Peek Inside Practice: The Defensive Line

Herd Insider's fifth report from Marshall football's spring practices focuses on the defensive line unit, and the job that defensive coordinator Bill Wilt has in front of him. We spoke with Wilt about his defensive line at practice late last week...

"We need Orlando (Washington) to give us a lot of leadership," Wilt said of the only returning starter on the front line, Orlando Washington. "The rest of them are all young, green, and working good. We're going to have some growing pains, I think everybody knows that. But I tell you what. They're playing really hard right now."

Wilt knows that his front line is crucial to improving the Marshall defensive woes from 2001. Last year saw the MU defense give up an average of 217.8 yards per game on the ground, poor enough for a #106 ranking in the country against the rush.

"It's imperative that you stop that run," said Wilt of the #1 challenge his defensive line faces in spring drills. "Obviously that's something we struggled with a year ago. That's something we're putting a big emphasis on this spring."

Orlando Washington (6-2, 265, senior) at defensive tackle returns as the only starter from 2001. Washington has backup in Reggie Hayes (6-4, 278, sophomore), Toriano Brown (6-1, 270, junior), and Josh Blakey (6-4, 306, junior). Blakey has been making a name for himself in spring drills as a pass-blocker. "He gives us a lot of stability on the inside, especially against the run," Wilt said of Blakey.

Orlando Washington (right, #95) returns as the only starter on the Marshall defensive line.

Beside Washington at the left end spot will be Maurice McKinney (6-3, 235, junior). McKinney is the leading returning quarterback sack artist on the front four. He will be backed up by Jonathan Goddard (6-1, 250, junior) and Paul Sinclair (6-4, 250, senior). In 2001, Goddard always seemed to have a hand in making plays happen while on the playing field.

The nose tackle spot is Josh Cordell's (6-5, 298, sophomore) to lose. Marlan Hicks (6-4, 295, junior) and Nathan Leslie (6-4, 268, junior) will be right there should Cordell not claim the starting spot. All three have significant game experience.

Right defensive end is where youth is both a help and a hindrance. Jamus Martin (6-3, 235, sophomore) is the starter in spring drills, if for no better reason than he's been around the longest at the spot. Kingsley Clark (6-5, 225, junior) is learning quickly, according to Wilt, and possesses all the athletic abilities one could ever need in a defensive end. Clark just needs about 20 more pounds to be truly effective at the spot. "Some day he'll be a great player," Wilt said of Clark. Former running back Marcus Hairston (6-2, 231, junior) may be the most physically talented of the bunch, but made the switch to the end position after 2001 and just needs time to watch and learn the specifics. "He's got a lot of ability," said Wilt of Hairston. "He needs to be a great player right now. So the sooner we can get him there, the better."

The best solution to the youth versus athleticism battle on the defensive line may be frequent substitutions as game conditions allow, according to Wilt. "I really wish that we could find four guys that were head and shoulders above the rest," Wilt said. "It looks like right now that there will be several guys who will play. I will say one thing: They're working well together, and very unselfish."

With less than 40 practices left between now and the home opener in late August, Wilt surely has his job cut out for him on the defensive line. The toughest part won't be simply finding four guys who can merely play, but rather, finding the right mix in certain situations. Wilt has 13 players to play 4 spots at any one time. The numbers are on his side.

"Defending the run is a unit thing, not just a line thing," Wilt summed up. The one thing that is speeding the defensive line's progress is the fact that his unit gets to practice opposite one of the more stable offensive lines in Marshall history. "We've really got to thank our lucky stars to have a great offense like we have. They're big, they're physical, and they challenge you on every snap," Wilt summed up. "And our offense is really trying to help us defend the run a little bit better, and we're really thankful for that, too."

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