The question: Can the defensive line hold up?
Discussion: The defensive line was my biggest concern heading into camp. J.D. Brookhart was pretty uncertain, too. Has it changed? Yes and no.
In scrimmage situations, the defense was able to penetrate and rush the quarterback. What does that mean? For one, it shows the pass rush is ahead of last season, when even bad offensive lines were able to protect their passers. Maybe Akron's offensive line is really bad at pass blocking. Maybe the Zips' blitz has improved. It will be hard to decipher the real reason until Sept. 1 against Army.
In terms of run stopping, the line performed fairly well. Sure, the Zips offense moved the ball, but it should have. The ground game will be the focus of the new offense, and the roster is peppered with talented running backs.
As far as personnel goes, the 3-3-5 scheme includes a tackle, nose guard and end on the defensive line. The coaches added a potential four-year starter at defensive end in Almondo Sewell. Don't expect him to be a star right away, but the fact that he displaced Eric Lively should say something. With the injury to Jared Cecchetti (which I will soon discuss further), Lively moves again -- from guard to tackle. Wallace Pendleton will start in the middle of the formation at guard.
Of course, the real concern never has been the starters. It's the depth. Nate Robinson can backup at tackle and guard. Until Cecchetti returns, the rest is a crapshoot. The coaches don't quite know what they have in Mitchell Magloire, Viktor Rajek, Shawn Lemon or the seven true freshmen. Of the newcomers, the most imposing appears to be Marquinn Davis, who stands 6-foot-6, 280 pounds. Brookhart said at least two of the true freshmen will burn their redshirts to help in 2007.
Cecchetti could return from his broken foot by the end of September. That grants Brookhart the flexibility of a five-man rotation, and perhaps six if one the "unknowns" emerges. But that's only if the line hasn't suffered another injury.
So yes, the defensive line's play has been better than expected this month, but depth still is a monumental concern. If I'm defensive coordinator Jim Fleming, I insert and substitute the unproven defensive linemen like a manager switching pitchers in a late-inning nailbiter. He must find a couple more players who will step up and provide energy. I understand the concern of wasting their true freshman redshirt rights, but what good is a bulk of defensive linemen who never see the field until their junior year?
Looking ahead to next season, the starting line probably will include Iowa transfer and consensus "beast" of the team, Ryan Bain, along with Sewell and Lively. By then, the young players should be prepared to add an imposing two-deep field.
But this year, the line's viability depends on health, quick learning on the job and the full recovery of Cecchetti.
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Even without three regulars, Akron beat Michigan State 2-0 in the Zips' first exhibition match.
Ben Zemanski and Elliot Bradbrook scored the game's only goals. Matt Tutich, Ossie Michalsen and Anthony Ampaipitakwong sat out with minor injuries.
Akron will play Cleveland State in the preseason's final game tomorrow at 5 p.m. at Lee Jackson Field.
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