Dunn, a junior from PRP, has enjoyed a productive spring after making 15 tackles last season. He's started 12 career games, bringing valuable experience up front. Brooks, a 6'4, 320 pound sophomore from Palmetto, Fla., worked his way into the rotation last season, recording 11 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss in his first season. He's gained valuable practice repetition this spring.
"I feel like we've done a lot of good things," Hurtt said. "Brandon Dunn has really progressed, changed his body and dropped some weight. He has been really productive this spring and improved from last season. He and Marcus Smith have made tremendous strides, and so has B.J. Dubose."
Smith, who started four games last season as a sophomore, tied for the team lead with five sacks. The 6'4, 255 pound Smith appears poised for a major breakout this season.
"He's taken another step," said Hurtt. "We set the bar high for all of our kids. He made some mistakes last year because it was new for him. He didn't play as fast because he didn't trust his eyes and what he saw. He didn't understand down and distance when we could get after the quarterback, which is his strength. He's turned the corner on that this spring. He's gotten so much better."
"Does it hurt us not having Roy Philon this spring? Absolutely, he's arguably our best interior defensive lineman," Hurtt said. "But at the same time it's given Brandon Dunn and Jamaine Brooks a chance to get a lot more reps in there for them to develop and get better. We've even worked Marcus Smith some at three technique in passing situations. I'm really proud of those guys. We've really started to grow up and develop a good chemistry as a defensive line."
Stout and Dishmon have worked with the second team all spring. Philon is expected back this fall, and Hurtt is counting on true freshmen DeAngelo Brown and Sheldon Rankins to contribute on the defensive front this season.
"Our second unit d-tackles - Hunter Stout and Dominique Dishmon - went out and competed and given what they had," said Hurtt. "Obviously, the freshmen coming in this summer are going to have to help us out."
With a lack of experienced depth at defensive tackle, and several young sophomores in the front the seven like Dubose, Brooks and outside backer Deiontrez Mount, Hurtt's defensive line has experienced some growing pains this spring, particularly against the run.
"We've done a good job," Hurtt said. "Granted there have been some big runs that have been popped in the two scrimmages. I think as a front seven we've got to get on the [same] page and understand how we [stop] the run. We've got to correct some mistakes that we didn't have last year that have arisen this spring. Those are easily correctable mistakes."
With only a few practices remaining before Saturday's Red-White game at Papa John's Cardinals Stadium, Hurtt wants his unit to concentrate on stopping the run better than they have at times during scrimmages.
"Number one, we have to understand fits in the run game," Hurtt said. "Being able to stop the run is everybody understanding what their responsibilities are and making sure we fit those things up right.
"Our first year we gave up about 145 yards rushing. Last year we dropped all the way down to 100. Our goal is to keep people under 100 yards rushing. The reason we went from 52nd in the country to number ten is because everybody in the front seven was well versed in their run fits versus the offense. Competitively we've got to do a better job at the point of contact and tackling."