Q and A - Defensive Line

Questions have surfaced early about lack of experienced depth and perceived inability to play undersized along the defensive line. BlueGoldNews.com went to two proven players with varying angles to get their take on the front of the 3-3-5.

BGN: Fans have questioned the defensive line's depth and some of its size entering this season. With all the numbers at linebacker and in the secondary, especially at the safety spots, the line seems to be the odd section out in the odd stack. How many players do you see that are ready?

Senior defensive tackle and all-Big East selection Keilen Dykes: "If the season started tomorrow we would have to rotate five guys in. Hopefully by the end of camp there will be nine to come in and out. You want nine. You want as many as you can because anybody can get hurt at any time, in any game."

BGN: Is that realistic, with little more than half that having seen collegiate action?

Dykes: "Is it realistic? Yeah, it can be done. I bet you they have nine guys at USC. I bet you they have nine guys at Michigan. I bet you they have nine guys at Ohio State. How do I know this? Because they play four-man fronts, so they have to have nine. If you're a top five team, you gotta have nine. I think we have five (linemen ready to play) if we play tomorrow. By the end of camp, we should end up with nine. Nine to play three."

BGN: Thor Merrow (6-1, 240 pounds) was inserted with the first team for drills on the first and second day of practices. Merrow isn't built like past nose tackles Ernest Hunter (6-4, 295) or Pat Liebig (6-4, 270); can he hold his own against much larger players and the double-teams to come?

Dykes: "Thor Merrow is going to have to be active and run around. You gotta be realistic. He can't take on 315-pound guys head on. He is not that big. He has to use his speed. If he can do that, he will be all right."

Middle linebacker Reed Williams: "Yeah, he will bulldog you. (Merrow) is stronger than he looks up there. He's got some strength on that size. He gets after it. He does play a bit like (former WVU NT) Ben Lynch. I grew up watching West Virginia football and so I was able to see him. Thor has a lot of the same characteristics. It is a lot about leverage, and he can get in there and get low, get angles. If he can get in there and push him around with the strength that he has, it's not that big of a disadvantage (being shorter). He'll make plays for us."

BGN: What about Chris Nield, who is about 6-3 and already more than 300 pounds?

Dykes: "Chris Neild is a big boy. I think he can do it, but he will have to be more consistent. Is he ready yet? No. But by the end of camp and the one week before the game, I hope he will be ready to go."

BGN: How have you changed, physically, from your junior year through the summer?

Dykes: "I am a little thicker, little bigger (6-5, 295). I was doing a few extras here and there, doing things after the weights, after practices. During the season, once we get out of camp, practices calm down a bit and I will be able to put on a few more pounds or keep it at a steady weight."

BGN: What do you see from the front three at your mike linebacker slot?

Williams: "When I get out there and start playing, I don't get to see as much as I do when I'm on the sidelines. But we get in there and watch some film and you can see the Dykes, the Dingles, Doug Slavonic, Nield and Thor Merrow – they are all doing a good job. They are getting into and on guys and keeping them off us, which allows us to make a play.

"With this new defense we are trying to put in, we have more of a pressure to try to get back there into the pass rush. That is what we are doing right now. The run defense is sort of natural instinct for a linebacker. I can't tell you all the secrets (of the new looks). We are doing more moving up front trying to confuse the quarterback than we have in the past. Right now it is really helping our pass coverage, so if we continue to improve upon that day-by-day we will be really good. People will see what you are doing after the first game, so more and more you have to move around and try to confuse (the quarterback)."

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