Position Preview: Defensive Line

Kyler Brown

Duke lost three starters along the defensive front, but there is plenty of depth and experience on this year’s squad.

PRESEASON DEPTH CHART

Defensive End?
Dezmond Johnson (6-4, 260, R-Jr.)
? Kyler Brown (6-4, 245, R-Jr.)

Defensive Tackle
? Jamal Bruce (6-1, 285, R-Sr.)
? A.J. Wolf (6-4, 270, R-So.)

Defensive Tackle
Carlos Wray (6-2, 290, Jr.)
? Jamal Wallace (6-4, 280, R-Sr.)

Defensive End?
Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo (6-4, 240, R-Sr.)?
Jonathan Jones (6-3, 225, Sr.)

KEY LOSSES
Kenny Anunike (graduation)
Justin Foxx (graduation)
Sydney Sarmiento (graduation)

ANALYSIS
It will not be easy replacing three quality starters on the defensive line. Kenny Anunike, Justin Foxx, and Sydney Sarmiento combined for 140 tackles and ten sacks last season. Consistent play on the line becomes even more important knowing that redshirt senior linebacker Kelby Brown is out for the season due to a knee injury suffered in the team’s first scrimmage.

Head coach David Cutcliffe would like to see the defensive front grow into a ten-man rotation. The positive for this year’s line is despite only having one returning starter, there is still plenty of experience. Four members of the defensive line have more than 900 snaps under their belts (Dezmond Johnson, Jamal Bruce, Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, and Kyler Brown).

DeWalt-Ondijo has already made a name for himself in training camp. He put up 1.5 sacks and got good pressure with the first team defense in the team’s opening scrimmage. Cutcliffe says he continues to show up each day in practice. Johnson has the ability to get after the quarterback as well from his end spot with his speed and athleticism.

Look for Kyler Brown and Jonathan Jones to add some speed and playmaking ability to the mix as well. Both players have transitioned from linebacker to defensive end, with Jones doing so in 2012 and Brown making the change this year.

Bruce is the lone returning starter at tackle, joining Wray in the middle of the line. In addition to backups A.J. Wolf and Jamal Wallace getting playing time, look for freshman Edgar Cerenord to join the rotation. Cerenord (6-1, 300) is already one of the bigger bodies for the defense, and he should be able to clog up the middle against opposing running games.

WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN IN 2014
The Duke defensive line will have to work as a cohesive unit. The team cannot rely on one player to get double digit sacks, as the team finished tied for 12th in total sacks (23) in the ACC. Utilizing the depth available should keep lineman fresh and able to keep up with high tempo offenses.

Against the pass, the defensive line must create pressure on opposing quarterbacks, even if it does not necessarily lead to sacks. Duke was tied for third in the conference in interceptions (18), so it won’t take much for a speedy secondary to take advantage of errant throws caused by a good pass rush.

The real issue will be defending against the run. The Blue Devils allowed more than 170 rushing yards per game with an average of 4.3 yards per carry. In all of Duke’s four losses last season, the opposing offense ran for more than 150 yards. This included Georgia Tech gashing the Blue Devils for 344 yards on 60 carries. It will be key for the line to push up field and close gaps that allow a short run to turn into an explosive play.

Duke will need to do its best to stay healthy, as the defense has already lost Brown as a leader in the middle of the 4-2-5 defense. Bruce and DeWalt-Ondijo have both experienced injury problems in the past. The entire team was extremely lucky last year with players staying on the field. It is already difficult enough with a player like Brown gone for the season. It could be impossible to recover from losing anyone else.

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