Position Preview: Defensive Line

Scott previews the SMU defensive line that returns all three starters and some unproven talent.

2013 Recap: Things could have been a lot worse with three new starters on the defensive line, but Beau Barnes Zach Wood and Darrian Wright held their own for most of the season. Barnes was obviously the best of the bunch, recording 13 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. Barnes did however find his pass rushing ability in spurts and wasn’t always consistent rushing the passer.

While Wright did get pushed around some at the nose tackle position, the Dayton, Texas native did learn to hold his ground as the season progressed. While no nose tackle is expected to record many sacks, it is their job to help collapse the pocket and that is where the big fella struggled.

Quietly, Wood put together his best statistical season and an overall solid campaign. Wood racked up 49 total tackles, 6 tackles for loss and 1 sack. The 6-3, 258-pounds defensive end also forced two fumbles and recovered one. Wood did however struggle sometimes to keep his feet moving, which in turn got him out of position and hurt the run defense overall.

As a part of the front seven, the defensive line struggled to consistently pressure the quarterback and sometimes struggled keeping the offensive linemen off of the linebackers in the run game. One big disappointment was the fact that heralded defensive lineman Zelt Minor saw little playing time before getting injured and effectively burning his redshirt. For a young unit, the defensive line performed right around expectations, but in 2014, with all three starters returning, this group is going to be counted on.

2014 Outlook: Lucky for the Mustangs, all three starting defensive linemen return in 2014 and with a year of camaraderie under their belt, this group should take some big strides in the right direction. Last season, this group had no depth or experience, but now sophomores Zelt Minor, Justin Lawler and Nick Reed are a year older and should be capable of backing up Wood, Barnes and Wright. Developing a consistent rotation can help spell the starters deep in games, which will also help with pass rushing late in games.

The development of Minor will also be a key factor in this groups success, because the rising sophomore has all the talent in the world. He cannot get hurt or get on Coach Jones’ bad side. With a new signal caller on offense, the defensive line will have to perform at an entirely new level if this team is going to exceed expectations.

Unknown to Watch: A year ago Jerry Saena was an undersized and extremely raw offensive lineman. Now, the 6-5, 270-pound redshirt freshman has switched positions and hopes to contribute at his natural position: defensive line. Originally it was June Jones that moved Saena to offense, despite Saena having played defense in high school. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of defensive player Saena is, and if the American Samoan can find his niche.

Star of the Group: There is no question this is Beau Barnes. Barnes has steadily increased his production since arriving on the Hilltop, so I expect his 2014 campaign to be even better than his 2013 one. With another year under his belt, and another off-season to get stronger and gain weight, Barnes will undoubtedly continue to disrupt the backfield and rush the quarterback, but we can only hope that he improves his consistency some to make him even that more dangerous.

Pony Stampede Depth Chart
Starting left DE: Zach Wood
Backup left DE: Elle Nabushosi

Starting NT: Darrian Wright
Backup NT: Zelt Minor

Starting right DE: Beau Barnes
Backup right DE: Andy McCleneghen

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