Expected Contributors: Redshirt Junior RUSH Jordan Sherit (6-4, 251), Redshirt Sophomore RUSH Justus Reed (6-3, 242), Sophomore RUSH Keivonnis Davis (6-4, 244), Freshman RUSH Jordan Smith(6-5, 238), Freshman RUSH Antonneous Clayton (6-3, 238), Redshirt Senior DE Bryan Cox (6-3, 260), Redshirt Sophomore DE Thomas Holley (63, 260), Sophomore DE CeCe Jefferson (6-1, 270), Redshirt Freshman DE Jabari Zuniga(6-3, 240), Freshman DE Jachai Polite (6-4, 245)
Strengths: There is some depth at both the RUSH end and the strong side end and talented depth as well. The thing they may have going the most is the versatility at both spots. They can go big, small, very quick, all kinds of directions up front.
The RUSH end will likely see Sherit man the spot to start the season. Sherit was productive last year hauling in 25 tackles in just four starts. In an injury laden season, Sherit was able to land eight tackles for loss including 1.5 sacks and he also deflected a pass. He seemed to improve his quickness this spring when he was healthy and practicing.
Staying with the RUSH end, Davis really showed them something last year in order to burn his redshirt for the last three games of the season. The Miami native has put on some nice weight now and looked to be even more effective this spring. Reed is a guy that seems to make plays when on the field, but hasn’t been out there much. I would really like to see what he could do with more time out there.
Smith and Clayton are the new kids on the block with Smith having arrived this spring and performing well. Clayton comes in with more All-American appeal and a serious get off from the edge. Despite the bodies, defensive line coach Chris Rumph has shown that he likes to use a lot of guys and these two have tools enough not to redshirt.
On the strong side, Cox is coming off of a really nice season displaying all kinds of tools to make an impression in different ways. He finished with 45 tackles including 10.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He also had six quarterback hurries, forced two fumbles, and recovered two fumbles as well. He’s primed to have an even bigger senior year.
While we won’t know if they can get anything out of Holley, who is constantly dealing with a hurt hip, this should be a breakout year for Zuniga. He redshirted in 2015, but was one of the real big finds in the last month of recruiting for Jim McElwain and his staff in their first recruiting haul. He had an excellent spring and looks to make some real noise.
CeCe Jefferson had a big year in 2015 as well, especially for a true freshman. He started in four games as a true frosh collecting 29 tackles with 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He will see a lot of time on the inside as well this year, but he won’t be left out of the fun as a defensive end. His strong hands make him very hard to handle at either spot.
Normally you would expect Polite to redshirt with these returning numbers, but again Rumph finds ways for guys to get on the field. Polite has a big time first step that Rumph is going to love, so I would actually expect him to contribute.
Weaknesses: I don’t know if there is a real weakness here. It will be hard to replace the quickness that Alex McCalister brought to the table, but he was also a guy that couldn’t be on the field for every down. There is a lot of quickness in this group at both spots and they should be very productive.
Comparison to 2015: They have to replace the production of McCalister. I think they do it with more bodies and maybe not anyone quite as quick as him, but a group that overall likely got quicker. With the three brand new bodies, plus more time from Davis and Zuniga added to the playing mix this year, it is a really deep group.