Attention Hilltopper football junkies! Training camp is just around the corner! Saturday, August 2nd to be exact! So, get reacquainted with your lucky socks and regarding your significant other, expect a 75% reduction in attention span. With that being said, it's preview time!
Let's start with the defense, shall we. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt enters his second season as defensive coordinator for the Hilltoppers. After some ups-and-downs the first eight games of the season, the defense put forth a more consistent clamp-down effort in the final four games of the season to cap off the season on a four-game winning streak, facing three high-scoring Sun Belt offenses in Georgia State, Texas State, and Arkansas State while keeping nation's most dangerous rushing attack in Army at bay for a critical late-season road win.
Their finest moment might've been holding a potent Navy rushing offense to just seven points on September 28th. The defensive unit is looking to improve on a season where they allowed 339.2 yards per game, which included 177.9 via pass and 161.2 on the ground. Tallying 27 total sacks and 68 tackles for loss shows that Holt's defensive philosophy is aggressive, utilizing multiple blitz packages with not only the linebackers, but secondary personnel as well.
So, let's get started with a look at what the defensive stoppers upfront will look like in 2014.
The defensive line was seen as the biggest question mark going into last season. That's not exactly the case this season going into the fall. Although, a handful of talented players will have to be replaced, but the depth chart is plentiful with talent and experience.
Let's start with the losses of key veterans Bar'ee Boyd, Calvin Washington, and James Hervey - who together combined for 75 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 7.5 sacks. But, the depth is better as the Hilltoppers return seven players that saw significant playing time along the D-line last season, six of those players having at least one start under their belt.
Big things are expected of Gavin Rocker (RS, Jr.), who is coming off a 2013 season where he tallied 37 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and six quarterback hits rushing off the edge. The Georgia native saw action in all 12 games last season, starting in nine contests, and is expected to be the glue-guy along a talented defensive line in 2014.
Another important piece to the puzzle will be the return of Bryan Shorter (RS, Jr.), who did an exceptional job at defensive tackle last season, starting the first six games and recording 18 tackles before suffering a season-ending ACL injury. After a spring that consisted of rehab and very limited individual drills, Shorter has used the summer to make a full recovery and should be a full-go by the time fall camp begins on August 2nd.
Devante Terrell (RS, Soph.) was another player that had a standout season in 2013, using his 6-foot-0, 318-pound frame to burrow his way into opposing team's backfields while racking up 33 tackles and two tackles for loss. Terrell was a starter in eight games last season, seeing time in all 12 contests during the Hilltoppers' 8-4 campaign.
Other defensive tackles that will vie for starting roles or will be significant contributors as reserves will be D'Von Isaac (So.), who saw action in five games as a freshman. Junior college signee Ge'Monee Brown (Jr.) out of Pearl River C.C. displayed good ability during spring practice and will bring instant upperclassmen experience to the roster. Also, Raphael Cox (Sr.) saw action in nine games last season, including one start, and will add additional leadership along the line.
It's unclear yet who will be Gavin Rocker's tag-team partner at the other end position going into fall, but experience and talent are waiting in the wings to claim that starting role. First up is T.J. Smith (Sr.), who had 11 tackles in 11 games of action, including one start. Another candidate that could emerge is sophomore DeMarcus Glover, who notched a start and saw action in seven games in 2013, recording five tackles. Redshirt freshman Tanner Reeves is a young player that impressed during the spring, displaying athleticism and using his 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame to disrupt outside runs and swing passes out of the backfield. Also, in contention is Julian Leslie (RS, So.), who had a productive spring where, at times, he earned reps with the first-team defense and don't forget about Marquez Pride (RS, So.).
The Rest of the Roster
Trae Jones (RS, Fr.), 6'1"/290, Cusseta, Ga (Chattahoochee County HS)
Evan Tinsley (RS, Fr.), 6'3"/225, Alexandria, Va (Edison HS)
Derik Overstreet (Fr.), 6'2"/250, Paducah, Ky (Paducah Tilghman HS)
Evan Sayner (Fr.), 6'3"/265, Paducah, Ky (McCracken County HS)
Julien Lewis (Fr.), 6'3"/270, Madison, Ala (Bob Jones HS)