2016 Cougars’ first line of defense aims to impress
Cougar football players are a week into their fall workouts and are battling for starting spots across multiple positions. The defense is expected to be weaker than last year’s, but the defensive line could prove to be a strong spot for the Cougars.
Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s 3-4 defensive scheme means the Cougar defense lines up with three defensive linemen, namely one tackle and two defensive ends. Competition in offseason workouts is escalating with only three starting spots to be had on the line.
“We’re going to hit. That’s what we do,” said head coach Tom Herman after Tuesday’s practice. “I said in my press conference when I got here, we’re going to be the most physically tough team on the field every Saturday. You can’t say that and not practice it.”
Unlike other areas of the team, the defensive line did not lose many players to graduation or the NFL draft. The only significant loss from last season on the line was Tomme Mark, who had graduated and is trying to land a spot on an NFL roster.
Although Mark was important to the defensive line, the Cougars should have no trouble replacing his 27.5 tackles from last season.
A new leader
Defensive end Cameron Malveaux will be expected to fill the leadership and statistical void made upon Mark’s departure. On Monday, he and three other players were named team captains by Herman, which solidifies his position as one of the starting defensive ends.
Now considered a leader by all, Malveaux takes it upon himself to mentor the freshmen on the team.
“I kind of keep Ed (Oliver) dialed in, I keep him focused on certain things. Hasaun (Glasgow), I’ve got to get him stronger,” Malveaux said. “Just watching extra film with them or teaching them certain techniques, it gets my football IQ way up. I can focus on that and put more time in film room and be a smarter football player.”
In 2015, Malveaux recorded 33 tackles: 8.5 of which were for a loss and 2.5 of which were sacks. Opposing offenses will have to gameplan around him, but you can still expect a significant increase in his defensive production in 2016.
The senior’s 6-foot-6 frame weighs in at 270 pounds, which he will use to his advantage all throughout the 2016 season. If Malveaux can have the year that many expect him to, he should be in the conversation with the country’s top defensive linemen, and possibly become a much sought-after pick in next year’s draft.
Learning the ropes
In addition to Malveaux, true freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver has been turning heads to this point in training camp.
“The guy goes hard, man,” Herman said. “As physically gifted as he is, the best attribute he has is his motor. There is no off button, he’s fun to watch.”
Herman was impressed by Oliver on Tuesday who claimed he “could not feel his legs,” but stayed in the drill and blew the next play up in the backfield.
Oliver was ranked as the fourth-overall recruit in the class of 2016 and received scholarship offers from schools such as the University of Texas, Texas A&M University, the University of Alabama and others. Oliver signed with UH in order to make an immediate impact and it appears he could do just that.
The freshman has responded to every test thrown his way in his young career, and is impressing his coaches with his unwearied work ethic. However, the coaching staff has made it clear that no freshman will be handed a starting spot without first earning it.
In order to earn the starting job, Oliver will have his work cut out for him.
Oliver is battling with fifth-year senior B.J. Singleton, who started all 14 games at the position for the Cougars last season. Singleton recorded just 20 tackles and one sack in 2015, but it’s his intangibles that makes him a great defensive tackle.
The 314-pound Singleton uses his wide frame to occupy multiple offensive linemen, which in turn frees the linebacker’s path to the ball carrier or quarterback. His size and experience alone will give him the upper hand early in camp, but anything can happen during the month-long grueling workouts.
Other defensive linemen to keep an eye out for are Nick Thurman, Jerard Carter and Chauntez Jackson.
No matter how the roster shakes out when the Cougars open their season on Sept. 3, the defensive line will have depth and skill that will unnerve their best opponents.