Spring Review: Defensive Line

May 4 -- A couple of the underclassmen defensive linemen stood out in a big way this spring...

Defensive Line Review

Top Performer: Matt Dickerson

If we're judging strictly based on spring performance alone, it would be difficult to find another lineman on the team who had a more consistently good spring than Dickerson. He is stronger than he was during the fall, and that strength translated to more explosive pass-rushing ability from the interior. Obviously, Kenneth Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes are the starters on the interior, but Dickerson is almost certainly going to be the third man in that interior rotation, and we wouldn't be shocked if he even took some time at the other end position, where Takkarist McKinley is slotted.

Most Improved: Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

The other sophomore lineman also had a big spring, looking much more comfortable with the scheme and tempo. He has gotten significantly bigger since last fall, to the point where it would not be a shock to see him playing on the interior more this season. The most exciting thing is that he's retained his considerable athleticism while gaining weight, and if he can continue to maintain his quickness as he rises into the 280s or so, he could be a devastating interior lineman. As it stands, he spent most of the spring behind McKinley at that end spot, but we'd anticipate him having a very versatile role this year.

Position Overview:

Heading into the spring, we had one major concern on the defensive line. While we had confidence in the ostensible starting group (McKinley, Clark, and Vanderdoes), we were worried that there wasn't a good deal of depth behind them, since we really didn't see much from any of the current backups during the season last year. Then, as we noted above, Dickerson and Tuioti-Mariner both had really good springs, which has helped to alleviate our major concern for this group.

Kenny Clark.
And it's not like the starters had bad springs either. Vanderdoes was in close competition with Tuioti-Mariner for most improved. His first healthy offseason has clearly helped him quite a bit. He has done some nice work on his body, trimming down by about ten pounds, and he looks a little more like the explosive interior lineman we were expecting over the last two years. Getting down another five or ten pounds will be key for him, and he seems more than capable of doing that.

Clark was faced with a much stronger Jake Brendel this spring, so he didn't have quite the dominant spring you might expect from one of the best NFL prospects on the team. Still, he looks great physically, and all the same strength and technique is in place for him to have a big year this year.

McKinley put on a good deal of weight between fall and spring, especially in his upper body, and it seemed like he spent the first week or two adjusting to playing with some added bulk. He got the hang of it as the spring went on, and started to look more and more difficult to block on the edge over the last couple of weeks.

We were impressed with what we saw from Najee Toran after the first week or so. He naturally took a while to get comfortable, since he hasn't played much defensive line at all before, but his natural mean streak and tenacity started to take over during the last half of spring, and he looks like he has the potential to be a good interior lineman down the road. It'll be interesting to see how significantly he factors into the rotation this year, but next year, with both Clark and Vanderdoes potentially gone, he'll have a chance to step up into a big role.

Ainuu Taua had some up and down moments this spring. If we had to project him, we'd still say his best role is as a situational interior pass rusher, since he just doesn't seem to have the strength to play three downs as a nose tackle. Carl Hulick also played some nose tackle this spring, and he had some nice moments, especially in the first couple of weeks. He's more of a plugger at nose than a pass rusher, but he had some good reps during 11-on-11. Eli Ankou, who also figures to be in that interior line rotation, sat out the spring for the most part with a hand injury. He should be good to go for fall camp.

Projected Fall Depth Chart

End
Takkarist McKinley
Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
Eli Ankou

Nose
Kenneth Clark
Ainuu Taua
Carl Hulick

End/Tackle
Eddie Vanderdoes
Matt Dickerson
Najee Toran

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