An Early Look At 2014: Defensive Line

We break down what to expect from the defensive line position next year!

Returning: Beau Barnes (SR), Darrian Wright (SR), Zach Wood (JR), Andrew McCleneghen (JR), Cameron Smith (JR), Gareth Riley-Ayers (JR), Jarrett Spencer (JR), Spencer Conley (JR), Zelt Minor (SO), Elie Nabushosi (SO), Tanner Rice (SO), Spencer Hollie (RS-FR), Mason Gentry (RS-FR), Justin Lawler (RS-FR)

Coming In: Michael Epley

Leaving: Brian Cramer

2013 Takeaways: Going into the season expectations were tempered for the defensive line for good reason. The unit had undergone a complete makeover with only a few players returning with experience. With no seniors, the defensive line was the youngest position on the team and it showed. The foreman of the group, Beau Barnes had a decent outing earning second-team All-Conference honors but his play and production was far from dominant or consistent even though he gave great effort. He will go into his senior year with much to prove.

Zach Wood showed flashes of potential making a few key plays for the Mustangs but he failed to do that on a game to game basis. There were high hopes for Darrian Wright in his first year as a full-time starter but he failed to live up to expectations partially because there was nobody adequate at the position to give him a breather.

Depth along the line was a huge problem. Zelt Minor was plagued with injuries and Andrew McCleneghan didn't have the effect most had hoped. Elie Nabushosi showed he could hold his own, but he clearly needs another year or two to maximize his potential. Overall, the group had plenty of growing pains and played a big part in SMU ranking in the bottom four of the conference in both pass and rush defense.

2014 Outlook: It will be incredibly interesting to see what another full offseason can do for the SMU defensive line that returns all three starters. Beau Barnes has the physical ability and experience to be a very good player next year and he is coming into his own. He'll be the undoubted leader of the group and if anyone will be a true difference maker he's the best bet.

Darrian Wright has to do a better job of solidifying the inside and should benefit from the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Spencer Hollie who will be right behind him on the depth chart. Although he is a little taller than your average 3-4 nose tackle, Hollie put on good amount of weight during his redshirt season and is a hoss in the weight room. With Nick Reed transitioning to running back, it'll be interesting to see who else steps at nose tackle. It all starts in the middle and SMU needs a solid anchor there. Wright rising to the occasion would do wonders.

Overall it is hard to imagine the defensive line doing worse than they did in 2013. They will be more mature, more experienced and will possess more quality depth with a healthy Zelt Minor, the emergence of their redshirts and an improved McCleneghen. Bold Prediction: The SMU defensive line will lead the Mustangs to a top four AAC ranking in run defense.

Projected Depth Chart:

LDE: Beau Barnes (1) Zelt Minor (2)

DT: Darrian Wright (1) Spencer Hollie (2)

RDE: Zach Wood (1) Elie Nabushosi (2)

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