Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
Another Monday just means that we are that much closer to kickoff and that means it is time for another edition of our Top Five. This week we examine the top five opposing defensive lines. There are some really stout defensive lines on the Hoosiers’ 2016 schedule, some of who may be a surprise to our readers.
1. Michigan Wolverines
When people think of the Michigan defense the first names that usually come to mind are corner back Jourdan Lewis and linebacker Jabrill Peppers. However, the Wolverine defensive line has some star power all its own. Three seniors, as Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley, and Ryan Glasgow all return, anchor the line and the fourth starter is junior Maurice Hurst.
Wormley, at defensive end, is probably the best of the bunch as he moves to the outside after making 43 tackles, 8 for a loss, with 6.5 sacks last season. This season, Wormley will move outside to defensive end and give the Wolverines a terrific threat off the edge. On the other side Michigan has Taco Charlton at the BUCK. Aside from having an awesome name, Charlton is usually found in the opponent’s backfield as he put up 30 tackles and eight TFL’s in 13 games last year.
In the middle of the line the Wolverines return Glasgow and Hurst to try and plug up the middle. Glasgow played in only nine games last year before being lost to injury. He finished with 25 tackles with 2.5 TFLs. At nose tackle Michigan has junior Maurice Hurst, who at 6’2” 280 pounds, is the smallest player along the line. However, he can make plays as he had 35 tackles last season. If some one falters in the front four, number one recruit Rashan Gary will be waiting to make an impact.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Ohio State defensive line is going to look very different in 2016. Gone are stalwarts defensive end Joey Bosa and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington. The Buckeyes may be rebuilding the defensive line, but they have plenty of talent coming back to fill those holes. According to defensive line coach Larry Johnson, “My philosophy is that you don’t try to replace (Bosa and Washington), you try to find guys to raise their game to the next level. I think the talent is there, and they want to be really good.”
The Buckeyes will bring back two experienced defensive ends in sophomore Sam Hubbard and junior Tyquan Lewis, who combined for 82 total tackles, 14.5 sacks, and 22 tackles for loss in 2015. Those numbers may be skewed due to the double and triple teams against Joey Bosa. Backing up the the two defensive ends are true freshman Nick Bosa, who is recovering from a knee injury and junior Jalyn Holmes who had 11 tackles last season.
Ohio State will also be breaking in a pair of new starting tackles as well. Juniors Tracy Sprinkle and Michael Hill will now step into a larger role after being in reserve roles last season. Sprinkle, a 6’3” 290-pound tackle, played in 12 games last season and accounted for just four tackles, while Hill, 6’3” 295 pounds, played in all 13 games and made 12 tackles. A pair of freshman, Robert Landers and Jashon Cornell, will likely back them up. The Buckeyes may have a lot of talent, they will have inexperienced depth and that could be an issue heading into 2016.
3. Michigan State Spartans
For the last five seasons or so the Michigan State Spartans have had the top one or two defensive lines, this year they will have to replace three of the four starters on the line. The good news for the Spartans is that the returning starter is an all-conference player in Malik McDowell.
McDowell, a 6’6” 280-pound junior, who received All-Big Ten honors last season started all 14 games and accounted for 41 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 13 tackles for loss. The Spartans took another hit when senior Damon Knox decided not to return for a sixth year. Instead the other tackle position will be manned by a 6’4” 307-pound redshirt freshman Raequan Williams.
On the outside end positions the Spartans will look to start a junior Demetrius Cooper and a true freshman Josh King. Cooper made one start last season and totaled 22 tackles, five sacks, and 6.5 tackles for loss. He will have to build on those numbers if the Spartan line wants to live up to their reputation. Josh King should get the first shot at the other end position. At 6’6” 230 pounds, King has the frame to be a physical monster coming off the edge, but will need a year to bulk up and be polished into the next great Spartan d-lineman.
4. Northwestern Wildcats
There is a sizeable gap between the top three and the next two, but Northwestern still belongs on this list due to their depth at the defensive tackle position. The Wildcats can go five deep at tackle, led by senior C.J. Robbins and junior Tyler Lancaster. Robbins, who started 12 games last season, recorded 17 tackles last year and will being fighting off sophomore Jordan Thompson who had 15 tackles in limited time. Robbins could also be bumped out to end since Northwestern has a lack of depth there. Lancaster, made 13 starts last season and put up similar numbers to Robbins in limited action as a true freshman.
Where the Wildcats may struggle is at the end position. The ‘Cats lose two bookends in Dean Lowry and Deonte Green who posted 26 tackles for loss combined in 2015. The first two players to get a crack at the roles will be junior Xavier Washington and senior Ifeadi Odenigbo.
Washington was solid in a reserve role in 2015, playing in all 13 games and making 14 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, and a sack. On the other side, Odenigbo will try and build on a good performance in 2015 where he posted 19 tackles and five sacks. If the Northwestern defense wants to take the next step, finding adequate and disruptive ends is a must.
5. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers may seem like a odd pick to be a strong defensive line, especially after their unit ranked 13th in the conference in total defense and 12th against the run, but the Scarlet Knight defensive line will probably be the strength of their defense, especially with the return of former five-star recruit tackle Darius Hamilton.
Rutgers returns three starters from last season with the other starter being Hamilton, so they will be experienced and his return will allow other players to return to their more natural positions.
Hamilton has made 25 career starts for Rutgers and has put up outstanding numbers with 110 tackles and 24.5 tackles for a loss. He missed last year with a knee injury and should be ready to go when the opener comes around. He gives the defensive line depth and star power.
As far as the other three starters go, they are pretty talented as well. Junior Sebastian Joseph, who had 22 total tackles and 5.5 TFL’s in 2015, will start next to Hamilton. On the ends Rutgers seniors Quanzell Lambert and Julian Pinnix-Qdrick who combined for 77 total tackles 3.5 sacks, and seven tackles for a loss. While the defense, as a whole, may not be great or even good, the defensive line will give people problems in 2016.