Training Camp 2017 VII: Freshman Defensive Linemen
On Monday, someone on Twitter asked me to rank the incoming defensive linemen. I told them "I can do that... by this weekend." Well, it's the weekend and I've now watched three practices so let's get to ranking.
First off, I don't really need to say this but I will - this is just an intial ranking. It's a "who might be ready to play early and who might need some time in the weight room" list. A year ago today I would have said that now sophomore DT Tymir Oliver was years away from being able to contribute. A year later (and a transformed body later), he's probably ready to contribute in a month. So this is just a "where they stand now" list, not a "where they'll end up" list.
And I should also note that I'll be ranking six defensive linemen. Olalere Oladipo hasn't been able to practice yet. Not sure what the injury is, but I won't be able to rank him because I haven't seen him play yet.
That being said, in order of "ready to get on the field soon" and "it will take some time", I'll go:
1. Bobby Roundtree
I have to calm myself when talking about him. I tend to get excited about defensive ends and wide receivers at practices, but then when the games come, those players are a long way from playing (for the wide receivers, it's blocking; for the defensive ends, it's defending the run). Remember how excited I was for Paul James? He flamed out, never really played, and transferred (although it's worth noting that he was MVP of Auburn's spring game so watch out for him in the SEC this fall).
So with that disclaimer out of the way, I think Bobby Roundtree is the clear #1 on this list and I'm going to be ready to start him soon. Yes, he still needs to add weight. Yes, he still doesn't really know much besides "see quarterback, go get quarterback". Don't care. I'm excited about him so let me ramble.
Simply put, I think he's everything the coaches were thinking they were getting: a tall, long-armed defensive end who can run like a wide receiver. I can see why they were so excited on Signing Day. If he progresses like they hope he will, he'll be really, really good.
2. Owen Carney
Do I need more disclaimers? I probably need more disclaimers. These are freshmen defensive linemen. Dawuane Smoot, who was just drafted by the Jaguars, played as a true freshman and he was really bad. Totally overwhelmed. So even though some of these guys will play as true freshmen, it's going to take a bit. You might give up on them (like I stupidly did with Smoot) and think that they'll never contribute. But they will. And I'm ranking the order in which I think they'll contribute.
Carney was playing some right end (weakside) in the spring, but he seems likely to play strongside end and has been there most of camp. Sean Adesanya, now a junior, will get the starting nod there, but the backup spot is wide open. Carney, who arrived in the spring and was a four-star on some of the recruiting sites, seems ready to handle that backup role. And in two years, when he's the starter, I think he'll be really solid.
3. Kendrick Green
You can tell he was a wrestler. He really knows how to hand battle. If you've ever been to a high school wrestling meet and watched the heavyweights grapple, you know that it's an initial hand battle (who's arms are inside of his opponent's arms) and then a whole bunch of leverage "hugging" (trying to get your guy off balance). That's helpful when playing defensive tackle.
Footwork, on the other hand...
Craig was at practice with me and pointed how Green's hands were solid but his footwork needed work. Sounds about right for a true freshman defensive tackle. So he'll need a lot of work there. But there's a pretty good defensive line coach who can help him with that.
4. Jamal Woods
This is Craig's guy. If Craig gave out an award for the lower-ranked recruit who was going to surprise, he'd give it to Woods. He thinks we found a gem when we flipped him from Memphis.
Woods is at defensive tackle right now, which is where I think he'll stay. And there's lots of depth in front of him (Milan and Oliver on one side, Jackson and Odenigbo on the other side, plus Kendrick Green), so I think we're at the "probable redshirt" portion of this list. But I'd say that Woods is clearly fourth with the other two much further away from playing. Again, not an insult, just the way things go with defensive linemen.
So put me down for Woods redshirting and then working his way into the DT rotation starting next season.
5. Isaiah Gay
Gay is really skinny. Not Michael-Buchanan-as-a-freshman skinny, but skinny. Bobby Roundtree reported at 245 lbs; Gay at 215 lbs. It's really, really hard for a 215 lb defensive end to get on the field as a freshman. Honestly, in uniform, he looks more like a wide receiver than a defensive end. He and wide reciever Sam Mays look nearly identical in uniform.
So for Gay it's going to be about the weight program. Well, probably. If he proves he has the burst to get to the passer, they might use him as a situational pass rusher on third-and-long situations this year. They want to get these guys ready quickly. But short of that, I think he's redshirting.
6. Deon Pate
Pate is another kid who was brought in as a high school DE but has already moved inside to DT. And I think it's more of an adjustment for him than it is for Jamal Woods. I'd guess that he's a certain redshirt as he learns his new position. A depth-for-the-future guy.
OK, so if I had to guess right now, I'd say Roundtree and Carney definitely play right away. Very high probability that Green plays right away. I'm 50/50 on Woods playing right away vs. redshirting (hoping for the redshirt), and I think Gay and Pate will definitely redshirt. Oladipo is the wildcard, obviously. Once he returns to practice, does he make so much noise at strongside end that it forces Carney to a redshirt? Not likely, but you never know. Hope he gets out there soon.
Alright, I need to go check out of my hotel, fix the flat tire on my rental car, and then go to the next practice. Can I maybe just keep doing this every day for the rest of time?
(Also, no time to go back and edit, so sorry for all the likely typos above. But you're used to that by now. Thanks for understanding.)