This Tigers’ defensive line this year is locked and loaded with seniors up and down the depth chart. Kobie Whiteside, Chris Turner, Akial Byers, Tre Williams, and Markell Utsey have all been in the rotation with Sci Martin and Chris Daniels playing sparingly as juco transfers. All will be in what would have been their final year of eligibility, (but may not be?) and it’s time for this group to put their imprint on the program.
All have shown flashes that let you know that the talent is there. Whiteside, at defensive tackle, led last year’s team in sacks, with 6.5. Chris Turner will be in year three of starting at defensive end. Akial Byers, Utsey and Tre Williams have all been solid rotation guys in the past. This defense is probably going to be the strong point for this team with all the returners they have, and for it to be as strong as it can be, the defensive line, particularly the ends, are going to have to increase their production.
For the past two years, however, the Tigers have struggled to generate a pass rush and most of that has come from a lack of pressure from the edge. For the past two seasons, the interior guys have brought in most of the pressure. In 2018, Terry Beckner, Jr. led the defensive line in sacks. In 2019, it was Kobie Whiteside. You have to go back to 2016 to find a DE leading the team in sacks, and he was also tied with Terry Beckner that year, too. (Marcell Frazier; 7.0)
It’s important to note that sacks aren’t the end all be all of production of pressure. These guys are affecting the play in ways that don’t always show up on the stat sheet. The defensive line last season still had 30 of the 34 hits on the quarterback. They still were pretty solid against the run too, ranking 32nd in the country. But for this defense to go from good to great, more natural pressure from the edge needs to come from the edge.
These guys who’ve been part of this unit have usually played secondary roles to guys who garner more attention. Terry Beckner and Jordan Elliot have been nice interior guys who have required a lot of extra attention from the opposition, and both went on to be NFL draft picks for it. Now that they’re both gone, someone needs to step up and force defenses to pay them attention or it could be a long year for defensive line, and the defense as a whole.