Vili Leveni, DE
6-3, 258, Fr.
Hurst (L.D. Bell), Texas
In my opinion, one of the biggest concern positions going into this season for the Cowboys is defensive end. Let's be totally honest here, one reason the defense struggled stopping people last season were the defensive ends. Despite a renewed presence inside at defensive tackle to help with push, the defensive ends failed to get off one-on-one blocking on the outside to make plays in the pass rush.
Buoyed by the combined efforts of Jamie Blatnick (8.0 sacks) and Richetti Jones (4.5 sacks) in 2011 the Cowboys had 30 sacks, and they weren't all that strong inside. But last season there were only 25 sacks and Tyler Johnson, who didn't start a single game and didn't play in two games, tied for the lead with 4.0 sacks.
The Cowboys have to get better play from their defensive ends in 2013, and while a freshman is not usually the answer at that position a rapidly matured physically freshman in Vili Leveni just might help.
Leveni has rocketed from being a skinny high school defensive end to certainly passing the eye test in college. He has also drawn good reviews in the area of work ethic and summer production from the strength and conditioning staff. Assistant athletic director for speed, strength and conditioning Rob Glass identified Leveni immediately as a freshman that is more advanced than most.
Leveni told us he has really taken off with his physical maturity the past two summers, and he put on nearly 30 pounds from his junior to senior season at L.D. Bell. As a junior, he had 38 tackles, six tackles for loss, and two sacks. His senior season he upped that to 41 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and three sacks.
Those aren't out-of-sight numbers but what the Oklahoma State staff recognized was that Leveni used his new size with a good degree of quickness and explosion, and in the Cowboys defensive concept he will get a chance to use that and make plays.
Here's what it comes down to. There are other newcomers to the defensive end position in veteran Jimmy Bean and junior college transfer Sam Wren and they will be expected to pick up more of the load at that position. But unless some of the class of 2012, which had several defensive ends in it, answers the bell then Leveni could pass them up.
Head coach Mike Gundy would like for some of the freshmen that have shown up well in summer conditioning get some good looks early in fall camp. If they take advantage of it, then they are on the fast track to playing time. Leveni has the physical ability and the young man comes off as being hungry to want to play some ball.