2015 Draft: DL injury, off-field concerns

The injuries among draft-eligible defensive linemen aren’t as prevalent there at other positions, but there are several off-field incidents that will give NFL decision-makers reason for concern.

#BRASWELL, Eric Houston Sr 06:04.0268 4.87   
#DAY, Evan Eastern Washington Sr06:02.0 2454.82   
#IFEDI, Martin MemphisSr 06:03.1276 4.875.0 7
#SHITTU, Aziz (DT) StanfordJr 06:02.5280 5.02   
#TOWNSEND JR., Greg Southern California rJr06:03.1 2754.72   
%CLARK, Frank Ex-Michigan Sr06:01.4 2764.76 5.93-4
%FIELDS, Devonte (OB) Ex-Texas Christian rSo06:03.6 2404.63 6.52
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%SPENCE, Noah (OB) Ohio State rJr06:02.6 2404.68 7.21
%WILLIAMS, Ishaq (OB) Notre Dame Sr06:04.2 2674.76 5.07

#ABDESMAD, Mehdi Boston College Sr06:05.6 2784.83   
#GRIMBLE, Jalen Oregon State Jr06:01.2 3004.97   
#MADDY, Luther Virginia Tech Sr06:00.1 2915.00 6.13-4
#McBRYDE, Ronald “B.J.” Connecticut Sr06:04.5 2985.06 4.87
#STOWERS, Ladarian KansasSr 06:02.3292 5.214.4 FA
%IRVING, David (DT) Ex-Iowa State rSr06:07.2 2725.02  

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#LAWRENCE-STAMPLE,Nile Florida State rJr6:01.1 3195.24   
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#SIMON, Deon Northwestern St.,La. Sr06:04.5 3445.30 4.6FA
#WHITAKER, Jeffrey AuburnSr 06:03.1322 5.325.1 6-7

Outside of the knee injury suffered by Virginia Tech’s Luther Maddy, college teams entered the bowl season with no major injuries among the top defensive linemen that are eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft. Most of the top-level talent that will be absent during the postseason are players facing serious off-field issues that will require several to spend time in the courtroom rather than on the football field.

Maddy, though undersized at 6:00.1-290, was regarded as one of the best interior line defenders in the country. Virginia Tech felt his loss, not only on the football field, but also in the locker room, as his leadership and mentoring ability was sorely needed for a young and inexperienced defensive unit.

Maddy is actually a neophyte to the game of football, though, as he first suited up to play the game as a senior in high school. The strong-side defensive tackle first suffered a right knee meniscus tear Sept. 13 vs. East Carolina, but kept quiet about the injury, playing the following week vs. Georgia Tech. The trainers noticed his lack of mobility and he was ordered to undergo arthroscopic surgery at the end of September.

Problems with the knee continued during the next month and it was announced on Oct. 21 that he would undergo a second surgical procedure that would sideline him for the rest of the year. The three-year starter had recorded 11.5 sacks during his Tech career, including posting 6.5 sacks with 16 quarterback pressures last season.

He was the second All-ACC Virginia Tech defender to miss the bulk of the 2014 campaign. Earlier in the East Carolina clash Hokies cornerback Brandon Facyson suffered from a stress fracture in his shin and sat out the rest of the schedule.

Both players are expected to petition for medical red-shirt. Maddy was replaced in the lineup by Nigel Williams, but the sophomore struggled, recording a combined five tackles in his first three games as a starter, finishing the year with 29 hits.

Most of the other injured players on the front wall are considered late-round/free-agent types, but there is one player that scouts have been keeping on their “radar” the last two months. Ted Hendricks Award Watch List member Martin Ifedi has been making a steady climb back on draft boards the last two months. He suffered left knee ligament damage in the 2014 season opener vs. Austin Peay and was first feared to be lost for the season.

After sitting out the next four games, Ifedi returned to the gridiron vs. Southern Methodist and played with a search-and-destroy approach, finishing with 9.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage and 2.5 sacks among his 29 tackles through eight games.

With a 9-3 record, Memphis headed into the bowl season, giving Ifedi another opportunity to show scouts that he’s making a good recovery, even though he must perform with a balky brace to protect the damaged knee. He recently accepted an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine Game. If he receives a clean medical at the NFL Scouting Combine, there is no doubt that his draft stock will move up a few rounds from its current projection.

Auburn nose guard Jeffrey Whitaker has been slow to recover from 2013 knee issues, but the nose guard, projected as a late-round draft pick, is now dealing with back problems that have sidelined him for the Tigers’ final three games. He’s recorded 49 tackles in 44 games at Auburn, starting the first of his nine 2014 contests. After recording five tackles for the season, scouts feel that Whitaker might be too much of a risk to even use a seventh round pick on him.

With Whitaker out of action, it marked the second key contributor that Auburn had hoped to feature on the defensive line to see their seasons come to an end. During May camp, sophomore sensation Carl Dawson suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and never made it on to the field this season.

Alabama’s Darren Lake was supposed to slide into the starting lineup at nose guard after serving two years in a reserve role. He suffered a pectoral muscle tear during spring camp that would not only sideline him through August drills, but relegate him to third-team duty in seven games this year. At 6:02-324, he was hoping for a breakout season that would catapult him into the draft’s early-round picture, but after posting five tackles this year, he will probably make the wise decision to return to school in 2015.

With Lake sidelined, the nose guard spot was Brandon Ivory’s for the taking, but off-season issues led to head coach Nick Saban suspending him during August camp and relegating him to clean-up duties with the second unit while sophomore A’Shawn Robinson handled first-unit chores at the nose.

Ivory was to be one of only five returning starters from 2013 for Alabama, but the coach placed him on the sidelines for violating team rules, one of four players to receive a “timeout” from Saban during fall camp.

Ivory started all 12 games last season at nose guard, recording 24 tackles, but he never got untracked upon his return this season. Through the regular season schedule, he had posted 13 tackles in 2014, but only one of those stops came as a solo effort.

It was a lost season for Notre Dame’s Ishaq Williams in 2014, as he was one of several Notre Dame players to be charged in the university’s academic scandal. The defensive tackle recently sat down with head coach Brian Kelly and indicated that he’d like to return to the team next season. Williams has played in 35 games in his career, making 45 total tackles, six tackles for loss and one sack.

Kelly also said that junior defensive back Keivarae Russell, another player involved in the investigation, would like to return to the team next season, too. According to Irish Illustrated, Williams and Russell have not been allowed to stay at the school this semester as part of their punishment, but they can re-enroll at a later time.

Former Texas Christian defensive end Devonte Fields’ attempt to play this season was thwarted when the university refused to grant him a release that he needed to step down and play immediately for Stephen F. Austin. Field had led the Big Twelve Conference with 18.5 stops-for-loss as a freshman, adding 10 sacks to go with 53 tackles in 2012. The 2013 season was a nightmare for the youngster, as he managed to play in just three games due to a nagging foot injury and a few suspensions stemming from his off-field issues.

The team finally washed their hands of the troubled athlete after he surrendered to authorities over the summer on a misdemeanor assault warrant amid allegations that he threatened his ex-girlfriend and punched her. After Fields revealed his transfer plans, TCU officials said only the student-athlete remained separated from the university.

That meant Fields was barred from campus and all school activities while his case was being reviewed. Fields surrendered to Tarrant County authorities on July 25 and was released a short time later after posting bond of $3,500.

Domestic violence also played a role in Michigan sending Frank Clark on his way, having dismissed the defensive end from the team in mid-November after he was arrested by the Perkins Township police department in Ohio, on suspicion of domestic violence. Clark, a senior starter from Cleveland, was being held at the Erie County Jail without bond until his court appearance.

The Michigan senior was also arrested on felony theft charges prior to his sophomore season in 2012. After admitting he stole an $1,800 MacBook Air laptop from a Michigan dorm room, Clark was ordered to pay $1,741 in fines and costs and was also given one year's probation.

Clark, who had 42 tackles (13 1/2 for loss) and 4.5 sacks this season, was sentenced, at the time, under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act and the felony was wiped from his record after he completed his probation. Michigan suspended Clark one game for that arrest, but his latest arrest was just another in a string of off-field issues for Michigan.

Starting offensive lineman Graham Glasgow was arrested for drunken driving in the spring. Glasgow, who was driving with a passenger hanging out of his car in downtown Ann Arbor, ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of operating a vehicle while visibly impaired. He received 12 months probation and was suspended one game by now former head coach Brady Hoke.

This past summer, Hoke booted former wide receiver Csont'e York from his program after York was arrested on assault charges after punching and severely injuring a man outside an Ann Arbor bar in July. York was ultimately sentenced to seven days in prison and received two years of probation.

In December 2013, former Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan, now with the Tennessee Titans, was charged with three misdemeanors stemming from a fight outside an Ann Arbor bar. Those charges were ultimately dismissed earlier this fall when Lewan entered a guilty plea to drunk and disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace.

In one of the more bizarre incidents, Iowa State suspended David Irving indefinitely before booting him off the team. In mid-November 2013, he was arrested and charged with domestic assault of his girlfriend. According to an Ames police complaint, the woman told officers Irving held her down, cut off a large portion of her hair and punched her repeatedly in the leg. Police said Irving acknowledged arguing with the woman, who lives with him and is the mother of their child, but he denied cutting her hair.

Police Commander Geoff Huff said the officers who responded to the scene noticed several bruises on the victim's legs and a large scratched area on the back of her leg. The player was held in Story County jail on a charge of domestic assault with injury. His bond was set at $2,000 and a judge also issued a no-contact order preventing Irving from seeing the woman or their child.

Irving had started eight games for Iowa State that season, though he sat out the 2013
21-17 loss to Texas Christian because of what coach Paul Rhoads said was a health issue that was non-football related. Irving had two sacks, two blocked kicks, a forced fumble and 19 tackles for that campaign.

Following the April 2014 spring game, Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads informed the media that Irving was dismissed from the team after his actions during a riot in Ames, Iowa during VEISHEA week.

Irving was first suspended indefinitely after being arrested following a large crowd disturbance in Ames. Police charged the defensive lineman with criminal mischief, disorderly conduct and fifth-degree theft. Police Commander Geoff Huff produced for the media pictures and video that appeared to show Irving holding an uprooted stop sign during the late-night disturbance helped lead to his arrest.

Irving was expected to be a key part of Iowa State's defensive line after making eight starts in 2013. His suspension and the 2014 summer dismissal of fellow starter Rodney Coe left the line in flux, as the Cyclones closed out the 2014 schedule with a 2-10 record.

Failed drug tests will leave Ohio State’s Noah Spence on the outside looking in as his Buckeyes compete for the national title in the playoff series. A failed drug test prior to last year’s Orange Bowl clash vs. Clemson resulted in the rush end’s first suspension, as he closed out his sophomore season producing 50 tackles with 7.5 sacks and 14.0 stops behind the line of scrimmage, earning All-Big Ten and Academic All-League honors.

Spence again failed a drug test that kept him off the field for the start of the 2014 schedule. Further tests revealed a lingering problem and the Big Ten Conference office refused to grant him eligibility to play, or return to the football team.

Ohio State had announced in mid-September that Spence would not return to action as expected vs. Kent State due to "a university and Big Ten conference rule violation" that has rendered him ineligible. He had been suspended for three games late last season after testing positive for the drug ecstasy at the Big Ten Championship Game, a suspension that would have been lifted prior to the KSU contest.

Spence's parents told the Columbus Dispatch that during a meeting with Urban Meyer, defensive line coach Larry Johnson and Spence, they were informed that their son had "apparently tested positive for it again," in the Dispatch's words. Greg and Helen Spence indicated that during the meeting, Noah admitted to further drug use. They told the Dispatch their son will undergo treatment for a "medical illness."

Maybe Florida’s Leon Orr was trying to take a page out of former Pittsburgh Steelers tailback (and current Patriot) LeGarrett Blount’s book. How else can you explain his mysterious decision that led to an abrupt end to his career with the Gators?

The senior had started just two games this season, but was apparently expecting to be in the lineup for Florida's game vs. Vanderbilt. However, head coach Will Muschamp opted to go with Jonathan Bullard on the defensive line instead.

According to GatorZone.com, the player decided to leave the game and take a bus back to Gainesville instead of playing in a reserve role. ESPN later reported Orr would no longer be part of the team, as the coach refused to let him suit up for Florida any more.

Orr came into the year with high expectations, ranking among the top defensive tackles in the ever-strong Southeastern Conference. Unfortunately, he was never able to take advantage of his role with the team and managed just 16 tackles (three solos) while playing sparingly. As a red-shirt freshman, the defensive tackle has no eligibility remaining. His decision to bolt the team will have a heavy impact on his draft status, as teams, particularly position coaches, are not likely to be interested in this player after this type of incident.

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