Heading into training camp, Mathias Kiwanuka- recently named Preseason ACC Player of the Year by the media- is the main reason why BC has seen itself as high as number 14 in many professional prognosticators' preseason publications. At 6'7", 261 pounds, he reminds many NFL scouts of former University of Florida defensive end Jevon Kearse.
Opposite Kiwanuka, sophomore Nick Larkin is the likely candidate to succeed Phil Mettling at right defensive end. Larkin was heavily recruited a few years ago out of Cincinnati's St. Xavier High School, and he showed some promise early last season before dealing with injuries throughout the 2004 campaign. If he has a good camp, Larkin is the odds-on favorite to win the starting job.
For the first time in a number of years, the Eagles might not have to play a true freshman at defensive tackle. In recent years Doug Goodwin, Tim Bulman, Danny Zepp, Al Washington and B.J. Raji were all thrown into the mix without a redshirt year to develop. The latter two- Washington and Raji- will be asked to play a big role in 2005.
Washington, a senior who was an overlooked member of last season's defensive line unit, started all 12 games in 2004 finishing with 18 tackles including two for a loss. He will likely be flanked by Justin Bell, a converted defensive end who played in 2003 as a true freshman himself.
Bell is pretty green at the DT position, so he will be challenged by sophomore B.J. Raji in camp. Raji had an outstanding freshman season. The unheralded recruit from New Jersey showed great quickness for a big guy and nearly matched Washington's totals (13 tackles, 1.5 for a loss) despite being a back-up most of the year behind Bulman.
Redshirt freshman Ron Brace, who is listed close to 360 pounds but may be down to about 330 by the time camp opens, will be someone worth watching in 2005. He will be Washington's back-up and will see a good deal of playing time as defensive line coach Keith Willis likes to rotate his guys in and out. While many of BC's defensive tackles are relatively inexperienced, they have the potential to be a solid, run-stuffing unit.
Behind Kiwanuka and Larkin, BC fans should expect to see the group of Jake Ottolini and two redshirt freshmen- Keith Willis, Jr. and Gerry Willette- battling for playing time. It will be interesting to see who steps up in camp.
Thanks to the return of number 94, BC fans are a lot more confident about the defensive line than they would have been if Kiwanuka were reporting to an NFL training camp this week. The Eagles have solid depth along the DL and there should be some good positional battles once camp opens up later this week.