The defensive depth chart published prior to the Tulsa game listed 27 different individuals on that side of the ball, so 22 will return for 2007. Add to that mix cornerback Matt Harding, defensive end Sean Carney, and linebacker Cody Sparks, all of whom played early in the season before succumbing to injury.
All three players: Harding, Carney, and Sparks; are expected to receive medical redshirts.
Carney may be the Green Wave's most athletic returning defensive end. Sparks should return as a big contributor, and Harding, a sprinter, should push for a starting job in spring practice.
Carney, who was expected to be a starter, recently underwent back surgery but is expected to make a complete recovery. However, no date of return to competition is available. Carney may move to linebacker, changing the dynamic at end.
A freshman Cody Sparks was considered by most observers to be the the most promising of the freshman class at the beginning of the season, but broke his ankle in practice after the LSU game. Sparks should return without difficulty.
A big young player, Sparks may grow into a shift to tight end or defensive end.
There may be position shifts being contemplated beyond Carney and Sparks.
Among them, freshman linebacker Adam Kwentua may move to defensive end. Senior defensive end Antonio Harris may shift inside to tackle, where he's played before.
Freshman corner Alex Wacha was a mainstay on special teams and played an increasing role on defense, getting the nod to start against USM. However, Wacha suffered a season ending leg injury in that game and missed the remaining games. Wacha should compete with Harding for the starting position at one corner.
Defensive end Reggie Scott, who has played at times in the past and again briefly early this season, missed most of the season with a bad shoulder but is expected to return in the spring.
The only true freshman defensive player who did not play a down in 2006 is skinny defensive back Shannon Davis. Davis has excellent speed and could be a factor in the spring at cornerback, a position where the Green Wave loses both starters to graduation and has little depth.
So the number of experienced hands totals to 28, add Davis and the total of scholarship players returning in 2007 is 29.
Let's take a look at the defensive depth chart with the 2006 seniors and duplicates removed.
Antonio Harris 6-1 285 Sr.
Logan Kelley 6-2 243 So.
Frank Morton 6-4 319 Sr.
Julian Shives-Sams 6-3 259 Jr.-R
Avery Williams 6-0 282 Sr.
Oscar Ponce de Leon 6-2 329 So.
Troy Wilson 6-2 228 So.
Josh Lumar 5-10 169 Jr.-R
Chinonso Echebelem 6-1 197 So.
Travis Burks 5-11 200 So.
Corey Sonnier 6-0 193 Fr.-R
David Skehan 6-0 196 Jr.
Louis Thomas 5-11 190 Sr.-R
Carlis Jackson 6-0 182 Sr.-R
O'Lindsey Brown 5-10 185 Sr.
There's strength at middle linebacker with rising juniors Evan Lee and Jordan Ellis. one or another could see action at one of the other linebacker spots.
An infusion is needed along the defensive front, where only eight scholarship players return from 2006. And three of the returning defensive linemen are seniors.
In the next few days we'll look at the offense.