Nielsen gives thumbs up to DL's spring

The entire starting defensive line from a year ago, consisting of Jayme Mitchell, McKinley Boykin, Michael Bozeman and Corvelli Haynes, has graduated, but unlike the situation at wide receiver – also depleted by graduation – the 2005 backups do have "some" game experience and do understand thoroughly what it takes to excel on the SEC level.

According to Defensive Line Coach Ryan Nielsen, that knowledge has propelled them to a spring performance level he can hang his hat on.

“I’ve seen improvement every day,” said Nielsen, in his second year as the Rebel DL mentor. “They have given us great effort as a group. They have been ready to roll at every practice and they are a physical, tough bunch of players.”

Nielsen specifically pointed to the March 25 scrimmage effort to prove his point.

“The defensive line recorded eight quarterback sacks that day. That’s a good day’s work in anyone’s book,” he explained. “We don’t have the experience we had last year, but we have several kids with good experience who understand the effort required to succeed on this level.”

The following is a breakdown of Nielsen’s DL depth chart and a few comments on each player:

Defensive End – Peria Jerry – Sophomore, 6-2, 290 – “What a treat he is to coach,” said Neilsen. “Peria is tremendously quick, strong and talented. He has progressed the most of any player from last season until the end of spring. Peria is a difference-maker, a potentially dominant player. He’s had a great spring. The good thing about him is that he has proven to this staff that he can play any position on the DL. We wanted to see if he could handle DE. We already knew he could handle DT. He can do either and that versatility is extremely valuable when we start putting the finishing touches on the team in August. What’s been doubly gratifying is that Peria now understands the tempo needed on this level and he’s delivering that.”

Viciente DeLoach – Junior, 6-4, 260 – “Viciente put on some weight during the offseason and that’s helped his game versus the run,” Nielsen stated. “He’s gotten better since last season. He just needs to keep working at it and he will help us in the fall.”

Defensive TackleHayward Howard – Sophomore, 6-4, 300 – “Hayward started out the spring as a number two guy, but quickly moved up to number one. He’s big, strong, quick – he’s got it all,” Ryan said. “He gives us that ‘big’ presence at DT. I also like the way he can get in the backfield in a hurry. And the upside is that he will only get better and better. He’s impressed us in just one spring and he’s still got a lot to learn.”

Trey Poole – Sophomore, 6-3, 260 – “Trey was moved over from offensive line this spring and has given us great effort. He’s out there every day giving us everything he’s got,” stated Ryan. “I like kids who love the game and Trey does.”

Nose TackleBrandon Jenkins – Junior, 6-5, 280 – “Brandon has done a good job inside this spring. He’s extremely talented, he hasn’t missed any work and he’s been physical this spring,” Nielsen evaluated. “He’s had a good spring, but we are hoping for a great August. We need him to keep plugging and improving.”

Jeremy Garrett – Junior, 6-1, 285 – “Jeremy turned it on midway through the spring and has played extremely well. He’s becoming a great technician and the extra weight he’s put on has helped him prove to us he can be an every-play guy,” said Neilsen. “Jeremy is tough and physical and strong. I like what he has done this spring and look for him to continue on that path through August and the 2006 season.”

Leo End – Chris Bowers – Sophomore, 6-2, 237 – “Chris has put on some weight which has helped him playing the run. He’s stronger now and it shows in his play,” Neilsen added. “He had a lot of sacks and pressures in spring and he’s good off the edge. The bigger and stronger he gets, the better he’ll be, but I can already tell a substantial difference in his production this spring versus last season.”

LeRon King – Sophomore, 6-0, 212 – “We moved LeRon from linebacker to defensive end this spring to give us a pass rush specialist from the LEO slot,” Ryan explained. “He has tremendous get off. He’s undersized, but he doesn’t let that stop him from making plays, which is what this game is all about. He could be a guy who comes in on third down and gets some QB sacks for us. Plus, he’s an excellent special teams player.”

Our Take: Hayward Howard could well end up as a “rock” in the middle, the kind of guy who draws double teams and makes everyone else around him a little bit better because of the extra attention he draws. Jerry is angling to become not only the Most Improved Player of spring, but also The Most Valuable. His realization of the needed tempo to go along with his immense ability is a dynamite combination. He could very well be a disruptor type of talent in 2006. It’s good to see Bowers gain some weight so he can hold up against the run more effectively. Ditto on Jeremy Garrett, who was very good for 20 or so plays a game last year, but needs to be able to go for 50 in 2006. But perhaps one of the more pleasant surprises of spring happened late in the session, when junior Brandon Jenkins was moved from backup DT to first-team nose tackle. If Brandon can harness his talent and become more consistent play-in and play-out, he would give a tremendous boost to the DL. Things are coming together nicely at DL and with the influx of young talent like Jerrell Powe, Marcus Tillman, Kentrell Lockett and Greg Hardy, the DL should be productive in 2006.

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