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Defenses ruled the ACC in 2006, and there is no reason to believe they'll be any less lethal in 2007. Most teams in the conference return over half of their starting defenders, including the Hokies. Great defense starts up front in the trenches, and this week we'll take a look at what each team has coming back on the defensive line.
If last year is any indication, Virginia Tech should have one of the best and deepest defensive lines in the ACC. They could be the best outright. The Hokies lost the services of defensive end Noland Burchette but return their other three starters as well as all of their backups. They will have more experience and even more depth to work with in 2007.
Chris Ellis will serve as the top defensive end, with defensive tackles Carlton Powell and Barry Booker returning after very good performances in the 2006 campaign. Backing them up will once again be Kory Robertson and Cordarrow Thompson, and this year they can throw r-freshman John Graves into the mix as well. Graves had a very impressive spring.
Orion Martin will start opposite Chris Ellis at defensive end, and Nekos Brown should be much better after seeing a lot of action last year. R-freshman Jason Adjepong should provide a playmaking element to the front four, provided he can stay healthy.
Boston College will be very tough up front again this season. They bring back their top eight defensive linemen. They are headlined by huge defensive tackles B.J. Raji (6-1, 340) and Ron Brace (6-3, 335). With Brady Smith starting at defensive end at 6-2, 285, BC basically has three defensive tackles starting on their front line. It will be very hard to run between the tackles against them. Raji is the top returner with 8.5 tackles for loss last season.
Clemson suffered a big loss up front when defensive end Gaines Adams was selected in the First Round of the NFL Draft. The Tigers do bring back their other three starters up front, as well as all their backups. Defensive end Phillip Merling should be a big-time playmaker, and former highly touted recruit Ricky Sapp will start at the other defensive end spot.
Clemson's weakness up front appears to be at defensive tackle. The Tigers have plenty of experience there, but nobody has shown the ability to make plays in the past. Their top three returning defensive tackles combined for just 7.5 tackles for loss last year, and just 3.5 sacks.
Georgia Tech should be very tough up front again this season, with three starters returning. Seniors Adamm Oliver and Darrell Robertson will start at defensive end. They combined for 18 tackles for loss last season. Defensive tackle Darryl Richard also returns, although Joe Anoai and his nine tackles for loss must be replaced. The Yellow Jackets rely on speed up front, with only two linemen weighing 280 or more.
Even Duke's defensive line should be solid again this year, returning three starter's from last season's unit. Patrick Bailey was the most productive player with 12.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, but defensive tackle Vince Oghabaase is the name up front. He had 6.5 tackles for loss as a freshman last season. The rising sophomore turned down scholarship offers from many major programs to go to Duke.
UNC's top returning defensive linemen is defensive end Hilee Taylor. Taylor is a disruptor. His 5 tackles for loss led the team last year. Defensive tackles Kentwan Baler and Kyndraus Guy also return. Unfortunately for new UNC coach Butch Davis, his defensive line is the least talented in the ACC.
UVA returns all three of their starters on the defensive line, as well as all their backups. They are headlined by defensive end Chris Long, who had 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last season, despite drawing double teams. However, even he was outdone by fellow defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald, who had 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks as a r-freshman.
The Hoos also return Allen Billyk and Nate Collins, who will rotate at nose tackle. Both were solid if unspectacular last season. If there is a problem up front for UVA, it's depth. None of their backups are proven, especially at defensive end. There will be a significant dropoff if Long or Fitzgerald goes down with an injury.
Despite losing two starters to the NFL, Miami's defensive line will be very impressive as usual this year. They'll be led by defensive end Calais Campbell, who had 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks last season as a sophomore. At 6-8, 265, he's a big time NFL prospect. He's could also be the most physically dominating player in the ACC, regardless of position. Led by Campbell, the ‘Canes should be dominant up front, as usual.
Florida State returns all but one starter on their defensive line, as well as all their backups. The Seminoles hope defensive end Everette Brown turns into a star this season. With 13.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in a reserve roll last year as a freshman, there is reason to believe that he will. Andre Fluellen also returns at defensive tackle, and he should be very good as a senior.
The one thing the 'Noles lacked last season is a major star up front. They had athletes and very good players, but no great players. They are hoping someone steps up and changes that this year. Brown and Fluellen are the top candidates.
Defending ACC Champion Wake Forest has a bend but don't break front four. Their best player, defensive end Jeremy Thompson, is very good when healthy. Recovering from a major injury last season, he had just 4.5 tackles for loss and one sack. If he is back up to speed this year, it will be a major boost for the Demon Deacons. He joins experienced players like Zach Stukes and Boo Robinson up front for Wake Forest.
Maryland's defensive line will be led by defensive tackle Dre Moore this year. Moore had 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season. Joining him in the middle of the defense will be fellow senior Carlos Feliciano. Trey Covington only had 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack last season. The coaching staff has to be hoping that he returns to form and shows the promise that he did as a freshman in 2005, when he had five tackles for loss and three sacks. Depth will be an issue for Maryland up front. Their line isn't expected to be one of the better ones in the ACC.
NC State lost Tank Tyler
and his 8.5 tackles for loss to the NFL, but they return a very good defensive
tackle in DeMario Pressley. The former Virginia Tech recruiting target had six
tackles for loss last season. Sophomore defensive end Willie Young also returns.
He had five tackles for loss last year, and was counted on by the previous
coaching staff as being a future star. He didn't have any sacks last year
however, and he'll have to improve on that number this year.
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