Texas A&M's 2008 defensive front is another unit that said goodbye to most of its starters following last season, with the departure of Red Bryant, Chris Harrington, and Henry Smith. But this is an area where the Aggies have a number of upperclassmen with plenty of experience, who could give the defense a chance to keep from missing a beat up front this fall.
One of the top returners is senior defensive end Cyril Obiozor. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 264 pounds, Obiozor has notched 16 consecutive starts going back to the 2006 season. As a junior, he led the Aggies in sacks and tackles for loss, and forced one fumble. His 9.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last fall resulted in a negative 43 yards for opposing offenses, and he'll be counted on heavily this season to keep wreaking havoc behind the LOS.
Fans should also see a heavy dose of both Amos Gbunblee and Michael Bennett at defensive end. Gbunblee is a 6-foot-5, 250 pound former tight end who brings some serious speed to DE position along with his size and strength. The senior saw action in every game last season for the Aggies, with 13 tackles for the year, and has the potential to take his game to a new level as a starter in 2008.
Bennett (6-4, 261) is a punishing tackler and effective pass rusher. Bennett was an honorable mention All-Big XII selection by the coaches last fall, and has been the leading tackler off the bench for the Aggies in each of the last two seasons. He tallied 43 stops in 2007 with one sack and six tackles for loss. Bennett also has a way of making himself noticed in big games, knocking Texas QB Colt McCoy out of the contest in 2006, and driving the KU offense crazy in 2007 with five tackles, two of which were behind the line, in addition to sacking the QB and batting down a pass.
The interior defensive line will see the return of 6-foot-6, 345 pound Kellen Heard, a junior for whom the stage is set to emerge as one of the premier defensive tackles in the Big XII. Heard has contributed numerous big plays over the last two seasons as the top backup at DT, and had an outstanding game in the regular season finale against Texas. Coming off the bench in 2007, Heard racked up 37 tackles and forced three fumbles. Big, powerful, and a bruising tackler, 2008 could be special for this young man.
Sophomore Lucas Patterson also brings some promising talent, and experience, to the DT position. Patterson (6-4, 297) looked very good as a freshman last fall, playing in all 13 games while notching 24 tackles, including one tackle for loss and one QB sack. Patterson forced a fumble while sacking Texas QB Colt McCoy, setting up an Aggie TD drive in last November's second consecutive win over their arch rival. The youngest among the DL returnees, Patterson looks ready to assume a starting role.
A&M defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt believes that Patterson may be the most underrated player on the 2008 roster.
David Tufuga and Paul Freeney both gained some experience in backup roles last season, and could provide depth when called upon in 2008. Tufuga is a 6-foot 292 pound junior who saw action in five games at DT last fall after joining the team during fall workouts, transferring in from Snow Jr. College in Utah. Freeney, a 6-foot-4, 227 pound junior, notched six tackles in nine appearances in 2008, and could see significantly more playing time at DE this year. 6-foot-4, 262 pound Cody Williams is a sophomore who played in two games for the Aggies in 2008.
Newcomers like Eddie Brown, Rod Davis, Tony Jerod, Chris Lathrop and Adren Dorsey may also get a shot at working their way into the rotation this year, and could provide some much-needed depth if they can adapt to life at the Big 12 level quickly.
Although the 2008 defensive line is replacing three starters, with players like Heard and Patterson, who have the potential to have genuine breakout seasons, along with the proven talent of guys like Obiozor, the defensive front will come into this season capable of causing plenty of grief for opposing offenses.
Aggie Websider Grade: B-
COUNTDOWN 2008 - Defensive Line
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