Puzzle Pieces - Defensive Line

With a number of returning linemen on the defensive side of the ball, this year's crop of freshmen signees won't be pressed to make a difference early in their careers.

However, both players who are expected to begin their careers in the defensive trenches bring some outstanding characteristics that make them exciting prospects at their respective positions. On the edge of the defensive line, Marcus Broxie brings outstanding speed (4.7 in the 40), and a rangy frame (6-4) to a position that has been manned ably, if not spectacularly, over the past few seasons. The Mountaineer coaching staff has been searching for a player that can turn the corner and pressure the quarterback in a hurry, and Broxie could be the candidate they have been searching for. Having drawn comparisons to North Carolina State's Mario Williams (the Wolfpack battled WVU for Broxie's signature), Broxie is views as a player that can create havoc off the edge for a defense.

Of course, the big question concerning Broxie will be speed retention. After putting on the 20-30 pounds he'll have to add in order to stand up to the behemoths he'll face at tackle and tight end, will he retain his speed and the upfield burst which made him such an attractive prospect? That will certainly be the item to watch as he works through WVU's strength program his first year or two in Morgantown.

There probably won't be any such concerns for WVU's other DL signee, big Chris Neild. The Stroudsburg, Pa. native is something of a freak of nature, as he stands 6-3 and checks in at 275 pounds, but has still managed to produce a 4.8 clocking in the 40-yard dash. Neild is so athletic that he got recruiting looks at fullback, tight end and linebacker, and while he certainly could play either of those spots, his potential as a nose tackle in WVU's 3-3 stack has many excited about the plays he could make from that spot. While noses are typically big and strong guys that can eat up blocks and control the A gaps, Neild's quickness could give him the ability to defeat blocks and make plays in the backfield, and also help him pursue plays to the sideline from his spot in the center of the action.

Like most defensive linemen, Neild will certainly have to adjust to the speed and power of the college game, so it's not fair to expect him to come in and make an impact right away. Still, he appears to have a leg up on many other incoming freshmen in those areas, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see him battling for a depth chart spot in a year or so.

The biggest factor that will likely keep this pair of players on the sideline this year is the number and quality of returnees on WVU's defensive line this year. Although stalwart Ernest Hunter has graduated and is chasing his NFL dream, there are a number of returnees that should make for heated competition along the defensive line and keep the newcomers down on the farm for the first year or so. Keilen Dykes, Craig Wilson, Andrae Wright, Warren Young and Pat Liebig are all veterans with a great deal of experience, and Johnny Dingle, Kevin Burke, James Ingram and Doug Slavonic will also be looking to break into coach Bill Kirelawich's rotation. Add in grayshirt Thor Merrow, who enrolled in January and will also participate in spring practice, and it's a crowded picture for any true freshman to penetrate.

Although Young, Wilson and Liebig have all played nose in the past, the first two might be more suited to defensive end, so the slight possibility remains that Neild could break into the lineup if he hits the field running this August. However, since his ability won't be known until that time, look for all three of these returnees to get a healthy dose of work inside during the spring to make sure all of WVU's bases are covered up front by the time fall practice arrives.

Up next in the series, a look at the incoming defensive backs.

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