Walter Stewart (54) of the Cincinnati Bearcats pressures quarterback Tino Sunseri of the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Six Big East defensive linemen were selected in this year’s NFL draft (including West Virginia’s Bruse Irvin). Still more linemen graduated or otherwise finished their college careers. As a result there’ll be a lot of new names in starting lineups this fall. Some teams are simply retooling. Others have the talent but just need a little chemistry. Still other teams are essential rebuilding. The majority of Big East teams remain very strong with their defensive line units, though some will have higher demands due to weaker units behind them.
1. South Florida – While the Bulls lose key lineman from last season in Claude Davis, Patrick Hampton and Keith McCaskill – as well as Anthony Hill to season-ending injury – the unit remains atop the conference with players such as Cory Grissom, Julius Forte, Ryne Giddins, and Elkino Watson. Close behind them are Todd Chandler, James Hamilton, Tevin Mims and Luke Sager. Though Grissom is nursing an injury, the rest of this deep unit is healthy, big … and fast. With an exceptional linebacking corps behind them this line will be a force against any offense.
2. Cincinnati – The Bearcats no doubt will feel the departure of their top two linemen: tackles John Hughes (NFL) and Derek Wolfe (NFL). The 2011 unit held opponents to an average of 95 rushing yards per game (2.7 yards per attempt). They have several experienced returning players though in (expected starters) Camaron Beard, Dan Giordano, Jordan Stepp and Walter Stewart. Key back-ups are Brad Harrah, Brandon Mitchell and Brandon Mills. Another name to watch for is Alex Pace, a 280 lb. freshman. It will be tough to match last year’s performance but the Bearcats have the depth to challenge it.
3. Connecticut – UConn loses starting tackles Twyon Martin and Kendall Reyes (NFL), but have last year’s Big East sack leader (12.5), Trevardo Williams, and Jesse Joseph returning at defensive end. They’re expected to be joined on the inside by Ryan Wirth and Shamar Stephen. Among the backups will be Kenton Adeyemi, Ted Jennings and Julian Campenni. A name to watch is Mikal Myers, a 300-lb. true freshman. Opponents managed just 86 rushing yards on average against the Huskies last season (2.7 yards per carry). If the UConn secondary stays healthy in 2012, this unit will again be a constant worry for opposing offenses.
4. Rutgers – Like the teams mentioned above the the Scarlet Knights have key loses from the 2011 season: Manny Abreu departs, along with Justin Francis. But also like the other teams, the Knights have experienced talent waiting to step in. Veterans Ka’Lial Glaud, Isaac Holmes and Scott Vallone are likely starters. Rounding out the line may be Michael Larrow or Marcus Thompson. Behind them are Jamil Merrel, who saw some starts last season and veteran Marvin Booker. All eyes, though, will be on top recruit Darius Hamilton when he enters the lineup.
5. Louisville – The Cardinals are retooling after losing Greg Scruggs (NFL), Randy Salmon and William Savoy. They have young but veteran players returning though and they could be close to last year’s level by midseason. Roy Philon and Jamaine Brooks should start on the inside. Marcus Smith and B.J. Dobose will likely be at the ends. B.J. Butler, Brandon Dunn and Lorenzo Mauldin will be the top reserves. The Cardinals have some additional young talent that will probably see some time to keep the starters fresh.
6. Pittsburgh – The Panthers reportedly will move back to a 4-3 scheme under new head coach Paul Chryst. They bid farewell to Chas Alecxih, Myles Caragein, Justin Hargrove and Brandon Lindsey. Aaron Donald will be a veteran presence as a returning starter. Joining him, most likely, will be T.J. Clemmings, Shayne Hale or Bryan Murphy and Khaynin Mosley-Smith. Many of these players – and their reserves – are still underclassmen though. Pitt is definitely retooling, but the experience factor is low.
7. Syracuse – Chandler Jones has headed to the NFL. Gone too are Torrey Ball and Mikhail Marinovich. Replacing them will be very tough. Deon Goggins is the probable starter on the end, although former linebacker Brandon Sharpe could get the nod as well. Donnie Simmons, coming off a redshirt season, should contend for the starting position at the other end, but JUCO Markus Pierce-Brewster is a speedy edge rusher who may prove difficult to sit. On the inside will be Jay Bromley and possibly Cory Boatman. Zian Jones is another possibility at tackle. The Orange have a lot of young players behind them, but this year is about development.
8. Temple – If the Owls had an optimum time to rejoin the Big East it was probably last season. They lose a lot of talent and experience this year. There is potential, but it’s likely to remain just potential for the better part of the 2012 season. Gone are Marcus Blueford, Morkeith Brown and Adrian Robinson. Probable starters are Marcus Freen, John Youbotty, Levi Brown and Kamal Johnson. The line will play will be important because the linebacking corps has been harder hit with departures. This unit will probably see lots of playing time in 2012.
2012 Big East Position Rankings: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Offensive Lines, Wide Receivers