We continue our Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews by shifting our focus to the defense as the defensive line is next up. The grading categories: “Great Shape,” “Good Shape,” and “We’ll See.”
To elaborate on the grades, “We’ll See” means exactly what it means. We have no idea if that position is going to turn out to be a plus due to a lack of proven contributors and questionable depth. At this time, there’s no way to know.
“Good Shape” means known commodities are at the position but there’s still room for this unit to improve. Depth is above average to good, with a player or two having the potential to make an All-C-USA Team.
“Great Shape” means All-C-USA performers are at this position or there is good-to-great depth across the board. You obviously want your team to be here.
1. UTSA: The Roadrunners should have one of the more productive defensive lines in the conference once again. Lorenzo Dantzler and DeQuarius Henry combined for 13.5 TFLs and 7.5 sacks in 2018. Senior tackle King Newton had 7.5 Run Stuffs last season. The two-deep is littered with experienced players and former three-star recruits. UTSA has a dangerous combo of high-upside talent and experienced playmakers.
2. Southern Miss: Jacques Turner made first-team All-C-USA last season after recording 10 TFLs, 5 sacks, and 15.5 Run Stuffs. The Golden Eagles’ d-line received a big boost as they added Penn State transfer Torrence Brown. The depth is a bit thin, but USM gets the benefit of the doubt here as they have consistently had one of the best d-lines in the conference through the years.
3. Charlotte: The 49ers have a star in Alex Highsmith (20 Run Stuffs, 17.5 TFLs, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles), a proven contributor in Tyriq Harris (5.5 TFLs) and veterans in Timmy Horne and Tommy Doctor. Charlotte made huge strides under former defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. New defensive coordinators Marcus Cooper and Brandon West have some really good pieces to continue to make strides here.
Seniors Ty Tyler and Channing Hames return to give the Herd the strongest interior d-line in the conference. The duo combined for 16.5 sacks last season. Tyler made second team All-C-USA last year and should have yet another stellar season. Marquis Couch (8.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks), and grad-transfer Fermin Silva (23 career TFLs, 14.5 career sacks) serve as the drop ends/psuedo-linebacker spots. It would be a surprise if Marshall doesn’t finish near the top of the conference in sacks. Tyler was in the transfer portal at the time this story was published and ended up leaving for Louisville.
5. Middle Tennessee: Defensive ends Tyshun Render and Trae Philpots combined for 15.5 TFLs and 6.5 sacks. Philpots also had 10.5 Run Stuffs. Malik Manciel returns to anchor the interior line after posting 5.5 Run Stuffs, 2 sacks, and 4 TFLs. Similar to USM, the Blue Raiders are developing a reputation under defensive coordinator Scott Shafer. Players we are unaware of now in this unit, will surely become impact players at seasons end for MTSU.
6. FIU: Talent abounds, but the production was a bit spotty last season. Specifically, the run defense left a lot to be desired. Former four-star recruit Teair Tart returns on the interior after a decent debut season (7 TFLs, 4 sacks) but the other four-star recruit Tayland Humphrey is no longer on the team. With another year of experience, ends Noah Curtis and Jason Mercier (4.5 combined TFLs) are expected to take a step forward and live up to their recruiting rankings.
7. North Texas: The Mean Green’s 3-3-5 defense won’t result in big numbers for their d-line, but the players they have returning, albeit talented, have not done too much during their career. Tackle Bryce English’s health will once again factor as to whether this unit is a major strength. Senior LaDarius Hamilton is the lone proven impact player as he finished with 33 tackles and 7.5 sacks in 2018, appearing on the all-conference team. The other end spot is up for grabs between a bevy of unheralded upperclassmen.
8. WKU: Defensive ends DeAngelo Malone and Juwuan Jones combined for 15 TFLs and 11 sacks. The Tops appear to have a pass rush but their interior defensive line was sub par last season. A few upperclassmen at defensive tackle must take the next step.
9. UAB: The strongest position group on the team in 2018 was hit hard by graduation as the Blazers must replace two all-conference performers (Jamell Garcia-Williams and Anthony Rush). As a result, a lot of new faces must emerge in 2019. Defensive tackle Garrett Marino is the only familiar face, as the senior had 6.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks last season.
10. FAU: Four of the top seven tacklers on what was a mediocre defensive line are gone. Leighton McCarthy is a keeper as he faired pretty well against the run and pass. The Owls need Tim Bonner to take a big step forward as a pass rusher (7 TFLs, 3 sacks).
11. Louisiana Tech: All-time career sacks leader Jaylon Ferguson is gone. Willie Baker had 11.5 TFLs and 7 sacks last season. He thrived with Ferguson’s presence by his side. We’ll see how he plays as the anchor as Tech’s d-line suffered some major departures thanks to graduation.
12. UTEP: Three of last year’s top five linemen have departed. Senior tackle Denzel Chukwukelu does return after recording 11.5 Run Stuffs, 6.5 TFLs and 2 sacks. However, everything beyond him is a question mark.
13. Old Dominion: Star defensive end Oshanne Ximines and reliable end Tim Ward are now gone. Junior tackles Jeremy Meiser and Juwan Ross do return, but ODU really struggled on defense last season. With Ximines no longer commanding double teams, how will this unit take a step in the right direction?
14. Rice: The Owls must replace three of their top defensive linemen from a unit that was consistently gashed on the ground and rarely had a pass rush. Elijah Garcia and Myles Adams hold down the tackle spots but they hardly qualify as proven players despite their experience. Rice needs a talent infusion here in a big way.