New DL challenges Nielsen

Defensie Line Coach Ryan Nielsen has his work cut out for him carving a completely new unit out of a group that doesn't have a single senior and is replacing four starters, but he's optimistic with the players he has to work with this spring. Read about it inside.

Last year, in DL Coach Ryan Nielsen's initial season as a fulltime coach, he was somewhat buoyed by having four senior starters across his forward wall - Jayme Mitchell, Corvelli Haynes, McKinley Boykin and Michael Bozeman.

In his second season, the experience factor of the candidates he is working with is not nearly as distinct, but Nielsen, even the optimist, likes what he has seen so far in offseason workouts.

"It's not like we have zero experience. Some of these players got to play quite a bit last year. We don't have a lot of starting experience, guys who played 50-60 snaps a game, but most have been through this before and know what it takes to succeed," Nielsen began. "I'm looking forward to the challenge, but we have a lot of work to do, there's no question about that."

Nielsen has fairly simple and predictable spring training goals.

"We've got to get our young guys ready to play," he said without much elaboration. "There's not much more to it than that. We have to develop our skills and techniques every minute of every day we are out there so we can be ready in September.

"We also have to find a way to get more QB sacks and pressures. Those are our main goals."

The most experienced player up front on defense is junior DT Jeremy Garrett, who started some early last season before Boykin got tuned in and rehabbed from a knee injury.

"Jeremy has to play for us. He works his butt off and has good experience. What he has to prove this spring and next August is his every-down capability. He was good working in spots and backing up last year," said Ryan. "Can he handle 50-60 snaps in a game as a starter? I think he can but that's his challenge in terms of moving up to the next level."

Sophomore Peria Jerry comes back at DT after playing a moderate amount of snaps as a true freshman in 2005.

"Peria showed flashes of being a great player last year. He made some big plays for us in his limited time. Now he has to take it up a notch and get more consistent with those flashes and get himself in great shape," Nielsen stated.

A newcomer to the DT position is JUCO transfer Hayward Howard, who has already made a positive impression on Nielsen in offseason work.

"We only have a couple of hours a week to be with them as coaches, and you cannot use a ball, but from what I have seen to this point of Hayward is exciting," Nielsen noted. "He's tremendously quick and plays really fast. He also catches on quickly in terms of our system and he's learning the techniques very quickly."

RS freshman Trey Poole, who played OL last year, has been moved to nose tackle this spring.

"Trey does everything we ask of him and is catching on quickly. We are hoping this position will be a match for him," Ryan projected. "He's a pleasure to coach."

Junior DE Brandon Jenkins has been an enigma. In his career, he's been projected to reach stardom, but hasn't gotten there yet due to inconsistency in performance. Outstanding one play, disappears the next, so to speak.

"What I have seen of Brandon in the offseason to this point is night and day from last year," Nielsen said with his fingers crossed. "He's working much harder in every phase of his development. He's doing a better job in the weight room and in offseason drills. If he will come through like we believe he is capable of coming through, it will be a huge boost to us. It's all up to him."

Sophomore Chris Bowers started last season as the starter, but had an up and down year, including injury.

"Chris has gained some weight and is now in the 240 range. That will help him avoid injury and be more physical along the line of scrimmage. We need him to play because we know he is a capable pass rusher who can get to the quarterback in a hurry, but he has to develop as a more physical presence against the run," noted Nielsen.

Junior Viciente DeLoach, who started making a move toward more PT late last season, has amped up his body and given Nielsen some optimism about his future.

"Viciente is now around 260 pounds. He gained some valuable experience last year. I expect a lot from him this spring and summer. He's put himself in position to make some noise," Ryan commented.

Sophomore Lamark Armour will miss spring training due to recent knee surgery, but should be good to go in August.

Sophomore Reterio Brown kind of fell of the map last season after being moved to DE from LB, but he's resurfacing now, according to Nielsen.

"I see a tremendous difference in Reterio in offseason work. This is a big spring for him," Nielsen stated. "He's a tall, good-looking, athletic DE who has a great upside. He just needs to draw it out of himself. With the dedication he's showing now, I think he can emerge as a very good pass rusher if he keeps it up."

It doesn't take a genius to see the Rebs are thin across the front, but Nielsen is counting his chickens a little before the eggs hatch with the signee list.

"We will be surprised if several of those guys we signed early this month don't play," Nielsen closed. "We've got some really good talent coming in here and even though it's not ideal to count on them before they get here, we can't help but do a little bit of that because we know the kind of players they are and can be."

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