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2014 spring defensive line recap: Position battles arise

Returning starters: DE Dean Lowry, DT Sean McEvilly, DT Chance Carter

Others returning: DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE Deonte Gibson, DT Greg Kuhar, DT C.J. Robbins, DE Jack Schwaba, DE/DT Max Chapman, DE Eric Joraskie, DT Tyler Lancaster, DT Connor Mahoney

Incoming recruits: DE/TE Garrett Dickerson, DT Fred Wyatt, DT Ben Oxley, DE Xavier Washington

Projected Depth Chart

1st String

DE: Dean Lowry
DT: Chance Carter
DT: Sean McEvilly
DE: Deonte Gibson/Ifeadi Odenigbo

2nd String

DE: Max Chapman
DT: Greg Kuhar
DT: C.J. Robbins
DE: Eric Joraskie/Jack Schwaba

Explaining the depth chart

There are two near certainties on the defensive line: Dean Lowry and Sean McEvilly will, barring something unforeseen, retain their starting spots at defensive end and tackle respectively.

After that, it seems like any of five players could realistically take the remaining two spots. Chance Carter is the other returning starter, but Carter was lining up with the 2nd team defensive line towards the end of the spring, even with McEvilly sidelined by injury.

In their places were Greg Kuhar and C.J. Robbins. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has on multiple occasions warned against reading too much into spring trends, so we’ll continue to list Carter as the starter, but we do so with more trepidation than a month ago.

At defensive end, both Ifeadi Odenigbo and Deonte Gibson missed spring practice, so we’re no closer to affirming who’ll start opposite Lowry. Regardless of who plays regularly on first downs though, a rotation of sorts is probable, with all three seeing significant time. Max Chapman could see a decent amount of snaps too.

Stock up: Kuhar and Robbins

It was a surprise to see both Kuhar and Robbins given first team reps over Carter this spring. But that’s not the only reason their stock is on the upswing. Despite the inexperience, both are apparently thought highly of within the program, with Kuhar specifically touted to be an impact player at some point during his career. And furthermore, the majority of observations and reports regarding their performance during March and April have been positive.

Maybe Fitzgerald is seriously considering handing a starting nod to one of the two. Or, conversely, maybe he’s just presenting them with a low-pressure opportunity. But either way, it appears they’ve seized that opportunity. If nothing else, maybe they’ll be able to provide some much needed depth on the interior of the defensive line.

Stock down: Carter

As stated above, this sort of comes out of the blue. Our Chris Johnson wrote back in February, “there shouldn’t be any competition for the two starting tackle spots. Those’ll go to Carter and McEvilly.” And he wasn’t the only one to hold that belief – that was the general consensus from those who cover the team.

Fitz won’t budge when it comes to an explanation for Carter’s (possibly temporary) relegation, so it remains to be seen whether this alteration will carry over to the summer and subsequently to the fall. But for Carter, anything less than an assured starting spot means his stock has fallen.

Position battle: Odenigbo vs. Gibson

The battle for the second starting tackle spot is summed up in the “Stock up” and “Stock down” sections, so let’s take a look at the one for the second starting end spot, which is equally undecided.

If you look at natural talent, Odenigbo stands out. His size was part of the reason he was limited to mostly third down snaps last season. He bulked up a lot, though, and could easily challenge for the starting spot. Gibson, on the other hand, isn’t the physical specimen that Odenigbo is, but he’s solid against both pass and run, and athletically, he’s no slouch. Oh, and he’s an upperclassmen.

Both players will certainly have a role, it just remains to be seen how exactly those roles are defined. This “position battle” won’t be decided until August 30th… at the earliest. Regardless of who starts, Gibson, Lowry and Odenigbo will all see major playing time.

Biggest summer question: Who will step up to replace Tyler Scott?

Clearly Scott’s graduation creates a huge void on the defensive line, so in reality, the question might not be “who will?” but rather “will anybody?”

Realistically, it’s not fair to expect any one player to be the answer to that question. If the answer is a single name, the most likely name is Odenigbo. Chris Johnson wrote extensively about Odenigbo’s credentials and potential back before spring practice, and the sophomore clearly has the most athletic prowess of any candidate to replace Scott.

But the key could be contributions from the likes of Gibson, Chapman and others. In fact, if some of these players do provide that extra bit of quality and depth, the D-line could go above and beyond and be even better than last season’s.