This is the third in a series of looks at the 2010 UC football roster through the eyes of its position coaches. It continues with a glimpse at the defensive line with assistant head coach/defensive line coach Steve Stripling.
Stripling has 30 years of coaching experience and led the Central Michigan Chippewas to a 44-41 victory against Troy in the 2010 GMAC Bowl as interim head coach.
Starters - DT Derek Wolfe, Jr., NT John Hughes, Jr., DE Walter Stewart, Soph., DE Dan Giordano, Soph., DT/DE Brandon Mills, Soph.
Reserves - Steve Hancock, Jr., Sean McClellan, RS Fr., Michael Hilty, RS Fr., Rob Trigg, Jr.
Freshman -- Camaron Beard, Brad Harrah, Eric Lefeld, Roney Lozano
Overview: A clear-cut break exists between the starting five up front and the conglomerate of players who will fill out the two-deep roster come Sept. 4. With Derek Wolfe leading the way at nose guard, this group will learn how many injuries it can handle through the three weeks of fall practices.
Biggest Question: How will the line handle another change in philosophy with the third defensive coordinator in three years?
Stripling: "It's a transition to a different style of defense. We expect more out of the defensive line. We are asking them to be more productive and contribute more as playmakers. They are not just there to occupy gaps. When you are really clicking then you can apply pressure with four down guys. They are not just there to take up space, they are looking for more aggression versus the pass more and more pressure."
Worth noting: This is one of the more experienced factions of an extremely young defense.
Stripling: "We are a very young defense, with but maybe two seniors on whole defense. Yes, we are extremely young, yet when you look up front, Wolfe, Hughes, Stewart, Mills, Giordano, they all played in the Sugar Bowl."
THE TOP TIER
Tangibles: 6-5, 302 pounds, Jr.
Last year: 13 starts, 41 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 5 sacks (second on team)
Stripling's take: "He's evolved not only as player but as a leader. He had a great summer. He didn't put on any more weight but increased dramatically in strength. Obviously physically imposing presences and his numbers this summer were off the charts across the board."
PDJ Projection: Derek Wolfe was an impact player last year at DT and has been a monster in the offseason strength program. The Bearcats desperately need someone to disrupt the quarterback on the defensive front with their new style and all signs point to him being the man. I look for him to far surpass his numbers from last season.
Tangibles: 6-2, 305 pounds, Jr.
Last year: 23 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 start
Stripling's take: "He will start at the nose guard position. He is physical, big and extremely smart. He adds real stability. He is a very even keeled guy and very dependable."
PDJ Projection: Hughes will be counted on to be the rock of the defense in both position and demeanor. His 6 TFL in limited playing time last year is an impressive number and as a projected starter all year, that number should rise to the top three or four on the team.
Tangibles: 6-5, 226 pounds, Soph.
Last year: 11 starts, 59 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks
Stripling's take: "He has great athleticism. He is truly an edge presence. He will bring an extra pass rusher with a four-man rush or at OLB. A lot of times that position he will drop into coverage and the offense can't zero into anything he is going to do.
"When you have a player of his ability you can get into specific gameplanning of matching him up personnel-wise against somebody you want to see him go against."
PDJ Projection: We talked about Stewart in the linebackers breakdown and both Stripling and Co-DC/LB coach John Jancek agree time will tell how much he will line up at either position, but Stripling points out his versatility will allow them to put him in whatever position creates the biggest mismatch every single week.
Tangibles: 6-4, 246 pounds, Soph.
Last year: 0 starts, 42 tackles, 7 TFL, 2 sacks
Stripling's take: "He's a warrior. What you will get from him is the same thing every day: 110 percent, toughness and effort. He loves football and love for the game is unparalleled. He is a treat to coach every day. Don't think anybody would love two-a-days, but he does. He loves two-a-days. He just loves playing football.
"He's maturing. He played last year, but now he in a starting role. He understands he has to get it done and understands he is the guy younger guys are watching now."
PDJ Projection: A lot of pressure on Giordano to become a playmaker on the end opposite Stewart. In his opportunities last year, he shined and if his effort and intensity translates to production he can evolve into one of the premier players on this defense. But anything in the area for 50 tackles, 7-10 TFL and 5-7 sacks would be a big win at the position for UC.
DT/DE Brandon Mills
Tangibles: 5-10, 266 pounds, Soph.
Last year: 0 starts, 25 tackles, 8 TFL, 3.5 sacks
Stripling's take: "One thing we really need out of him is some personality and juice and some energy. That's going to be real important. We are looking for sparkplugs.
"He has experience playing inside, though he's not the biggest guy. He is the changeup guy but with technique, toughness and leverage, he is capable of playing inside. But he has the ability and quickness and athletic ability to play outside. His is not typical inside, but a lot of times that is to his advantage. With he used his leverage he was able to thrive.
PDJ Projection: Stripling admitted he rarely cross-trains a player to play both inside and outside on the defensive line, but Mills fits those rare requirements of savvy despite being undersized inside and speed to work the perimeter. He will see plenty of playing time and the moment anybody goes down he will be the first to take over.
THE NEXT TIER
DE Rob Trigg
Tangibles: 6-3, 264, Jr.
Last year: 2 games, 0 starts, 10 tackles, 2.5 TFL
Stripling's take: "He is mature and is really starting to develop physically."
PDJ Projection: Trigg will hold down the backup end position, but how much playing time he earns will be decided by how well he performs in the fall. With Brandon Mills already filling some gaps, the rotation could close off to him if he struggles.
DT Michael Hilty
Tangibles: 6-4, 242 pounds, RS Fresh.
Last year: Redshirted
DT Sean McClellan
Tangibles: 6-4, 265 pounds, RS Fresh.
DT Roney Lazano
Tangibles: 6-3, 265 pounds, Fresh.
Stripling's take: "They are a youthful group. It will be fun in two-a-days to see who will emerge. We will see how (Lazano) can handle the situation. As a whole we are looking to develop the depth. We feel strong about the first five guys."
PDJ Projection: These three will be at the center of the group of young lineman to keep an eye on as fall progresses. McClellan shined in the spring game with an interception he ran back to set up a score and Hilty will receive plenty of looks as well. Of all the freshman, Lozano is the most physically ready to step in and play now. As Stripling said, the first five look great on paper, but if injuries occur, they need somebody to step in and not allow a huge drop off.
DE Camaron Beard
Tangibles: 6-6, 235 pounds, Fresh.
DE Brad Harrah
Tangibles: 6-7, 245 pounds, Fresh.
DE Eric Lefeld
Tangibles: 6-7, 230 pounds, Fresh
PDJ Projection: All three of these freshman will have something to prove in order to earn playing time this season. Redshirts are a possibility.