The heart and soul of the Cardinals D-Line is returning 5th year senior Brandon Crawford. The well documented soon-to-be 33 year old DE returns after another solid season at DE. Crawford is a beast up front and has the size (6-3 260) to play several spots if needed. Look for Crawford, with a new defense in place, to pick up his sack total from just 3 a season ago.
Backing up Crawford at the strongside DE is So. Andy Puthoff. Puthoff is big at 6-3 257 and has steadily improved since moving to DE from LB where he played as a prep. Puthoff had some major moments as the season moved on and proved to be a force that could get in the backfield to the tune of 1 ½ sacks and 5 ½ tackles for loss. Puthoff is too good to not be on the field more, so look for the Cardinals to use both Crawford and Puthoff together in certain situations.
Rounding out the SDE spot is incoming freshman Ethan Buckles. At 6-7, Buckles is an intriguing prospect because of his length and rangy athleticism. But look for the freshman from Indianapolis to redshirt this season as he packs on weight to his 215-pound frame.
Back at the other DE spot is Jr. Robert Eddins. Eddins continues to get bigger as he came to Ball State as a 205 LB and now weights in at 6-3 230. Eddins is fast off the edge at the weak side DE spot. Last season, Eddins had 4 sacks and continues to develop his prowess as a speed edge rusher the Cardinals need.
Backing up Eddins are a pair of athletic prospects in Justin Woodard and Jeff Barker. Woodard, who was hobbled late in the season with a knee injury, should push for more playing time this season. At 6-3 230, Woodard has decent size and a knack for making plays in the backfield when called upon. Despite limited action a season ago, Woodard had a sack and 2 TFL.
Barker is an intriguing prospect as well that still continues to get bigger. At just 205, Barker is slim by DE standards, but his 6-5 frame and speed mean the future is bright for Barker and the Cardinals. Barker played a little last season as a true freshman despite his lack of size because he is relentless off the edge and is athletic enough to factor in on special teams.
Also back at WDE is 6-4 200 Redshirt Freshman Walk-On Brian Hickman.
At DT, the Cardinals will eventually have at least 4 players they can regularly call on for duty when the season starts.
Incumbent DT's Rene Perry and Drew Duffin, are slightly undersized, but both are veterans who have played a ton in their careers and both started last season.
Perry is a fire plug at 5-11 270 and plays with quickness. In the Cardinals old 3-4 defense, he was forced to play nose, which meant a lot of double team action, but Perry, I believe, is more suited for a normal DT spot, where he can use his quickness and low center of gravity to hit the gaps and disrupt more in the backfield.
Duffin is a 6-3 260 5th year Senior who has played both DE and DT in his career. Duffin is a stalwart up front who has made some big plays over the years. As with Perry, Duffin is slightly undersized at 260, but makes up for it with a big motor and heady play. Look for Duffin to have a solid senior season.
Also factoring into the mix at DT are 4 younger players and a 4th year Jr.
Adam Morris, who came to school as a 6-0 305 NT, has slimmed down to 275 to help with his quickness and burst. Morris played sparingly as a true freshman, but he should see more time this year as his size is needed in the trenches.
Donovan Jarrett, a freshman recruit from Hamilton, OH, will also be one to watch. Jarrett brings some much needed beef up front with a 6-2 300 frame. Jarrett is quick off the ball and wreaked havoc in high school. Look for Jarrett to get some time early this year because of his ability to demand a double.
Also back are a pair of Piqua, OH DT is in Jafe Pitcock and Pete Rolf. Pitcock is a natural DT, who at 6-2 265. has decent size and should be able to help out up front when needed. Rolf, who came in as a highly touted LB prospect, has moved positions each year at Ball State. The 230 LB, moved up to a 250 DE last season and now finds himself as a 6-4 260 DT. Again, his size and athleticism should help up front for the Cardinals, but learning a new position may take Rolf a little time.
The final piece back up front for the Cardinals is 6-2 258 DT Kaylon Woods. Woods has not played much in his first 3 seasons at Ball State, but the Jr. has been a welcome asset on the practice field and that might end up earning him some playing time this season.
With all the changes on the Cardinals defense – player movement, graduation loss and an almost completely new set of coaches – it is nice to have a unit that returns all 4 of its starters and even some of its depth as well as its coordinator in Coach Phil Burnett. These factors should all make this unit improve over last season and a new defensive scheme from DC Doug Graber should hopefully get the Cardinals front 4 pressuring the opponents a lot more this season.