Amid questions of uncertainty at quarterback, running back and linebacker, the CSU Rams may have found a source of strength in an unfamiliar place.
With an inexperienced core of linebackers and an injury-prone secondary, the team is looking for leadership on defense wherever they can find it. Luckily for the green and gold, the defensive line seems up to the challenge.
Although CSU head coach Steve Fairchild has admitted for the majority of the spring that the Rams are missing toughness and effort at many positions, he explained that defensive line doesn’t appear to be one of them. This comes as a pleasant surprise, considering that CSU lost four seniors from last season’s the defensive line.
“I like what we are doing there,” Fairchild said. “We play a lot of rotation there, so more than those seniors played a lot last year. I think we have some good young talent and I think we are going to be OK.”
Defensive line coach Scott Brown agreed with Fairchild, and said that players are quickly stepping up to fill the spots left by graduates, including former defensive captain Tommy Hill.
“Whenever (graduation) happens it creates an opportunity for someone and if nothing else it creates stimulus that someone else will step up and take over that role,” said Brown, a second year CSU coach. “We think we have some good players that over time can develop and make us better.”
Brown praised many linemen for progressing early in the spring season, but singled out junior Guy Miller, calling him the leader of the group and adding that Miller is turning into a pretty dominant ball player. Brown also credited Ty Whittier, Sevaro Johnson and freshman C.J. James for having strong springs.
The Rams main goal for the line is to improve on a mediocre performance last season. During 2008, CSU’s line produced only three sacks the entire season, ranking them near the bottom of the Mountain West Conference. Miller recognizes that as a stat that needs to change in 2009.
“We knew we weren’t one of the better defensive lines in the conference last year,” he said. “That’s why we want to go out here, work on that every day and improve on the little things that are going to make us better in the end.”
Brown said that the Rams are putting a particular emphasis on improving the pass rush this spring. He acknowledged that the line’s most important function is stopping the run but explained that a solid pass rush will take the defense to the next level.
“As a group, we have a chance to improve in the areas we were lacking last year in terms of pass rush,” he said. “Particularly, we have a good chance to get better at that, but the proof will be in the pudding and we still have a lot of work to do.”
Whittier explained that the line is ready to step up and become the unit that leads a young CSU defense and hopes to prove it this spring.
“We want to be the unit the defense can count on,” the Wellington native said. “You want to be the unit everyone looks to. We’re not there yet, but we could be.”
Football beat reporter Adam Bohlmeyer can be reached at email@example.com.