’s out of the way, giving him more help. Simply put, he’s undersized, but has the talent to play inside based on his quickness and explosiveness.
Aymiel Fleming, Senior
Arguably the toughest lineman to move on the team, Fleming’s base is incredible. Double teams are usually required to get him out of the way. New defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen may not have Ed Oliver in the middle anymore, but he’s going to have solid options starting with Fleming. With Oliver’s injury issues last year, Fleming received plenty of experience to help him this year.
Logan Hall, Sophomore
No one expected Hall to get much playing time last year. With Payton Turner, Jerard Carter, and Isaiah Chambers all ahead of him, Hall was expected to see limited snaps. That all changed when all three guys were lost for the season with injuries. Hall added some decent weight to his frame, and should add more this offseason. His length is going to be a great asset, and another year in the weight room should help tremendously.
Payton Turner, Junior
At 6’6”, Turner stands out on tape. He might not be the fastest player, but he finds ways to affect the quarterback. If he can’t get to the passer, he gets his long arms and big hands up, which allows him to knock down passes frequently. Turner came to Houston needing to add weight to his frame, and he did just that. Coming in at 240 pounds, he’s added nearly 50 pounds, which allowed him to become a consistent starter last year. With almost a full year of experience under his belt, this year could be his best year yet.
Isaiah Chambers, Junior
Chambers came to Houston from TCU, and gave the Cougars an outstanding athlete on the line. He was having a great year (six tackles for loss and four and a half sacks) before he was lost for the season with a knee injury four games into the season. We should expect big things from Chambers in the 2019 season. His explosiveness at the snap and strength holding off blockers are great, and it would be a surprise if he didn’t start in 2019.
Others on roster: Tahj Brown, Redshirt Freshman; Noah Jones, Sophomore; Tariq Freeny, Junior; Blake Young, Senior
Recruiting class additions: Olivier Charles-Pierre; Taures Payne; Justin Harris; Jamykal Neal
There will be a ton of competition at every position defensively, starting up front. Chambers and Turner should win starting spots, but it won’t be easy. Fleming, Smith, Hall, and Blake Young could all be in the mix as well. All four recruiting class additions will also be in consideration. Payne in particular is an intriguing prospect, and his motor and size will put pressure on everyone in the competition. This could be a solid group in 2019, and they need to be physical to be successful.