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CGB Roundtable: Thoughts on the defensive line

Your CGB writers discuss the outlook of the defensive line for 2014.

Ezra Shaw

Avinash Kunnath: Here's who we're losing this season.

  • Deandre Coleman: 39 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss
  • Vei Moala: 38 tackles, 4 tackles for loss
  • Dan Camporeale: 25 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss
  • Jacobi Hunter: 18 tackles

Here's who's returning this season.

  • Kyle Kragen: 28 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks
  • Puka Lopa: 14 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks
  • Brennan Scarlett: 2013 injured
  • Mustafa Jalil: 2012 & 2013 injured

Those are mostly defensive ends though, so if Jalil doesn't win the spot, two players who haven't played significant snaps of college football at defensive tackle (whether it's Austin Clark, Marcus Manley, Harrison Wilfley, Trevor Kelly or more) will be tasked with trying to hold the interior against some of the best interior linemen in the country.

I'm frightened. Someone tell me it will be better.

Nick Kranz: I'm already on record saying that Coleman and Moala were the only two players I enjoyed watching on defense last year, and so the concept of watching the line perform without either of them is inherently terrifying.

I think most fans have tossed their eggs into the "pray to jeebus that Scarlet and Jalil are healthy" basket. If they aren't, the D line could be the only unit on offense or defense that will be worse than last year. In a way that's oddly comforting, even if it mostly underscores how most other units on the field hit what we're all praying was rock bottom last year.

boomtho: Like Nick and Avi said, we lost two of our more dependable DL contributors from last year (from a terrible but defense, but still...) and are really banking on unproven guys (young and/or JC) to replace them. I think guys like Kragen and Jalil have shown small flashes, but moving from that to 1st team performances is a pretty big gap, and I haven't personally read anything through spring ball that lets me think we're going to get there. This particularly worries me because DL performance will have knock on effects for the rest of the defense. If we can't generate pass rush, our secondary is kind of screwed from the get go, and our linebackers will be caught peeking a lot as they try to both provide run support and drop into coverage. I think this is the biggest position of risk this year.

Vlad Belo: I'm trying to get excited about this group. I really am. Because I like Jalil, Scarlett, and Kragen as players. But as a unit, I am scared to death that we just don't have enough here to be competitive over the long haul of the season. I thought we were going to be in a bind even BEFORE we lost Jacobi Hunter in the offseason, so without him my doubts about this unit only grew. We will just have to take an wait-and-see approach with this unit. I know that's probably true with the defense as a whole, but it's probably even more so with the D-line.

Avinash Kunnath: There are too many questions to feel comfortable with this unit at all.

First of all, it looks as if it's Clark and Jalil who will win the defensive tackle jobs. Jalil was a pleasant surprise his first season, but he hasn't played in two years, and neither has Clark. Although I think a 4-3 will be better for them than a 3-4, Clark is a bit undersized to clog lanes and Jalil has never dealt with starter reps. If those two have to be subbed occasionally, we'll have to rely on a motley crew that includes Manley (no snaps), Wilfley (no real D snaps and a converted DE), Tony Mekari (RS frosh), and Kelly (has yet to step up here and seize one of these jobs). The inexperience is really scary; the lack of size for DT from several of these players even more so.

The defensive end spot looks slightly better: I do have faith that Scarlett, Barr, Lopa and Kragen will form a competent if not solid core once they settle down into their roles. They will not be winning any sack battles this season (I only see Scarlett being a potential disruptor), but they should be better than last year's disaster. The JUCOs will probably not contribute meaningfully: Sione Sina doesn't look close to ready, and neither does Jonathan Johnson.

Leland Wong: This is one of the hardest groups to assess because there's such a range of abilities. With Scarlett and Barr, I think the potential is there for our DEs to be important difference-makers for our defense.

But... things get much more questionable at the interior of the line. With Moala's unexpected departure, we've lost the veteran we were hoping to have and will be relying on unproven players who are unknown commodities. Jalil has got to prove he's capable of sliding inside and that he hasn't lost a step since he last played for us in 2007 before all his injuries. It will be critical for another Bear to Jalil's DT running mate, lest opponents just run right up the middle against us all year long.

Scott Chong: Like everyone, Dline is circled in my mind as the biggest question mark and area of concern.

The glass half-empty says that plans to rotate six guys at defensive tackle suggests we don't have a solid two-deep. We certainly don't have any massive trench-stuffers who can two-gap. In fact, our guys are relatively under-sized across the line.

But taking a look at Kaufman's previous defenses suggests that our personnel might actually be a decent fit for his attacking style. He likes using faster linemen who single-gap and focus on getting immediate upfield penetration. It's similar to how the New York Giants won a Super Bowl a few years ago while lining up four DEs simultaneously; it was a highly disruptive front. The big question mark is whether our guys will be effective at getting penetration consistently. If they just get swallowed and stood up every play, it's not going to be pretty.

I'm fully expecting to give up plenty of big plays early as our guys settle into the new scheme and figure out their meshes. It's an aggressive defensive style that concedes the occasional big play, anyway. What I'm hoping is that we'll see this unit make significant improvement as they gain experience playing together.

If I really want to go out on a limb, I'm actually excited to see what a healthy Barr, Jalil, and Scarlett combination can do together. I'm not sure if Cal has ever had three high-school All-Americans playing on the same Dline.