Analysis And Impact Of Vili Leveni's Injury

One of head coach Mike Gundy's goal for his football team this summer was for a quiet summer. To Gundy, programs with less drama in the offseason tend to perform better and achieve more during the season in the fall. However, some news and drama is out of your control and that was the case in a conditioning workout on Tuesday, July 14, when returning defensive tackle Vili Leveni went down.

"I hated to see it but it happened in front of me," wide receiver David Glidden said Tuesday at Big 12 Media Days in Dallas. "He was in the group in front of me and we could tell it was serious."

It was a torn Achilles that was repaired a week later with surgery. The 6-3, 300-pound Leveni was the third defensive tackle for the Pokes in the 2014 season, finishing with 16 tackles (11 unassisted), 4.5 tackles for loss, and one sack. Those are modest numbers until you realize he was the third defensive tackle behind seniors James Castleman and Of a Hautau.

But Leveni was probably averaging 20 to 25 snaps a game and as a defensive tackle the task is often to tie up blockers and control a gap over pursuing the play. He was the most veteran tackle coming back this season, and no doubt the loss of Leveni leaves an early hole in the defense.

"In football the toughest part for a coach, and it has been for me, is when players get hurt," Gundy responded. "This will be an opportunity for Vili to learn about life and overcome adversity. He has the best care he could have with our medical staff, strength and conditioning, rehabilitation, and getting prepared mentally to get back on the field will be the very best care he can get.

"He needs to look at this as a challenge for himself, a challenge to overcome this and get back to the team. It won't be the last difficult challenge he faces. We look at it that way because we can't change what has already happened. we don't look back but we encourage Vili and players in that situation to move forward."

Now the question is how does this defense recover from the loss of Leveni for this season.

"It's a huge blow to the D-line. It really hurt us because we were counting on Vili to step up and take that place," 2014 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Emmanuel Ogbah said. "Guys like Vincent Taylor and Mote Maile are going to have to step up to the plate and help us out."

"This is an opportunity for our players to step forward," Gundy added. "We could be as good on defense as we have been to this point, but we have to get quicker and more mature play at defensive tackle than we have had right now."

You first have to look at the starting positions, and Ogbah is right as Leveni is far ahead of others from an experience standpoint. If there is a silver lining to the situation then it is that the injury happened now, before camp which allows defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements to prepare to attack the problem and rapidly bring players up to speed that need to jump in.

Vincent Taylor becomes the most veteran of the tackles now, if not in class, in number of snaps. Taylor had a strong spring and a spring game that fans were able to get excited about. The 6-3, 300-pound Taylor is physical, strong, and athletic. The competition will be open, but Tyler Junior College transfer Motekiai Maile is a trim 6-4, 306 pounds and the most likely answer of who starts next to Taylor now.

Ben Hughes is a redshirt sophomore from Waco, Texas, who is 6-3, 310 pounds and is a solid gap control or two gap defensive tackle. Eric Davis is the most veteran of the tackles by class as a redshirt junior and he is 6-3, 295 pounds. He is a little lighter but will need to play and play tough.

There is no doubt that you will need to get a freshman ready to play as a fifth defensive tackle. The two choices are Taaj Bakari of Mansfield Legacy with a thick 6-1, 313 pound frame and experienced against really strong high school competition and Darrion Daniels, who is more highly regarded in recruiting circles out of private school champion Bishop Dunne in Dallas. Daniels is 6-3, 320 pounds, although hope is he took a few pounds off in summer workouts.

Again, the loss of Leveni is a blow to the defense but with the time it would seem to be one that could be lessened with the work coming up in fall camp.


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