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Position-by-Position Analysis: Defensive Line

With defensive tackles Vincent Taylor and Motekiai Maile returning, and young players like Jarrell Owens, Trey Carter and Jordan Brailford looking to step in at defensive end, the defensive line is one of the Cowboys' strongest position groups.

This will wrap up our end of spring football series as we have gradually taken you from specialists to offense to defense in looking at every single player currently on the squad coming out of spring. You have read about the players that are no longer with the team, either by choice or by fate (injury).

We told you how the early arrivals at midterm did in the spring. You know who the healthy players are versus the players that missed some or all of spring with an injury. You know who made strides, who may have maintained, and who needs to work especially hard this summer to gain an opportunity to play in the fall. You also read the players that will have competition on the way in the form of newcomers or freshmen.

We finish with the position that many might have pointed to last season as the strongest position group on the field – the defensive line. When you have the sack leader in the league and an All-American at defensive end while on the other side is a senior that along with your All-American are two of the top five defenders in tackles for loss in the Big 12 combined with a young developing group of defensive tackles then it's easy to see or understand why defensive line might be the most celebrated position group on the roster.

With the tandem of Mason Rudolph and senior J.W. Walsh the quarterbacks were definitely in the conversation and wide receiver would likely have pulled in a few votes. We'll stay with defensive end. After all, Emmanuel Ogbah was the 32nd pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Normally that would have been the final pick in the first round, but Ogbah is a trivia answer for the question, who was the 32nd pick in an NFL Draft and why was he also the first pick in the second round? The answer is the first round only had 31 selections this year because New England forfeited its first-round selection as part of the penalty for deflate-gate.

Either way, Ogbah, Jimmy Bean, and Trace Clark are gone. That' three senior defensive ends that combined for 119 games of experience, 292 tackles and 41.5 sacks leave a huge hole, but the good news is this spring the material to fill that hole began to take shape. The shape will be different, but the production could end up being much better than you might have guessed.

Think more experienced defensive tackles that have been on the field for a lot of snaps and big motors and big care factors. Add to that group the most athletic of the defensive tackles that was expected to start a year ago and missed the entire season due to injury. Now add young, athletic defensive ends that have already shown they were paying attention to Ogbah and Bean and are eager to follow in their footsteps.

My prediction is the defensive line will still be one of the three strongest position groups on this team this coming season.

Defensive Tackles

96 Vincent Taylor, 6-3, 310, RS-Jr., San Antonio (Madison), Texas
Taylor is just the kind of guy you want anchoring your defensive line. He is big, strong, prideful, and has an engine that always runs at a high RPM. Taylor was a little bit of a surprise last season as the coaching staff was wondering if he could step in for the injured Vili Leveni and be the leader and have the production needed to make sure offensive lines played honest with blocking inside and potentially adding extra help outside aimed at Ogbah and Bean. Taylor more than carried his share of the load. He plays so hard all of the time that he makes teammates feel guilty if they take a single play off. He had a good spring and showed enthusiasm every practice and scrimmage which can be hard to do sometimes for a veteran player, but like Mike Gundy preaches, you have to love football and Taylor does. He loves to play and shows it. He will also speak up and tell you that the defensive tackles are going to be outstanding this season. He has a lot of pride in the defense and in his teammates.

90 Motekiai Maile, 6-3, 315, Sr., Euless (Trinity), Texas/Pittsburgh, Calf./Tyler C.C., Texas
Maile played well last season as he earned the starting position after Leveni was ruled out for the season. He was good but it was all a learning experience and Maile has the very good chance of being one of those junior college transfers that takes a giant leap in his second season. It happens a lot and looks like it will again. Maile was better in spring football with more explosive plays and turnovers forced and recovered than he had been last season. He is also bigger and stronger. He used to weigh 305 and look 260 pounds. Now he weighs 315 and looks like he weighs 280 pounds. There is depth at defensive tackle and that has taught Maile that he can play all out and then there will be somebody to step in. He played with a bigger motor this spring as a result.

95 Vili Leveni, 6-4, 290, RS-Jr., Hurst (L.D. Bell), Texas
Leveni went down late July with an Achillies tear and that was it for the season. He is fully rehabbed but was only out in shorts for spring ball. No reason to risk him for some spring football. Leveni will bring back an experienced defensive end moving down to tackle. He is a very multiple player when you factor in a three-man front as well. He is big and strong enough to play inside, and athletic and quick enough to play outside. He can play all three spots on a three-man front. This could be really special having all these defensive tackles.

97 Eric Davis, 6-3, 305, RS-Sr., Tyler (John Tyler), Texas
Davis has made steady improvement and impressed defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer last season with his ability to contribute. Davis pays attention, knows his technique, and has worked hard enough in the weight room and on the field to be in position to make plays. He is part of the rotation.

79 Darrion Daniels, 6-3, 305, So., Dallas (Bishop Dunne), Texas
A highly touted freshman that lived up to the tout and played last season. He is strong, physical, and seemingly not afraid of anyone or any situation. He had a good spring and a really strong spring game (tackle for loss and interception). He understands that he can have a good play without making the tackle or some other accomplishment. His attitude is also way ahead of the game as he kind of has an "old soul" when it comes to football.  

98 Taaj Bakari, 6-1, 305, RS-Fr., Mansfield, Texas
Bakari redshirted last season and then this spring demonstrated how eager he is to have the chance to play this season. He was good in practice, but the issue is how many guys are ahead of him. Defensive tackle is a crowded area. 

70 Ben Hughes, 6-1, 320, RS-Jr., Waco (University), Texas
Hughes will play some as he did last season. He is improved but he needs to continue to improve on his athleticism, quickness, and ability to get off blocks. 

62 Tyler Ferguson, 6-2, 265, RS-So., McKinney (Boyd), Texas
Ferguson is a walk-on, a little undersized for defensive tackle but he plays hard and has a great attitude. 

Defensive Ends

93 Jarrell Owens, 6-3, 270, RS-So., Palestine, Texas
Owens has a great attitude and wants to make plays. He is strong and may be the pack leader for the younger defensive ends as his strength and physical maturity have put him on the field more. You can see it on tape and if you are watching high up on Saturdays as he bulls through blockers and when he gets a chance he will. He had some really good days in the spring highlighted by the final scrimmage, not the spring game but a scrimmage. He was almost in on every play. He does need to be reminded to play within the defensive scheme. When he does and he can manhandle the OL in front of him, than he will be really good. 

94 Jordan Brailford, DE, 6-3, 245, RS-So., Tulsa (Booker T. Washington), Okla. 
Brailford is not as big or physically strong as Owens and that is fine because Brailford still has strong play-making ability with his speed and quickness. Brailford is as fast off the edge as anybody you will find in the Big 12. The problem is if he gets tied up then he has trouble sometimes getting loose. He is fun to watch as he will be 20 yards away and then all of a sudden he's put the quarterback down. The next couple of years could create a binge situation at defensive end with several of us trying to decide who is fastest.

82 Cole Walterscheid, DE, 6-5, 260, RS-So., Muenster, Texas
He can block out the sun as I think he is at least 6-6, maybe bigger. He was playing in the opener last season when he was showing the ability to play every game and suffered an injury that put him out until mid-November. He was back to help when the depth was depleted with Bean going down. He does a good job versus both the run and the pass.You can tell he likes to pass rush, who doesn't?

99 Trey Carter, DE, 6-3, 285, RS-So., Dallas (Pinkston), Texas
Carter is big enough to play tackle but defensive coaches say he will stay at defensive end. It might be something to look at in November as he is playing in a band that makes some noise in and around here. He had a monster spring game with four sacks, three tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery. The spring for him may have been his figurative turning the corner.  

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