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2014 Season Preview: Defensive Line

Carolina continues to work on installing a 4-2-5 defense. In this preview we'll cover the backbone of the defense, the defensive line.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

This off-season has not been a kind one to the defensive line of the Heels, Shawn Underwood and Greg Webb have each already been lost due to academic eligibility issues. Now senior Ethan Farmer may also face eligibility issues. None of that has weighed the Heels down in camp however and all sign point to a deep group up front on the defense. Farmer has continued to actively participate in the team and has been a leader on and off the field in camp. In interviews at camp defensive line coach Keith Gilmore outlined several players and their roles for this upcoming season. Coach Gilmore singled out: Devonte Brown, Justin Thomason, Jessie Rodgers, Nazair Jones, Junior Gnonkonde, Dajuan Drennon, Mikey Bart, Tyler Powell, Jeremiah Clarke and Robert Dinkins. These are all players who the coaching staff will look at this season to form the core of the defense.

From this group the coaching staff will have to find one or two groups of four linemen that can play on most downs. The two groups will be a pass rushing defensive line and then a run stopping defensive line. In each of these groups it appears as if Devonte Brown, Justin Thomason and Jessie Rodgers appear to be three locks to play a lot this season. In addition to those three, the players who appear to form more of the pass rushing core are Nazair Jones and Dajuan Drennon with Drennon currently positioned to get more reps as a "starter". The other "starter" who would do more work in running situations is Junior Gnonkonde, but Mikey Bart could also fill in some time as a situational run stopping lineman.

The other players on the defensive line appear to be insurance players and provide depth, but if they show any startling development could make a case to get more playing time this year. Overall the group has a few converted ends playing tackle. This could turn out to be both a strength and a weakness. Going against guards and centers, converted ends will have an advantage in passing situations but they will need to show that against those same guards and centers, that they can stop the run. The biggest issue for the defensive line this year will be to command double teams and prevent opposing offenses from opening up big running lanes against them. If they can do this then the rest of the defense should have an easier time of it, but if they are not able to do this then everyone's job will be significantly harder.