Good afternoon all!
It’s installment two of our WKU spring football preview, and today we are going to take a look at two different corps – the defensive line and the linebacking teams. Now, the biggest difference between these two units are age, as the D-Line didn’t take as big of a hit as the linebackers did at the conclusion of the 2013 season. Lets divulge ourselves into the big men of the Western defense.
The defensive line is the point of improvement in the WKU defense. The secondary (which we recapped yesterday) was ranked nationally in almost every category. However, the line left a little work to be done for the Hilltoppers entering the offseason. WKU was known for having undersized and young lineman, with the exception of graduating seniors Bar’ee Boyd and Calvin Washington. Boyd was a big name on the defensive line for his athleticism and knack for finding the ball career. In a WKUsports.com interview with interior lineman coach Don Dunn, Dunn said that there are no set starters for the Tops in the line at this moment. He said the list is in fluctuation every day with different looks and changing philosophies. However, we’re not here to talk about non starters – we’re here to give you our projection going into the year.
Coach Dunn stressed the importance of depth on the defensive line in modern football due to the development of fast paced offenses. He said that lineman need to be stronger, leaner, and faster and Tops have to replace two major pieces up front. Of the 15 D-lineman currently on the roster, six players look like they could play a significant role in the trenches. The first player is Ge’Monee Brown, a 6-2, 305lb junior. Brown is a JUCO transfer and could make a sudden impact on a WKU squad in search of size in the interior.
Another force on the inside could be senior Jamichael Payne. Payne checks in at a healthy 332 pounds and knows the Western defense after seeing action in five games last year, and will be looking to step into a significant starting role come September.
There are four fairly capable players who will look to take up the two spots on the outside. The first being Raphael Cox, a 6-3, 270 senior saw action in nine total games last year including two starts. The other senior is T. J. Smith, a 6-2, 240 senior who will look to opposite his fellow classmate on the opposite side. The two other vying for the spots are juniors Gavin Rocker and Bryan Shorter (Rocker is 6-2, 230 and Shorter comes in at 6-2, 285 respectively). If Shorter adds a few more pounds, he may move to the inside instead of playing the edge. Depth, as you’ll find out, is a key to WKU interior line coach Don Dunn, and looking at his roster – he has it.
Here comes the hard part – the Linebackers.
WKU returns no starting linebackers with the exits Andrew Jackson and Xavius Boyd resulting in a much different look this coming season. Right now on the WKU roster sit 13 able bodied replacements to the unfilled corps. Only four upper classman sit on the roster. Two of those players are junior college transfers - Nick Holt a 6-1, 230 pound junior transferred from the City College of San Francisco where he recorded 61 tackles in his sophomore season and Dejon Brown, a 6-3, 225 senior who recorded 60 tackles of his own his junior year at Mount San Jacinto College.
The next two probables at LB were recruited by WKU and have been here through now three coaches. Daqual Randall saw action in 7 games last year making two starts and racking up 15 tackles. The 6 foot 245 lb junior would bring much needed structure to a young Hilltopper defense. The grandfather of the linebackers is 6-2, 222 pound senior Terran Williams. Williams saw the field in 12 games and recorded 11 tackles and a forced fumble in 2013. Williams would need to average 11+ tackles game could prove to be a key to the Western defense and teach some leadership to the younger linebackers.
All that being said, nothing is set in stone. As the spring progresses and the summer nears the team can only mature. With a fresh and talented crop of freshman linebackers coming in defensive coordinator and linebacking coach Nick Holt can only home for a quick learning curve and talent in his group of punishers.
The WKU defense is in flux but will be a grind it out team. The first few games may be struggle but don’t tie up on them. They have a good core of older players and a fresh mix of new ones that keep things interesting. This team will fly around on the field and walk with a swagger only a Hilltopper team can display. As we’ve wrapped up the defense we will move to the other side of the ball. Tomorrow we will feature the Wide Receivers, Quarterbacks and the Big Uglies-The Lineman. Stay tuned. Until then… GO TOPS!