Thursday, September 1, 2011

Position Breakdown 2011: Defensive Line

Returning Lettermen: Logan Harrell, Chase McEntee, Nat Harrison, Matt Akers, Donavaughn Pritchett
Newcomers: Donavon Lewis, Mershad Dillon, Todd Hunt, Maurice Poyadue, Suli Faletuipapai, Ronald Ussery
Lost: Chris Carter (Steelers), Cornell Banks (Bengals), Chris Lewis, Mark Roberts

Nat Harrison: Filling some BIG Shoes
So, 6-2, 240
Fresno (Edison HS)

Local product Nat Harrison has by far the biggest shoes to fill on the team, replacing WAC Defensive Player of the Year Chris Carter at weak defensive end. Carter led the WAC in sacks last season, and was a mismatch for every opponent on Fresno State’s schedule. Harrison won’t provide that type of presence for the Bulldogs right away, but even Carter himself said his successor is a breakout player in waiting on the defensive line. In nine games last season, Harrison recorded nine tackles and a sack. Like Carter, he was a high school linebacker, and is trim for a defensive lineman, but he’s got the tools Pat Hill loves in his edge rushers.

Chase McEntee: The Chase is On
Sr, 6-2, 275
Galena Park, TX (North Shore Senior HS)

Chase McEntee was quietly one of the most improved players on the team last season. With the emergence of battery mate Logan Harrell, casual fans didn’t notice McEntee’s growth, but he turned into quite the playmaker himself, taking advantage of his playing time. Out of his 16 tackles last season, four were for losses, including 1.5 sacks. McEntee played as a true freshman, and will have his best year yet during this, his senior season. And with the suspension of Anthony Williams, McEntee has a handle on the full-time starting gig.

Logan Harrell: All-America Confidence
Sr, 6-2, 275
Santa Margarita (Santa Margarita HS)

Wow. After two years of so-so performance, Logan Harrell club, rip, cross-faced his way into the WAC and national spotlight. As one of the nation’s sack leaders last season with 10.5, Harrell was a key part of the attitude change displayed by the Bulldogs defense. They went back to playing hard-hitting, aggressive “Bulldog Football” last season, and still have lots of room to improve. This year, Harrell will face far more attention from Bulldogs’ opponents, but he’s built the confidence in himself to sustain a high level of play. He had 46 tackles last season, including 14 for losses – huge numbers for an interior lineman. And this year, to help keep opposing offenses off balance and free Harrell from double teams, he’ll rotate back and forth at tackle and end. That versatility makes him an NFL prospect, and WAC Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

Matt Akers: On the Rise
Jr, 6-2, 245
Bakersfield (Liberty HS)

Like Logan Harrell, Matt Akers was a highly touted prospect out of high school. Neither looked like they were going to live up to the hype until Harrell burst onto the scene last season. Akers didn’t even dress last season after playing a reserve role his first two years. Then, in spring camp, he had a coming out party of his own, taking the No. 1 spot on the depth chart at strong defensive end. Akers looked even better in the fall, consistently making offensive linemen look foolish while coming around the edge and getting to the quarterback. Akers is another guy Chris Carter pegged as having breakout potential, and it looks like Carter was right on the money. It’s almost hard to believe how much improvement Akers has shown, the motor he plays with now and the size he’s added.

Donavaughn Pritchett: Donnie Bark-o
Sr, 6-5, 280
Santa Rosa (Santa Rosa JC/Santa Rosa HS)

Before Matt Akers’ uprising, Donavaughn Pritchett was set to be a darn good starter for the ‘Dogs. Pritchett played in 12 of 13 games last season, and started when Chris Lewis was lost to injury. He proved to be an upgrade over Lewis, who went half-speed on too many plays. Pritchett plays hard, and has the prototypical defensive end body – tall and strong with long arms. He finished last season, his first in major college football, with 13 tackles (4.5 for losses and 2 sacks). Perhaps most impressive was his discipline in containing the edge and staying assignment specific – not the norm for first-year players. Even if Pritchett isn’t named a starter this season, he’ll be on the field often as the defensive line is a constant rotation of personnel groupings.

Tristan Okpalaugo: It's Really Not That Hard to Pronounce His Name
So, 6-5, 240
Livermore (Granada HS)

By far the biggest vocal presence throughout fall camp, former walk-on Tristan Okpalaugo could start to see significant game action. He’s listed as a possible starter behind Nat Harrison at defensive end. Okpalaugo came on as a project player who hadn’t played much organized football in his lifetime. If he continues to develop and add a tad more size, he could make an impact with the Bulldogs.

Tyeler Davison: Really Big Man on Campus
R-Fr, 6-2, 305
Scottsdale, AZ (Desert Mountain HS)

When the man-child Tyeler Davison arrived on campus last fall, he was already one of the most physically imposing players on the team. That fact remains. He’s got perhaps the thickest, strongest legs on the Bulldogs, and is ready to take the starting nose tackle role when the time is right. Davison showed a lack of quickness and iffy footwork last year at the start of fall camp, but had already made strides before the camp was over. This fall, he stood out throughout, and has silenced any doubt about his potential. While he won’t bust into the backfield the way Logan Harrell can, Davison might be the best run-stuffing interior lineman since Jason Shirley and Louis Leonard.

Andy Jennings: A Project No More
So, 6-3, 280
Turlock (Pitman HS)

Recruits who are brought in as project players to develop aren’t supposed to be game-ready this soon. But Andy Jennings has coaches very excited. With a powerful lower body outdone only by Tyeler Davison, Jennings is Logan Harrell’s primary backup and will be a serious contender for a starting job next season. He’ll get plenty of experience this year as part of the regular rotation, along with Davison.

Donavon Lewis: Earning Some True Playing Time
Fr, 6-3, 240
Fresno (Clovis West HS)

Chris Lewis graduates and little brother Donavon Lewis jumps right in. In the second week of fall camp, it was clear Lewis was standing out amongst his peers, as coaches sent him across the field to work with the veterans group in the middle of a drill. On his first play, he got offensive lineman Cody Wichmann off balance and tagged the quarterback for the would-be sack. It’s still uncertain if Lewis will play as a true freshman, but there’s a high likelihood he will become part of the regular rotation. And don’t be surprised if he passes up someone like Tristan Okpalaugo on the depth chart during the year.

Mershad Dillon: An Immediate Impact?
Fr, 6-1, 260
Santa Maria (Santa Maria HS)

On signing day, Pat Hill was already making the Mershad Dillon comparisons to former Bulldogs standout Jason Stewart, another 6-1 defensive tackle with a wide body. Dillon actually played quarterback in high school and was part of his track relay team in the 4 x 400. He’s a serious athlete with the size to compete at this level immediately. The two-deep on the roster, however, is very solid. But with two other defensive tackles ineligible, Dillon could very well have an opportunity to play as a true. He was certainly one of the most impressive newcomers in fall camp and will be on the travel squad for the opener.

Todd Hunt: Hunt for a Hidden Gem
Fr, 6-2, 245
Anaheim (Mater Dei HS)

Todd Hunt was not expected to contend for immediate playing time, but he’s doing just that. With the versatility to play end or tackle, Hunt was a unique prospect who signed weeks after signing day. Usually a player who signs that late isn’t the immediate impact type of guy. But Hunt had the size and presence from Day 1 of camp that made his stand out. And coaches noticed. He’ll also be on the travel squad with the season opener, so stay tuned.

Ibe Nduke: Leveraging His Options
So, 5-11, 240
Etiwanda (Etiwanda HS)

Talk about an undersized defensive tackle. Height-wise and weight-wise, Ibe Nduke is far from the typical interior lineman. But he’s been at the position since spring camp (after converting from fullback) and has the lower body strength and leverage to make up for some of the size he’ll give up to every opponent he faces. Nduke isn’t likely to see much playing time this season, but could be used in certain schemes aimed at defending the spread and getting as much speed as possible on the field.

Ben Letcher: Hannibal Letcher
So, 6-3, 240
Corona (Centennial HS)

Ben Letcher is still a bit of a mystery. He passes the eyeball test with flying colors, with a physique that screams star player. But Letcher has no experience and spent much of fall camp on the sidelines rehabbing a nagging injury. That kept him from taking valuable reps to determine where he falls in the mix of defensive ends. But because of his obvious dedication in the weight room, he’s a guy to watch for.

Maurice Poyadue: Only a Matter of Time
Fr, 6-2, 280
Martinez (Alhambra HS)

Another true freshman defensive lineman with the size to play right away is Maurice Poyadue. Pat Hill made no secret on signing day that he was excited to land this one. And it was apparent why when he fit right in size-wise with the vets during camp. Poyadue held his own in drills and gives the ‘Dogs another young, exciting prospect at defensive tackle. Depth continues to be a strength of this unit.

Suli Faletuipapai: Just Call Him Suli
Fr, 6-3, 220
Gardena (Junipero Serra HS)

One guy who is nowhere near size-ready is Suli Faletuipapai. He looks flatout skinny compared with the other defensive linemen and has his work cut out for him. His ability could be big-time if he develops the size and strength needed at this level, but that’s at least a year or two away from happening.

Ronald Ussery: Finding a Use for Ussery
Fr, 6-3, 230
Encino (Crespi HS)
Ronald Ussery was one of the most impressive recruits on film this season. His lack of size wasn’t nearly as noticeable when he was lined up against other high school players last season, but now it’s obvious. There’s no doubt Ussery can be a strong pass rusher if he puts on 10 to 20 pounds in the offseason.

Anthony Williams: Big Dub a Big Loss
Jr, 6-2, 300
Humble, TX (Atascocita HS)

There’s no specifying what Anthony Williams did to get suspended for a year by violating team rules, but it’s a big loss for the ‘Dogs. The Bounce said during Williams’ freshman season that he was the most impressive newcomer on the defensive line and could play right away (that group included Logan Harrell, Chase McEntee and Matt Akers). But Williams got injured and had to redshirt. He finally got quality playing time last season and had 16 tackles (3 for losses) and 2 sacks. Hands down the strongest player on the team, Williams was set to battle McEntee for a starting job. But now that’s out the window and so is an experienced backup for the ‘Dogs – until next season.

Nikko Motta: See Ya Next Year
So, 6-3, 265
Sanger (Sanger HS)

Nikko Motta’s case is different. He too is out for the season, but Motta’s situation is because of his grades. Bad grades don’t just sneak up on a student, it's a shame he didn't get himself eligible, and it’s a shame Motta will be lost. He’s a versatile player who can fill in at end or tackle. With 11 tackles (2.5 for losses) and a sack last season, Motta flashed his potential. .

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