This is the next installment of a multi-part series analyzing every facet of the 2001 Vanderbilt Commodores. The series analyzes the personnel, coaching, and intangibles from each functional unit of the team, and will culminate in an overall analysis and season prediction. Today, I'll break down the defensive line, and the next edition will finish up the front seven with the linebackers, an overall analysis, and some predictions.

Questions abound for a group that struggled to contain the run and place adequate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The group that struggled must replace four of seven starters in its quest to improve. That may be a difficult task due to the fact that two of those four are now playing the NFL.

Look Back to 2000

SEC Rankings

  • 11th ranked Rushing Defense (178.3 ypg)
  • 11th ranked in opponents' yards per carry (4.6)
  • 9th ranked in rushing touchdowns allowed (16)
  • 10th ranked in sacks (15)
  • 12th ranked in rushing first downs allowed (101)
  • Defensive linemen accounted for only 2 sacks, both by Doyle Crosby
  • Defensive linemen accounted for only 7 of 45 tackles for loss
On the surface it appeared the front seven could have been a strength for the 2000 squad. The line featured big defensive ends in Doyle Crosby and Russ Nicoll, as well as a former freshman All-American at nose tackle in Ryan Aulds. The linebacking corps returned a plethora of talent and starters. The group was headlined by preseason All-American Jamie Winborn, who was probably the most feared linebacker in the SEC. Matt Stewart had bulked up, and was coming off an underrated junior season. The group was rounded out by Antuain Bradford, who had logged significant playing time. With that talent, why were the results so poor?

The problems began with the two game suspension of Jamie Winborn, due to a shaky relationship with a sports management agency. The suspension cost the team its most talented and heralded player, and it cost the front seven of the defense their heart and soul. Winborn did not regain his intensity until later in the season, and the front seven never recovered. Of course, it is not fair to place all of the blame on that incident. The team also lost two key members of the defensive line. Russ Nicoll was in the middle of his best season until a knee injury cut it all too short. Defensive end Chuck Losey also suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of action. The results of these setbacks turned out to be a front seven that could be counted on to neither stop opposing running games nor create enough quarterback pressure to disrupt the passing game. A strange result for a defense producing players the caliber of Winborn and Stewart.

Defensive Line

Defensive End

54Chuck Losey6-4246 R-Jr.Hixson, TN
56Ryan Nungesser6-4 260R-Jr.San Marino, CA
66Wally Conyers6-7266R-Sr.Atlanta, GA
93Doyle Crosby6-4302 R-Sr.Port St. Joe, FL
94Brian Kovolisky6-7269R-Fr.Clark, NJ
96Robert Dinwiddie6-5264R-Fr.Hendersonville, TN

Nose Tackle

69Aaron Carter6-3273 R-Fr.Wallingford, PA
73Ralph McKenzie6-4 295Fr.Southfield, MI
77Trey Halloway6-2280Fr.Edmond, OK
92Brett Beard6-3281R-So.Birmingham, AL
99Matt Clay 6-2280R-Fr.Powder Springs, GA

The Breakdown

  • 11 scholarship players
  • 4 upperclassmen
  • 7 underclassmen
  • 5 have seen game action at this position
  • Returning players account for both sacks by defensive linemen in 2000 (Crosby)
  • Returning players account for 4 of 7 tackles for loss by defensive linemen in 2000
  • Returning players account for 13 of 27 quarterback pressures by defensive linemen in 2000

The primary failing of the front seven in 2000 likely resulted from a lack of defensive line production. Though the 3-4 scheme places the heaviest defensive burden on the linebackers, the defensive line failed to produce adequate tallies in tackles, sacks, tackles for loss, quarterback pressures, fumbles caused, or any other statistical measure one could find. Lacking size in the middle at nose tackle seemed to be a chronic weakness. Though Aulds was tough, nasty, and played as hard as possible, he lacked the size to command constant double teams or stand up centers and guards. The same could be said for Aulds's backup, the similarly undersized Tyler Unzicker. Size in the middles could be an area of great improvement in 2001. Brett Beard will be the starter, and he has many of the same attributes as Aulds. He is tough, hard-nosed, and plays hard every down. However, he at least twenty pounds heavier than Aulds at his largest, which should come in handy when trying to clog the middle of the offensive line. Beard has also gained valuable experience at both nose tackle and defensive end.

There is also adequate size backing up Beard, though the increased beef could be offset by inexperience. None of the four remaining options have seen a down of playing time. Redshirt freshmen Aaron Carter and Matt Clay have yet to prove they are ready to step up as contributors. Meanwhile, true freshmen Trey Holloway and Ralph McKenzie appear to have the necessary physiques, but they will have to separate themselves to avoid the usual redshirt year for defensive linemen at VU. Every returning defensive lineman on the roster has used their redshirt season. Despite this trend, look for either Holloway or McKenzie to see playing time this season.

You could say that we have three starters returning at defensive end, even though starter Russ Nicoll used up his remaining eligibility last season. Doyle Crosby has been a staple at defensive end for the last few years, as he was a heralded recruit out of Port St. Joe, Florida in 1997. Crosby has tremendous quickness and athleticism for a 300 pounder, which has allowed him to play end rather than a tackle position throughout his career. Crosby's athleticism and size have manifested itself into the only consistent pass rush coming from the defensive line. Crosby was the only defensive lineman to garner a sack in 2000, a truly disturbing statistic. Crosby is easily VU's best pass rush threat from the line. Historically, Crosby has also been effective at containing his end on running plays and scrambles. Nevertheless, Crosby has been plagued with criticism over the past two years. Many have felt that his conditioning has not been to level needed to play at a high level for all four quarters, and it has seemed that his effectiveness drops throughout the course of a game. This could validate these criticisms, or it could simply prove that Vanderbilt has had an inadequate and all too infrequent rotation along the defensive line.

Two other players, Chuck Losey and Wally Conyers, have also been starters at one time or another. Losey, who is quickly becoming a star in the weight room and is certainly larger than the listed 246 pounds, received some starts as a redshirt freshman. Losey, who was unable to see much action last year due to a broken ankle, slipped on the depth chart a bit as a sophomore, but still received significant playing time. When he plays, Losey brings a nice physical presence to the line. Though he has not proven to be a top-level pass rusher, he has shown strength against the run. Nearly two years later, Losey has made even greater strides physically, but he must demonstrate that he will be able to shake off the rust of a basically lost 2000 season. Wally Conyers brings something completely different to the field. Conyers it tall and lean with excellent speed, which should make him a threat to rush the passer. Conyers has been somewhat effective at this in the past, in addition to being a difficult obstacle for quarterbacks to pass over. He has also been very good at running down plays from his end. The thing that has kept Conyers from seeing even more playing time is the lack of bulk to go along with his great height, arm length, and speed. The 260 pounds he has been carrying recently spreads thin for a defensive lineman with a 6-7 frame. Conyers may be up to 270 or so now, but his inability to put on weight has hampered his effectiveness when trying to stop physical run offenses.

Depth at end will come from Ryan Nungesser, Brian Kovolisky, and Robert Dinwiddie. Nungesser has seen limited playing time at both end and nose tackle, but with larger nose tackles now available to the coaching staff, he will play at his more natural position as an end. Nungesser was a highly thought of linebacker from California, who suffered a devastating knee injury as a senior. Vanderbilt took a gamble on him and his recovery, and now as a redshirt junior he should back up Doyle Crosby. Kovolisky was converted to defensive line early in his freshman season. He brings a physical presence very similar to that of Wally Conyers. Dinwiddie, from nearby Hendersonville, Tennessee, is also a converted offensive player. Dinwiddie began his career at VU as a tight end, but was moved over in order to add depth to the defensive line. The early reports on this move have been positive. These three players bring very little experience with them to their backup roles, and they are a bit undersized. Someone distancing himself from the others from among this group will be critical to solidifying a good rotation at defensive end.


The defensive line could be markedly better, but still finish near the bottom of the SEC in most statistical categories. Of course, much of this is due to Vanderbilt's defensive scheme, which asks the linemen to stand up the offensive line, fill gaps, and free up the linebackers to generate stops. Notwithstanding, we should expect to see better production our of our starters. When Crosby and Conyers are manning both ends, the line should be able to generate some pressure on opposing passers. A larger Brett Beard should be an asset in slowing the hemorrhaging the middle of the defense experienced in 2000.

Though production from the starters may be better, we could see a drop-off in production from the backups. The largest problem will be depth. Inexperience rules the second and third positions on the depth chart. Beyond simply having the bodies to add depth, there are serious questions about the ability of the younger guys to perform. This could hamper the creation of a good rotation along the line, which helps keep our starters fresh. This is a problem we have struggled with for years in the fourth quarter, and the trend looks to be more of the same. To buck the trend a couple of the fresh faces need to grow into significant roles.

Among our top players we are likely to see some situational substituting, much like you see at linebacker. Losey will likely see time in situations when a running play seems most obvious. Conyers will probably do the opposite. Beard, Crosby, and the Conyers/Losey combination should be very solid, when placed in the right situations. Barring exceptional development among the young players, we should see solid defensive line play most games until late in the third quarter. At that point depth and the elements may hamper our ability.

The next edition of this column will cover the rest of the front seven, the linebackers. Top Stories