2021 Position Previews – Defensive Line

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Author: Jared Kalmus – @JaredUTSA 

After wrapping up our offensive position previews last week, it’s time to take a closer look at the defense as we march towards kick off in Champaign. This position preview, as well as our offensive line preview, are available for free. You can subscribe at the Insider tier for as little as $5/month to get access to all other position previews, as well as the rest of our premium content.

Let’s start off with the big men up front, where the Roadrunners legitimately go four deep at all three positions. It’s not a stretch to say that UTSA will leave guys off the travel squad who would be starters at other Conference USA schools. The most difficult challenge facing Defensive Line Coach Rod Wright will be keeping his reserves focused and selfless as they fight for playing time. As far as concerns go, it’s a nice problem to have.

In my eyes, UTSA’s defensive line is as strong as an average Power 5 defensive line in regards to both depth and top-end talent.

Project Starters

Lorenzo Dantzler

Jaylon Haynes

Brandon Matterson

Picking out the top three guys here is hard, but I went with the three that have been the most dependable for the longest amount of time. The first three out on the turf will vary each week depending on performance in the previous week and in practice.

Dantzler saw the most snaps among this group last season (I count Wiley as a LB since he doesn’t play with his hand in the turf) and delivered with sound gap coverage and consistent pocket pressure. While Dantzler needs to convert more of his hurries into sacks, he does hold 10 sacks through his three years at UTSA. The JUCO product will need to clean up his tackling form this season as he missed on 10 tackle attempts last season.

I’m suspecting that Jaylon Haynes may see more time at defensive end this season after UTSA added some serious talent at nose tackle. In case that doesn’t materialize, I’m playing it safe and calling Haynes the starting nose tackle for now. Haynes is among the most talented players on the defense, however 2020 was a bit of a road bump for him as he struggled with injuries. Haynes’ finished 2020 with his lowest PFF defensive grading of his career, while his grade dropped each consecutive week after having to face Army’s cut block offense. A healthy season could put Haynes back on NFL scouts’ radars.

Out of all three starters, Brandon Matterson may be in line for the biggest jump compared to last season. Matterson has slimmed down a bit and looks to be in great shape this fall camp. He’s gotten better each season as his snap count has increased. I don’t see any indication of this trend not continuing into 2021. Similar to Dantzler, Matterson needs to work on converting pressures into sacks and finishing his tackles.

Look for Christian Clayton to be the first defensive lineman off the bench. The 6’2″, 275 pound Fort Worth native was impressive last season, and has the flexibility to play both nose tackle and defensive end.

While Kevin Nelson left the team over the summer, his snaps will be passed down to much higher-rated recruits. Asyrus Simon split time at LB and DE last year, but he’s since gained 20 pounds and is firmly set for the future at defensive end. Simon will definitely look menacing stepping off the bus.

Walker Baty has gained 30 pounds himself and should provide good depth at defensive end. I was really fond of his film and am interested to see how he carries this extra weight.

While Simon and Baty are bigger bodies who should hold up against the run, Trumane Bell will be the pass rushing specialist after leading the team in sacks last season.

Newcomers

Ronald Triplette

Lamonte McDougle

Brandon Brown

The Roadrunners leveled up on the defensive line in a big way over the offseason via the transfer portal. All three guys are potential starters and, via some newfound common sense from the NCAA, are all eligible immediately.

Ronald Triplette, UTSA’s lone incoming defensive end, has a much wider wingspan than his 6’2″ height would seem to suggest. The former Kansas State Wildcat didn’t see any playing time as a true freshman at KSU but he should excel at the G5 level thanks to his motor and athleticism.

Lamonte McDougle took an interesting route to UTSA, but he’s immediately become UTSA’s most athletic defensive lineman. After enjoying a freshman All-American season at West Virginia, McDougle, the son of a first-round NFL Draft pick, headed west to Washington State in seek of a better schematic fit. McDougle played well in his first year at WSU, but was kicked off the team after opting out of the 2020 season due to several of his family members struggling with infections from the deadly virus.

Conditioning is always a concern when a lineman takes a year away from the game, but McDougle seems to have focused his time away from the field in the gym. He’s a very muscular 290 pounds. McDougle has 26 tackles through his two years of play, with 21 of those coming at or behind the line of scrimmage. He’s a legitimate game changer for UTSA.

Lastly, let’s not let Tulane transfer Brandon Brown be overshadowed by the Power 5 transfers. Brown is really, really good. At 6’2″, 305 pounds, Brown will be a run stuffer in the middle of the defense. Surprisingly swift on his feet, Brown was highly recruited coming out of Morton Ranch High School in Katy, racking up 20 offers before signing with the Green Wave.

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