John Denton's Knights Insider: Spring Football Preview DL/LB

March 17, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Throughout this week, UCF Knights Insider John Denton will be breaking down each position for UCF's nationally ranked football team heading into the start of spring practice on Friday.

After beginning drills this Friday and Saturday, the Knights will practice every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for the next four weeks leading up to the April 16 Black and Gold Spring Game at Bright House Networks Stadium. The practices are open to the public and there is no admission.

UCF is coming off its finest season in school history, winning both the Conference USA championship and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. The Knights were 11-3 and finished the season ranked No. 20 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll and No. 21 in the Associated Press poll.

Here is a look at the defensive line and linebackers heading into spring drills:



DE: Toby Jackson (6-5, 265, Jr.) Joey Grant (6-4, 245, Fr.); DT: Victor Gray (6-4, 263, R.Soph.), Barry Snider (6-3, 270, Sr.); DT: E.J. Dunston (6-2, 306, Soph.), Jose Jose (6-3, 330, Soph.); DE: Troy Davis (6-2, 252, Jr.), Quenton Brown (6-3, 215, R.Fresh.).

KEY LOSSES: Bruce Miller, David Williams, Wes Tunuufi-Sauvo.

RETURNERS STATS: All the way back from surgery to remove a tumor in his lung two years ago, Darius Nall became the explosive big-play defensive end for the Knights last season. He had 9.5 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks and 14 QB hurries. Troy Davis was a huge contributor last season with 26 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and 9.0 quarterback hurries. Victor Gray had 31 tackles, seven tackles for a loss and a sack, while E.J. Dunston had 13 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.

ANALYSIS: The first thing that fans watching spring drills will notice is the absence of Nall, who isn't with the team because of personal reasons (not health related). The senior is expected back in the fall and will almost certainly start at end.

Nall's absence will give coaches a chance to get a good look at several talented ends who will be expected to replace Bruce Miller and David Williams. Jackson, the MVP of the JUCO national championship game, has star potential with his rare combination of speed and power. He was a four-star prospect coming out of high school when he originally committed to the University of Georgia. He will be given every shot in the spring to shine.

Davis gave the Knights a dominant pass rusher last season and he could very well be a starter this season. His relentless effort was infectious last season and he came up with a huge fourth-quarter sack in the Liberty Bowl against Georgia.

Gray and Dunston were question marks coming into the start of last season because of their youth, but both held up well in the trenches. Gray, who has put on 30 pounds, should be even better this spring after another offseason in the weight-lifting program. He could contend for a spot on the All-Conference team this season if his improvement continues.



SLB: Ray Shipman (6-5, 226, R.Jr.), Terran Buck (6-2, 235, Jr.); MLB: Josh Linam (6-3, 237, Sr.), Vinny Mazzurco (6-1, 227, R.Sr.); WLB: Loren Robinson (6-3, 220, R.Jr.); Ray Cottman (6-2, 225, Jr.).

KEY LOSSES: Derrick Hallman, Lawrence Young and Chance Henderson.

RETURNERS STATS: Linam finished third on the team in tackles with 78. He also had nine tackles for loss, an interception and four pass breakups. Robinson registered eight tackles in seven games last season.

ANALYSIS: The linebacking corps were hit hard by graduation and the Knights will be trying to replace their second (Hallman), fourth (Young) and eighth (Henderson) leading tacklers from last season.

After playing primarily on special teams his first two seasons, Linam blossomed into a steady starter last season. One of the team's smartest players, Linam was able to handle making the defensive calls while also playing tough against the run in the middle. More leadership will be expected of him this season.

Shipman, a former basketball player at the University of Florida, is loaded with physical gifts and the coaches are hoping that those skills will help him shorten the learning curve needed to make major contributions this season.

Cottman played both inside and outside linebacker in Junior College and should provide depth at both positions for the Knights. He had 80 tackles and 4.5 tackles last season at Glendale Community College.


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John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.