Positional Preview: Defensive Line

If you go by former recruiting rankings, the Blue Devils' defensive line houses the most star power. With a need to break in a new group of linebackers in 2009, the D-line will be under pressure to perform each time out. Luckily for Duke, the talent is certainly there.

Projected Depth Chart:
DEs - Ayanga Okpokowuruk - Sr. & Wesley Oglesby - Jr.
DTs - Vince Oghobaase - Sr. & Charlie Hatcher - So.
Top Reserves:
DE - Patrick Egboh - Jr., Jeremy Ringfield
DT - John Drew
For Duke the defensive line discussions begin with a pair of experienced fifth year seniors in the form of Oghobaase and Okpokowuruk. Oghobaase, a likely early round NFL Draft pick in April, has spent much of the previous three seasons in Durham drawing double and sometimes triple teams from opposing linemen. Still, he's managed to record at least one tackle in 33-of-36 career games and in 22 consecutive contests dating back to 2007. Among active players in the ACC, the talented Texas native ranks second in tackles for loss (29.0) and third in quarterback sacks (11.5).

Meanwhile, Okpokowuruk has battled a number of injuries and position changes through his career, but appears to be healthy and ready to build off a 2008 season that was his best in Durham. After finally making it into the starting lineup, the 6'4, 250 pounder managed to get into the backfield regularly and recorded 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Considered one of the stronger performers throughout pre-season camp, there's only one goal the fifth year player is aiming for this year.

"I want to help Duke football reach, and hopefully win, a bowl game. We [5th year seniors] have gone through a lot to get here and now we're ready to see it through and to make that happen."

Joining the talented senior duo is junior Wesley Oglesby who will line up at left end. After a great first season in which he was honored with several all-Freshman citations, Oglesby was slowed in his sophomore campaign by a leg injury that limited to just six appearances. Now, fully recovered, he is expected to return and provide a good amount of pressure from the left side.

Perhaps the top backup on the outside is junior Patrick Egboh, who managed to break into the starting lineup a season ago on the left side as Oglesby went down with injury problems. For his sophomore season, the 6'5 245 pounder finished with 25 tackles and a pair of quarterback hurries.

While the main players along the line appear to be enjoying relative health heading into the season opener, one player who was struck down was senior nose guard Kinney Rucker. Because of that, true freshman and highly rated recruit John Drew has been given more and more chance to shine. The 6-foot-2, 315 pounder has taken the chance and run with it -- earning his way into heavy reps with the first team line throughout the preseason. Though he will likely begin the season backing up third year sophomore Charlie Hatcher - look for Drew to get a number of looks in goal line and short yardage situations. Both Drew and Hatcher have the tools to force offensive linemen to think twice about doubling Oghobaase - which will immediately improve Duke's overall pass rush and ability to clog the running lanes.

Another interesting player on the depth chart is former wide receiver turned linebacker turned defensive end Jeremy Ringfield. The move to the defensive line was facilitated by his speed off the line to get around the tackles -- something head coach David Cutcliffe called for after last season. Ringfield is certainly not going to win many battles locking up with linemen holding close to 100 pounds of mass on him, but his speed and superior footwork will certainly give those hulking tackles something to think about -- to say nothing of the fullbacks and other runners assigned to pick him up.

If there was ever a season in which Duke was in good shape along the defensive front, it's 2009. Oghobaase will likely be collecting a very fat NFL contract in a few months - perhaps even making it into the first round of the draft. The rest of the interior players were highly rated and have all shown the ability to make plays on their own. The development and effectiveness of Hatcher and Drew will serve to both relieve some pressure on Oghobaase and to provide fans an idea of what the interior of the Blue Devil defensive line will look like for the 2010 season. With the ends posting a good amount of depth and talent - all apparently healthy - Duke will have a real opportunity to improve and make things easier on the linebackers and secondary, which will improve the entire defensive side of the ball.

"We need to work together to put the linebackers in a good position to make plays," Okpokowuruk told TDD. "We need to put the corners and safeties in position to make plays. It starts up front, but no on unit can do it by themselves. We know that if each group does their job as best they can, the defense will be very solid."

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