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Defensive Line: The Strength of the 2014 Baylor Defense

After years of wandering through the wilderness in defensive line recruiting and talent development, Phil Bennett has built Baylor a group to be feared and respected.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

One of the things I enjoyed doing most before this past season was the Position Previews breaking down each position group and the depth throughout.  It was also one of the most popular features ODB ran in the run-up to 2013, so I definitely want to do it again if only for that reason.  My problem is that I'm having a really hard time waiting; as I sit here thinking about where the team is right now, I can't help but update my charts.  This is especially difficult with respect to our defensive line, what should almost certainly be the strength of our defense in 2014.  When was the last time we could say that?

Here's what I'm going to do: I'll post the updated charts for DE and DT looking at the beginning of the 2014 season.  That means incoming freshmen will be included.  Then we can talk starters, depth, and what-not.  I won't go into the same level of detail as, for example, last year's Position Preview for DEs (have to leave something for the season previews), but we can talk about it.  The goal here is to show how far Baylor has come on the defensive line and the immense potential the unit has going into 2014.  We saw tremendous improvement in stopping the run and rushing the passer, both of which played a huge role in our defensive success in 2013.  I'm confident that we will see even better in 2014.

Defensive Ends:

Eligibility Remaining
No. Player Year Ht/Wt. Position 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
2 Shawn Oakman JR 6-9/275 Defensive End
92 Jamal Palmer JR
6-3/245 Defensive End
86 Samuel Ukwuachu* JR 6-4/230 Defensive End
90 Javonte Magee
SO 6-5/275 Defensive End
59 Peni Tagive& SO 6-3/225 Defensive End
49 Brian Nance$ RS-FR 6-2/250 Defensive End
56 Kevin Smith RS-FR 6-2/255 Defensive End
57 Tanner Thrift RS-FR 6-4/255 Defensive End
-- Xavier Jones**
FR 6-3/215 Defensive End
-- Jamie Jacobs**
FR 6-4/210 Defensive End

* Missing Spring Practice due to injury
& Manbeast
$ Brian Nance

The two top names, Oakman and Palmer, are the presumptive starters based on the conclusion of last season and their status as such for the start of Spring Practice.  Oakman is the bigger of the two names (and certainly of the two people), but Palmer is not to be overlooked.  Both played tremendously well in the Fiesta Bowl when the defense as a whole struggled.  In obvious running situations, it would not surprise me at all to see Oakman paired with Javonte Magee, who has returned after missing the entire 2013 season for personal reasons, to form a Twin Towers-like arrangement that would make Tolkien blush.  It's worth noting that despite being nominal backups, Oakman and Palmer actually combined for more tackles for loss in 2013 (23.5) than our starters Chris McAllister and Terrance Lloyd (14.5).  Given another year to improve and develop, I see no reason why they can't be better.

When Ukwuachu returns from his injury this fall, the rotation at DE looks like it could be 5-6 deep, with K.J. Smith and Brian Nance joining Oakman, Palmer, Ukwuachu, and Magee in this mix for playing time. (That rotation is so dripping with potential and size that it elicited two of the greatest comments in ODB history).  Practice reports indicate that Smith may do even better than that and is as talented a speed rusher as we have on the roster.

Being completely honest, my expectations for this group are immense.  In 2013, Baylor had a solid pair of starters in the aforementioned seniors McAllister and Lloyd.  Both were extremely experienced in Bennett's system and played well.  Neither had the pure physical attributes of Oakman or Magee or the promise as pass rushers of Palmer or Ukwuachu.  Baylor set or got close to records for tackles for loss and sacks in 2013.  This group could break them.

The best part? There are no seniors on this chart.

Defensive Tackles:

Eligibility Remaining
No. Player Year Ht/Wt. Position 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
88 Terell Brooks
SR 6-4/305 Defensive Tackle
93 Suleiman Masumbuko JR 6-2/290 Defensive Tackle
98 Trevor Clemons-Valdez
JR 6-3/290 Defensive Tackle
95 Beau Blackshear
6-4/300 Defensive Tackle
99 Zorell Ezell SO 6-2/290 Defensive Tackle
75 Andrew Billings* SO 6-1/310 Defensive Tackle
96 Byron Bonds**
SO 6-0/275 Defensive Tackle
-- Andrew Morris
FR 6-2/294 Defensive Tackle
-- Ira Lewis
FR 6-4/264 Defensive Tackle
-- Josh Malin
FR 6-5/260 Defensive Tackle

*Cast as The Rhino in the upcoming Spiderman movie.
** Might actually be the reincarnated spirit of Russell Maryland, who is not dead.

The only negative thing I can say about this group is that we somehow managed to play both of our freshman DTs from last season extensively, creating a situation where we don't have any redshirt freshmen DTs this year.  I'm really reaching for that to be a negative thing, though, since nobody who slots in as a starter or backup will graduate this coming year, and we could have Bonds and Billings paired up for two more years after that.  The only name missing on this chart from last year's Position Preview is that of Javonte Magee, who left school a DT and returned a DE.  Baylor did not graduate a single DT from last year's team and will only lose Brooks this coming season.

I have Blackshear and Billings italicized as the starters, but it may actually be that we see a true rotation out of this group with those two, Bonds, and Masumbuko getting the majority of the playing time.  Considering last season, we went in expecting for Masumbuko and Clemons-Valdez to start, that's a considerable upgrade.  Through a combination of recruiting and development, I'd say Baylor has managed in about two years to turn a historic weakness into a significant strength and should be poised to continue building this year.  Put on the spot, I'd be hard-pressed to identify a clearly better DT rotation than the one Baylor could roll out this year.  Imagine saying that just a few short years ago.

Depth Chart:

RE 2 Shawn Oakman (JR)
Samuel Ukwuachu (JR)
Brian Nance
DT 75
Andrew Billings (SO) OR
Byron Bonds (SO)
Trevor Clemons-Valdez (JR)
NG 95 Beau Blackshear (JR) 93 Suleiman Masumbuko (JR)
LE 92 Jamal Palmer (JR) 90
Javonte Magee (SO)
K.J. Smith (RS-Fr)

Being completely honest, the sheer possibility that we see, at some point this season, a defensive line tandem of Blackshear, Billings, Magee, and Oakman is 90% of the reason I wrote this post.  The other 10% was to marvel at how good this group could be in 2015 assuming Oakman doesn't declare for the Draft after 2014 (which he probably will).