Our Sun Belt position series rolls on here at UDD as we make the switch to the defensive side of the football. First up is the defensive line and in 2018 there are some intriguing groups that will be placing their hands in the dirt this fall.
Top of the Food Chain
One of the biggest reasons the Trojans had the best defense in the conference last year was because of the play of their defensive front which paved the way for 70 non-sack tackles for loss. Hunter Reese was the biggest reason for that and the Alabama native returns for his senior season playing the Bandit spot (hybrid DE/LB) in Vic Koenning’s scheme. Last year he chipped in 6.5 sacks to go with 7.5 non-sack tackles for loss to be one of the most productive defenders in the Sun Belt. This year he’ll be joined by space eater Trevon Sanders at nose and Marcus Webb will be a starter at tackle after recording four sacks and two blocked kicks in a reserve role as a sophomore. Expectations are high for junior college transfer Rasool Clemons and this group has a chance to be dominant once again.
The Mountaineers will be breaking in a new defensive coordinator this fall but they’ll have a solid foundation up front. Myquan Stout has started over 20 games for App State as he’s consistently been one of this league’s best interior linemen. Okon Godwin had a very nice junior season by recording 5.5 tackles for loss in a reserve roll, but now App State needs him to step up the production as a full-time starter. Demetrius Taylor recorded three sacks as a true freshman and he’s a future star. In this 3-4 scheme, it’s the d-line’s responsibility to take on blocks and with Stout in the middle it makes the job much easier for App State’s two inside linebackers.
Nate Fuqua did an outstanding job in his debut as an FBS coordinator and in 2018 he’ll have a young but very talented defensive line. Marterious Allen is the leader of the group as the senior was very productive as a full-time starter last season. However, the star power is with a couple of sophomores as nose Dontae Wilson and end Terry Thomas combined to collect 7.5 tackles for loss last season. Last year the Panthers were solid against the run and that should continue with this talented front.
Room for Improvement
The Red Wolves lost a combined 35 tackles for loss with the departure of their starters and most importantly not having the pass rushing threat of Ja’Von Rolland-Jones will really sting. A-State will be breaking in new starters across the board but there are some individuals to be excited about. Junior college transfer Ronheem Bingham recorded five sacks in a limited role and could emerge as one of the Sun Belt’s best defensive linemen as a senior. Tony Adams is a mountain of a man at nose and there’s plenty of talent to fill the other spots. The playmaking could take a step back but this is a unit that should still produce in Joe Cauthen’s aggressive scheme.
Former App State assistant Scot Sloan takes over in Statesboro to run the defense and he’ll have some pieces to play with among the line of scrimmage. Logan Hunt could be the best defensive linemen in the conference after recording five sacks and six non-sack tackles for loss as a junior. He’ll be looking for some help as the Eagles are really young around him but Hunt is a really solid building block for Sloan.
A new staff is taking over in Mobile as a new chapter of USA football begins and there is plenty of talent upfront to take advantage of. This group has been extremely insconsistent over the years but Tyree Turner may have the most raw physical talent of any interior lineman in the Sun Belt and Missouri transfer Rocel McWilliams has flashed a ton of potential. Riley Cole was productive as a freshman (55 tackles) and he’s expected to fill the hybrid DE/LB spot this season. The talent is there, but the Jags need to put it together.
The Cajuns had a brutal defense last season, but much like South Alabama, the talent is there on the line of scrimmage. Joe Dillon recorded 51 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, and seven sacks as a true frosh and then took a step back in each category as a sophomore. New head coach Billy Napier desperately needs him to become a star again for this defense to climb out of the gutter. LaDarrius Kidd is another talented nose in the conference and expectations are high for Ole Miss grad transfer Garrald McDowell at end. Can the Cajuns find consistency up front, however?
It’s Still Ugly
The Warhawks have been gashed each of the last two seasons and they desperately need the play of the defensive line to make a step forward. After a few recruiting classes under Matt Viator, there are bodies there for defensive coordinator Mike Collins. Mason Husmann was very productive as a redshirt freshman defensive tackle (37 stops, 4.5 tackles for loss) and he’s added weight in the offseason. He could be a future star. After that it’s up in the air for a group that has a lot to prove.
Marvin Sanders steps into Conway to run the defense and he has some issues to deal with along the line. Ja’Ree Tolbert returns for his senior season after starting every game last season and he’s a serviceable piece inside. Sophomores C.J. Brewer, Jeffrey Gunter and Tarron Jackson are the future, however, after combining for 10.5 tackles for loss last fall.
The rebuild continues in San Marcos but losing top returnee Jordan Mittie as a grad transfer to Kansas State is an absolute killer. For the third year in a row, the Bobcats will enter the season with not many answers along the line but this time there will be experience there. Texas State should start three upperclassmen with young guys serving as backups. It’ll likely be another year of lumps for this Texas State defensive line.