In 2011, based on the personnel available, it appears the Rebels are going to go in a different direction with smaller, quicker guys up front.
"Overall, I like the athleticism of the group," said Defensive Line Coach Terry Price. "We have guys who will work hard and chase the ball. We are more athletic on the interior of the line, but obviously we are not as experienced as we were a year ago.
"Hopefully, with effort and athleticism we will be able to create pressure and play the run effectively."
During spring training, Price only had one complaint – injury, but being a veteran coach, he takes that with a grain of salt.
"It's tough when a lot of your guys are banged up for the majority of spring, because all those guys who have been injured needed every rep they could get," said Price, "but the flip side is a lot of young guys are getting valuable reps and are starting to grow up more, which we also needed.
"DE Kentrell Lockett, DE Wayne Dorsey, DE Gerald Rivers, DT Carlton Martin and DT Bryon Bennett have all missed time and we really didn't need that. But on the other hand, Cameron Whigham, Jason Jones, Gilbert Pena and several more got a lot of work they needed."
At Bandit, Kentrell Lockett, even though he missed all of spring, is expected to take over when he comes back in the fall.
"Carlos Thompson has shown the ability to come off the edge, but he's got to keep working on his strength and size. He's bigger than he was during the season, but not big and strong enough to be a consistent factor against the run yet. He just needs to keep working, like all my younger guys. He needs a really good summer in the weight room. Delvin Jones is very similar to Carlos. He's a good edge rusher, but he's got to get bigger. Both are very good athletes with bright futures. We have to remember they have been here less than a year. Time is on their side in their development."
At end, Jason Jones has impressed Price the most at this point of the process.
"Jason has done some real good things this spring. He is an effort guy who works hard. Jason is very coachable – when you tell him something, he gets it quickly. You don't have to keep repeating it over and over with him. He's also providing some leadership to our group, which I like to see," said Price. "Cameron Whigham is a physical player who has to improve on the little things that will separate him from the pack. Things like eye control, hand placement – the things that put guys over the top. I think he has a bright future once he gets his techniques perfected. He has improved this spring. With his size, strength and movement, he could be an every-down player for us.
"Wayne Dorsey was showing some improvement in pass rush before his injury. He still needs to get more physical against the run, but I liked what I was seeing before he got hurt. He needs to work on his upper body strength in the offseason. Walker Sturgeon is a young kid who is also with us. He's got a long way to go, but I like his enthusiasm. He's always pumping guys up on the sidelines. I like his attitude."
At nose tackle, redshirt freshman Bryon Bennett has risen from number three at the start of spring to number one.
"Gilbert Pena has done some good things this spring, but he also has things to work on. He's got to get in better shape and lose some weight. At the same time, he has shown some explosiveness and pretty good movement. He's got to work on his footwork and hand placement and become more consistent. He has some tools. We can work with him. Taurus Ward is a big man in the middle who has done some good things this spring, but he's got to work himself into better condition. He tries to do everything right."
At tackle, Bennett's running mate, fellow RS freshman Carlton Martin, was making an impact before a concussion stopped his spring.
"Carlton is very explosive and was having a good spring. He had moved all the way up the ladder of the depth chart. I like the way he plays. He's our best interior rusher right now and he's pretty good against the run. I want to see him put on 5-10 pounds this summer, but I like what he has done to this point and think he has a very bright future," Price evaluated. "Senior Justin Smith hasn't played a lot, but he's stepped up some this spring. He's done pretty good. He's not as athletic as Carlton but he can help us. He needs to work on his flexibility and explosion this summer.
"Corey Gaines needs to keep working on his conditioning and getting his body right. He needs a good summer and to keep working."
Bottom Line: The Rebel defensive line is going to have a different look next fall – smaller, but more athletic. They should be able to generate more pressure – especially from the inside positions – but there's a need to gain some weight and strength in the offseason to be just as productive against the run. Despite the injuries, the spring showed Price what he needs to go heading into fall camp and most of it was positive, even though some of it is betting on the come.
Next Up: The Linebackers.