The biggest challenge facing this group this month was being able to effectively replace Denzel Perryman in the middle. One of the school's all-time greats is now playing in the NFL, and a lot of production must be replaced.
Raphael Kirby was given the first chance to do that because of his experience in this system. Being a senior now, Kirby's had a solid career as an outside 'backer until now. Coaches have raved about his play and his leadership this entire month. All signs point to Kirby being an effective replacement for Perryman in the middle.
Jermaine Grace entered fall camp with a solid lead on those behind him at the weakside spot and he did nothing this month to change that. The fastest linebacker on the team, Grace turned in a solid sophomore season in 2014 and seems ready for a potential breakout season in 2015.
The other starting spot -- on the strongside -- is still up for grabs. Senior Tyriq McCord spent his first three years here as a defensive end and now he'll play in space. Sophomore Darrion Owens, fresh off a strong freshman season, is his primary competition. Both players are potential playmakers and are two of the most talented players on this entire defense. This might be the most intense individual competition on the entire roster right now, and it'll likely carry over into the season. Both players are expected to play -- and make an impact.
Juwon Young entered fall camp as Kirby's primary backup in the middle but he dealt with an injury that kept him out of action a lot in recent weeks. When healthy he should provide a solid backup to Kirby. His injury has given true freshman Jamie Gordinier a chance to get some extra reps with the second unit. He's expected to be Kirby's backup should Young not be ready to start the season.
Marques Gayot, a converted safety, is Grace's primary backup on the weakside. He doesn't seem ready for major playing time yet, as his biggest role will likely be on special teams.
Michael Smith and Terry McCray redshirted last season but it's unclear how ready they are to play. It's likely they're both still a year away from being able to really make an impact on the depth chart. True freshmen James King and Charles Perry are also competing for playing time. Perry likely has the edge since he went through spring ball with the team and thus had several extra months here. Both are good candidates to redshirt.