A Group That Needs A Bounce Back Year: A 2020 Preview Of the Defensive Line

A.J. Black

Now that we have finished our preview of the offense, BC Bulletin is going to look at a unit that needs to improve in 2020, the defense. After a brutal season, finishing 125th in yards allowed, BC returns almost their entire defensive unit. The first preview will be the defensive line, a group that struggled mightily in 2019. They were inconsistent containing at the line of scrimmage, and were not much of a factor in the pass rush. This is a group that desperately

Previous Previews: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Offensive Line, Tight Ends

Returning Players: TJ Rayam (Sr.), Kyiev Bennermon (So.), Ryan Betro (So.), Jaleel Berry (Jr.), Brandon Barlow (Sr.), Bryce Morais (Sr.), Mike Ciaffoni (R-Fr.), Izaiah Henderson (R-Fr.), Shittah Sillah (So.), Spencer Bono (R-Fr.), Reggie Terry (Jr.), Jackson Ness (R-Fr.), Marcus Valdez (Jr.)

New Players: Cameron Horsley, 

Exiting Players: Ireland Burke (transfer to Rutgers), Tanner Karafa, Richard Yeargin III

Expectations: New defensive minded head Jeff Hafley has to look at this unit and figure out how he can fix it. This group struggled for the 2019 season, not necessarily missing plays, but even worse, seeming completely invisible. This is not to say they didn't have their moments. TJ Rayam had moments where was a disruptive force in the backfield, while Brandon Barlow, Shittah Sillah and Marcus Valdez started to show flashes near the end of the season. However, they were all inconsistent, and lacked a true playmaker up front. Barlow/Valdez were the leading pass rushers in 2019, and they only had 2.5 sacks each. 

BC was unable to really address this position in recruiting, only adding Horsley a DT. They lost Jah Joyner a defensive end, who could have jumped up the depth chart quickly. This may be a position like last year that Hafley will need to possible scour the transfer portal especially if any could become playmakers.

Key Position Battle: Defensive Tackle

With Tanner Karafa graduating, Boston College is going to have a big hole to fill. Karafa arguable was the most consistent performer on that defensive line, and the option behind him are raw. Kyiev Bennermon saw the season starting at nose tackle, but after a rough first few games was replaced by TJ Rayam. Remember he is only a sophomore so he can still grow as a player, and with the right coaching he could take that jump. Or do the Eagles go with Ryan Betro, also a sophomore. He played in eight games last year and made on tackle. Maybe Hafley goes in a different direction with someone like Jaleel Berry or Izaiah Henderson. Both were defensive tackles that Addazio thought highly of, could they catch Hafley's eye?

Areas To Improve: Explosiveness/Pressure

As mentioned above, BC's defense was near the bottom in the country in every conceivable metric. Just from an eyeball test though what they really lacked was the ability to get pressure and explode off the line of scrimmage. It seemed like the ends could never separate from their blockers, which would lead to clean pockets for a QB to pick them apart. BC tried to fix this by blitzing, but that left their vulnerable secondary in less than ideal coverage. If BC wants to really improve on defense they need their defensive linemen to get home, and beat some of those 1-1 blocking schemes. 

Impact Player: Marcus Valdez

It's hard to count anyone as an "impact" player based on the play of last year, but from August to January, Valdez took the biggest leap forward. Over the second half of the season he had 2.5 sacks, and four tackles for loss. In terms of speed coming off the edge he has it, as you can see how quickly he gets to Trevor Lawrence in the play below. 

And he's a big defensive end, who can make plays in the backfield. Watch how well he disrupts this play against Richmond. 

Player Who Needs To Step Up

TJ Rayam: There were moments last year where people were comparing him to BJ Raji. While that may have been a bit premature, Rayam is a big nasty defensive tackle who with a little more seasoning could take the defense to the next level. He had 6.5 tackles for loss, but also had some mental errors, including presnap penalties. If he can consistently play like he is capable of, he could be in for a big year. 

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Sources: Boston College is expected to hire former Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski in an off-field role. Chudzinski also brings extensive experience as a college and NFL OC. He‘ll be used as a veteran resource for first-year coach Jeff Hafley.