By Jeremy Hritz
If there was a unit that was equally as bad, if not worse, than the offensive line last season, it was the defensive line. Game after game, this unit was gashed and gave up rushing yards in bunches, and no personnel adjustments or game planning could solve it. The end result was a demoralized defense that was consistently playing from behind, who allowed the opponent to control the clock.
Part of the problem last year was the absence of Stephon Tuitt who has since retired, and the season-ending injury to Tyson Alualu, who has recovered and is now poised to return as the starting nose tackle. These issues forced many inexperienced and unready players into the starting lineup and rotation, which led to many of the issues this group experienced in 2021.
The heart and soul of the defensive line, and maybe even the entire team, is Cameron Heyward, and he returns after an excellent 2021 season, in spite of the overall performance of the defense. Heyward’s play is not slowing, and another outstanding output should be expected from him, not only against the run, but as a pass rusher as well. His starting mates will be Alualu, who returns from injury at nose, and the newly signed Larry Ogunjobi who will take over Tuitt’s vacated spot. Alualu is stout in the middle, while Ogunjobi is athletic and versatile, and if both can mesh with Heyward, this starting defensive front could be formidable.
DL Depth Has Experience
Backing up Heyward will be 2nd year man Isaiah Loudermilk out of Wisconsin and rookie DeMarvin Leal out of Texas A&M. Loudermilk got valuable experience and reps last season due to the many injuries, and much is expected from his this year. Leal showed promise this preseason and appeared to be much better against the run than he was in college, where he excelled more so as a pass rusher. Both players will work into a rotation to keep Heyward fresh.
Ogunjobi’s backup will be Chris Wormley who is a better pass rusher than run defender. In fact, he is somewhat of a liability in defending the run, so I wonder if the coaching staff will look to incorporate him as a sub during passing down situations.
Montravius Adams will be the next man up behind Alualu after impressing the coaching staff last year after being signed off of the New Orleans Saints practice squad. Adams has great burst to disrupt the flow of running plays in the backfield, and it will be interesting to see how a full year with the team benefits his performance.
Overall, this is a healthy group, and it should be better than it was last season. It has to be, because if it’s not, look for more of the same struggles that kept the team from being a true contender in 2021.