The core of a defensive unit is the big guys up front.
They dictate what the opposing offenses can and cannot do, according to how well they play. Whether they stop the run or get to the passer â€“â€“ and the good ones do both.
The Rams defensive line this year obtains both talent and experienced leadership to improve upon last yearâ€™s season.
Defensive line coach Scott Brown looks to two players in particular for leadership in his unit.
â€œGuy Miller and Ty Whittier unquestionably,â€ Brown said. â€œTheyâ€™re great competitors and have experience.â€
Both Miller and Whittier are seniors who play at the interior of the line where the most physical action in any football game takes place. A spot where having two leaders is beneficial.
On the other hand, defensive end does not have the same quality experience, but certainly has the talent.
â€œOn the outside weâ€™ve got a lot of athleticism,â€ Brown said. â€œItâ€™s young, inexperienced athleticism and speed thatâ€™s going to get better and better.â€
Look no further than sophomore defensive end C.J. James to find an abundant source of that talent. In 11 games last season, James had 16 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble as a true freshman.
Unfortunately for James and the team, he injured his knee in a freak accident and his return is not certain, as of yet. Despite the injury, he still plans on performing for the team.
â€œI want double digit sacks this year,â€ James said. â€œThatâ€™s my goal. Just get as many tackles as I can and help my team out so we can win games.â€
His experience last year will play a critical role in his success this season.
â€œNot knowing the playbooks and everything like that slows you down,â€ James said. â€œWhen I get back on the field, Iâ€™m going to erase the mental errors and play full speed.â€
With the injury to James, the line may have to lean on the experience of its older players, like Miller, more early on in the year. Itâ€™s a role he is more than willing to accept.
â€œI want to go out there every day and show people what to do and how to work,â€ Miller said. â€œIâ€™m doing what I can to show the other defensive linemen.â€
Miller has found things to improve on in his own game from last year so he can perform at a higher level.
â€œPass rush technique and working hard to get more pressure on the quarterback is a main goal of ours this year,â€ Miller said.
The players, like the coaches, hold themselves to high standards and anticipate being a dominant force on the team.
â€œAs a unit, Iâ€™m expecting us to be very good this year,â€ James said. â€œOur depth isnâ€™t the greatest in the world, but weâ€™ve got some young guys who are sure to be promising.â€
Execution in the run and pass defense will continue to be a focus on the line.
â€œWeâ€™re trying to accomplish all phases of the defensive line and making plays,â€ James said. â€œFrom last yearâ€™s statistics we can definitely improve in all areas.â€
Football beat reporter Cris Tiller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.