Life’s hard for a defensive lineman.
Every play is a physical struggle for position and a surefire opportunity to tattoo on another battle scar. They don’t call it the trenches for nothing. But when the timing is right, and the unit works in cohesion, the end result can be quite rewarding.
With that being said, the Owls’ front four are hungry for the pigskin, and will be looking to eat up opposing offenses this season.
“We’re just looking forward to going out with a big bang for our last year,” senior defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. “I’ve just been working on my technique and just working on the fundamentals. If you’re athletic you have it, so you just got to work on the technique — stuff you can get better at.”
Knighton’s neighboring tackle will be junior Andre Neblett, a menacing 285 pounds of run-clogging muscle. Their presence and pressure will give the Owls’ defensive ends a chance to shine.
“When you have the interior guys like Andre Neblett and Terrance Knighton, those guys are basically putting pressure in the middle of the field,” junior defensive end Junior Galette said. “[They’re] pushing the center and the guards back, and the quarterback has no escape lane to go through the middle, so he has to go to the outside, falling into my hands.”
Galette’s breakout 2007 season brings high hopes for 2008.
Last year, he made a nearly flawless transition from linebacker to defensive end. This year, where he will be leading a core of more experienced and determined linemen, Galette looks to build on his 41 tackles and team-high 7.5 sacks in 2007.
“[Last year], we were young,” the Owls’ defensive lineman said. “We moved just as fast as any [Mid-American Conference] team. We weren’t as big, but now we got a lot more depth, we’re stronger, faster, everybody gained weight.”
Missing in action on the opposite end of Galette is the Owls’ most decorated lineman, redshirt senior Leyon Azubuike, the 2007 team captain, who has been hampered by a knee injury.
Last season, he earned the Captains’ Award, as well as the George M. Illman Award for leadership on and off the field. Azubuike has been a man of many positions over the years, as he originally played tight end before converting to linebacker and ultimately solidifying himself at defensive end.
The brief absence of Azubuike will allow several role players to step up and stand out. In the Owls’ 35-7 win against Army on Aug. 29, freshman defensive end Morkeith Brown had two tackles and a 17-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. Fellow end, junior Brian Sanford, assisted on four tackles, and will be a key component this season.
Coach Al Golden was impressed with his linemen, who responded to a heavy dose of Army’s signature ground attack. The Black Knights ran the ball 58 times, but the Owls’ resistance remained true throughout the game.
“The D-line did a good job,” Golden said. “When you have a man over you, blocking you, and then they give it to a 250-pound guy behind him, that’s twice your body weight coming at you, and I thought they really did a nice job hanging in there.”
On tap for the Owls will be Saturday’s home opener against Connecticut. A year ago, in the Owls’ controversial 22-17 loss to the Huskies, it was the gritty and relentless play of the line that fought for nine sacks, with Neblett leading the charge with three of his own.
If the defensive line can provide a repeat performance, then it will certainly make life a whole lot easier for the Owls.
Anthony Stipa can be reached at email@example.com.