Defenders of the Line

With the eligibility of a few defensive linemen in question, the Red Raider faithful are wondering who can step up to fill the shoes of a good defensive end. This week's "Fish with Trent" will take a look at the others starters across the line, players that showed they wanted to play during spring practice, and players to keep your eye on as the season progresses.

Strong (defensive left) Defensive End: Seth Nitschmann - Seth missed all of last season due to knee surgery and rehab but should be back with a vengeance this season. A sizable end at 6'4" inches tall and 257 pounds, he excels against the run. While not the most gifted pass rusher, Seth has shown a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He is strong enough to play against the larger tackles, but coming off of his injury, it is unknown how healthy he will be at the start of the season.

Backup Strong Defensive End: Jared Williams - Jared was a red shirt freshman last season making the transition from offensive tackle to defensive end. When the season started, Williams looked lost. However, he began making substantial progress until he injured his right leg and was out for the remainder of the season. He looks to have gained the 20-25 pounds needed to make him an effective end, and has very good lateral movement skills. While his ability as a pass rusher hasn't been showcased, he has shown the ability to get off of the blocks of the offensive line and make plays in the backfield.

Player to watch: Philip Jones - The 6'4" inch tall, 244-pound Jones is a prototypical defensive end. He is certainly big enough to fit the mold, and showed flashes of being fast enough to make plays as a pass rusher and as a run stuffer during the Spring. If Seth Nitschmann isn't ready to go at the start of the season, look for Jones to have an increased role on the defensive line. Another interesting option could be the possible move of Jones to linebacker, but this has yet to come to fruition.

Defensive Tackle: Chris Hudler - What else can be said about a guy that has come full-circle during his career with the Red Raiders? As a freshman, Hudler was bullied all over the field by every guard and center that he went up against. Into his sophomore year, it was more of the same for Chris until the Oklahoma State game when he began playing with an intensity and ferocity that is nearly unmatched by any other player. During the Cotton Bowl, Hudler blocked a field goal to prevent Alabama from going up by 7 points into half time. Chris continued his growth during the spring when he became the menace of the offensive line. Look for more of the same from Hudler this year as he squares off with some of the best guards in the conference.

Backup Defensive Tackle: Dek Bake - Donald "Dek" Bake was recruited to Tech as a defensive end, but made the transition to defensive tackle during his junior year. Dek played a fair amount of the year with an injured knee but brought a tenacious attitude to the defensive line that helped them grow throughout the season. Bake is tall for a tackle at 6'5," but a little undersized at only 270 pounds. Bake therefore relies more on technique and exploiting mistakes by the offense than pure strength. He is the perfect yin to Chris Hudler's yang. Look for Bake to provide solid back-up work and be one of the sack leaders at the defensive tackle position.

Player to Watch: Jake Ratliff - Jake is a young player that came on extremely strong during spring practices and showed flashes of being the next great defensive tackle on the Red Raider football team. Ratliff is a bit undersized weight-wise at 249 pounds, but his frame at 6'6" inches tall is quite capable of adding the weight needed to play DT in the Big XII. He was 237 last year, so he's already on the way. Since he is undersized at the moment, Ratliff has worked very hard on his techniques and how he attacks opposing offensive linemen. Jake has an uncanny ability of getting in the backfield to disrupt the play. Other than Chris Hudler, Ratliff had the best spring of any interior lineman and secured at least some of the snaps at the defensive tackle position for the next season.

Defensive Tackle: Ken Scott - Ken is a player whose rise to prominence hasn't been as dramatic or as sudden as that of Chris Hudler's, but Ken has become a vital cog in the Red Raider defense. Ken is a bigger body than Hudler at 6'2" inches tall and 316 pounds, but doesn't show any sluggishness when he moves in pursuit of run plays or when rushing the passer. The only real concern is Ken's ability to stay healthy after missing the latter part of the Nebraska game and the entire Kansas State game. Ken bounced back after his injuries to play well the rest of the season, and will be the starter at the defensive tackle spot opposite of Chris Hudler.

Backup Defensive Tackle: Brian Jones - Brian Jones is a kid that has all of the physical tools needed to be a very good defensive tackle but has yet to put the mental angle together. At 5 feet, 11 inches tall, Jones isn't exactly your prototypical size defensive tackle, but is plenty strong enough to play in the same company as Chris Hudler, Ken Scott, and Dek Bake. Defensive line coach Ruffin McNeill is working very hard to turn Brian into a top-flight defensive tackle and Jones has started making progress toward the defensive tackle that Coach McNeill thinks he can be.

Player to Watch: Sandy Riley - Sandy was recruited to come to Tech to play linebacker, but he is eating his way out of linebacker and into defensive line. Riley played some defensive end during the spring, and it wouldn't be that large of a stretch to see him playing as a defensive tackle in the near future. He has been given many reps considering his youth, so there is definitely some potential here.

Weak (defensive right) Side End: Tyler Yenzer - Tyler was recruited to come to Tech in 2003, but not highly pursued by other programs. During his senior year, Tyler led the state of Texas in sacks his senior year and was rated as one of the top 30 DE's in the country. It seems that we got quite a steal with Tyler. During the spring, he showed impressive consistency and looks like he is ready to be the next great defensive end in the tradition of Montae Reagor, Aaron Hunt, Adell Duckett, and Keyunta Dawson. He has gained the needed weight up to about 260 lbs, which fits easily on his 6'4" inch-tall frame. He doesn't seem to have lost any of his quickness, and gave the left tackles fits in spring ball. If Yenzer can be half the collegiate player that he was in high school, he could be the best defensive end since Adell Duckett at his prime in 2003.

Backup Weak Defensive End: Victor Hunter - Victor played several positions on defense during spring practice and looked ready to play at any of them. He earned himself the nickname "Little Ball of Hate," and showed it off with vicious hits against anyone within arms reach. He is a little short for your typical defensive end, but with some time and training, could be a great change of pace from Tyler Yenzer's style.

Incoming Freshmen: With the possible loss of some D-Linemen, several of the incoming freshmen defensive line recruits have the chance to play this season. Richard Jones, DanTay Ward, and Rajon Henley all have the opportunity to not only play, but to learn how to play at the Big XII level so that they can be ready for the 2007 season. Dantay Ward and Richard Jones are both most likely to play defensive tackle while Rajon Henley could be like McKinner Dixon was last season seeing action at both defensive end slots. All three of these players should see at least some of the snaps this season to prepare them for the 2007 season when Tech loses 3 of the 4 players on the 2 deep at defensive tackle and Seth Nitschmann at defensive end.

Although many people are likely concerned with the defensive line situation, you can rest assured that we have impressive depth at these positions with players who are finally going to get their chance to shine. Here's to wishing the players who are departing us luck in the future, as well as to the players who get to step it up in their place for our Red Raiders next season.
 


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