USU Defensive Line Outlook By The Logan Herald Journal
Aug. 21, 2006
Courtesy of the Logan Herald Journal
By Shawn Harrison
When fall camp began nearly two weeks ago, there were two positions that concerned Utah State head football coach Brent Guy.
One of those was the defensive line. Not that the Aggies don't have plenty of athletes to man the defensive trenches, but who would step forward and become one of the eight or nine players the defensive coaching staff is looking to use in a rotation.
"The defensive line is really working hard and doing some positive things at times," USU defensive line coach Danilo Robinson said. "... We have more defensive linemen than we've had here, but a lot of them are young."
That is a similar theme throughout the 2006 team.
Losing three starters from a year ago has opened the door for others to get playing time this year. But the holes left are big. Four-year starter John Chick, who ranked fifth in the country last season with 12.5 sacks and is now in the NFL, leaves the biggest shoes to fill.
"You can't replace John Chick," Robinson said. "Every day you hurt for him to be here. You just hope young guys learned from him last year."
"We still have some experienced guys coming back," defensive coordinator Mark Johnson said. "... And we have some young guys playing well."
Headlining the group is junior E.J. Reid (6-foot-1, 300 pounds), who started 10 games last year. As a true freshman, he was moved to the offensive side of the ball just before the season began and started several games on the line.
"E.J. is a young player who needs to develop into an every play defensive lineman and a dominant force, for our team to be successful," Robinson said. "He has the potential to do a lot of great things."
Last year he finished the season with 25 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, and had a sack in his first start on defense against Utah. He has been making his presence felt in fall camp scrimmages.
"I am getting in better shape and trying to be a better leader and be a better example for the younger guys," the soft-spoken Reid said. "I am trying to be a leader by example."
Robinson hesitates to name starters this early, but Reid would certainly fit the bill, as would fellow junior Frank Maile (6-1, 257).
"I don't consider myself the only starter, because Frank has had a fair amount of reps, so I consider him a returning starter as well," Reid said. "We have to step it up this year, because we lost a lot of key guys."
Maile has seen action in 18 games as an Aggie, missing the last four contests in 2005 with an injury. He did start one game last fall and had 5.5 tackles for loss.
"We have a lot of new guys, but we are excited and look good," Maile said of the line. "... There are some big shoes to fill, but we have worked hard to fill those shoes. I think a lot of people will see playing time."
Senior Kerry Shepherd (6-2, 274) has been shuffled back and forth from linebacker to the line and exited spring at the top of the depth chart at one of the tackle positions. The walk-on has played in seven games during his Aggie career and recently was awarded a scholarship. Redshirt freshman Alan Bishop (6-5, 268) should also figure into the mix, and knows the defense.
Two new faces have already gotten the attention of Guy, Johnson and Robinson. Senior Ryan Taylor (6-4, 218) and junior college transfer Carl Singleton (6-3, 258) have drawn praise. Taylor isn't exactly new. The linebacker is now playing end. He made two sacks in a scrimmage last Saturday.
"I'm one of the smallest D-ends probably in D-I, but (I'll do) whatever I can do to help the team," Taylor said. "... Speed is my biggest asset. I'm going to have to rely on speed and strength to make up for the weight difference."
Taylor has played in 24 games during his career, which has included some injuries.
Singleton has been hampered with a groin injury, but should be ready to go by the season opener against Wyoming on Sept. 2.
"It's weird to see so many D-linemen, but it's great. We love it," Maile said. "There are a lot of people that want to play, so the competition has picked up. We will have good depth."
Robinson is excited to be back where he feels he belongs. Last year he spent coaching the tight ends, but the former Aggie star defensive end, who still holds the school record for sacks in a game with five, is more at home on defense.
"Moving back to the defense and defensive line is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it's coming back home and doing what you know," Robinson said. "It fits me better. I miss the tight ends, but I feel at home with the defensive line."
The opportunity to move to defense came when long-time assistant Tom McMahon was hired by Louisville. McMahon spent 11 seasons at USU and even coached Robinson.
"Tom McMahon was a great coach, and I try to emulate what he did," Robinson said.