Spring recap/preview Part VI
The defensive line has one of the best players in the country and two question marks.
ACC fans should learn the name Mathias Kiwanuka now since you’ll hear his name over and over in the pregame preambles on TV and radio. Kiwi has speed and size and is probably a top ten pick in next year's NFL draft. I don’t expect him to dominate in the ACC because he is going to be the focal point of all opposing offensive game plans. Last year, when he was more well known, some teams were able to neutralize him for long periods. Kiwi has speed, but is still somewhat slender and has trouble with double teams.
Kiwi will probably be a combine monster, but what is most overlooked about his style of play is his relentlessness. He really plays to the whistle and has been known to make downfield tackles and pick up a sack after getting knocked down and/or held. This style of play keeps us in games and will hopefully serve as a good lesson to his inexperienced teammates.
The only other experienced player on the D-line is Al Washington. Al is a little undersized to play the interior, but has been very reliable. He only collected a few tackles last season, but that was somewhat expected given that Bulman, Kiwi and Mettling were always around the ball. I don’t think he’ll have an all-conference season, but I do think he take advantage of Kiwi’s double teams.
The real pressure is going to be on the other spots. There is an assortment of guys who will get playing time. At End, Nick Larkin played well in spot duty last season but he is lean like Kiwi. He and Jake Ottolini (who he’ll split time with) will need Ron Brace and Justin Bell to take up space at the other tackle spot.
The rest of the unit is pure speculation. Jerry Willette, Ryan Thompson, B.J. Raji, and Jeff Burns will all get a chance to play. I am going to follow a hunch and say that Keith Willis will surprise and get serious playing time by the end of the season. Who knows? These guys are all blank slates. Hopefully they get good coaching.
As a whole the D-line should be solid. Kiwi’s presence alone will take a lot of the pressure off of the inexperienced guys. Plus they have a great group of linebackers and a respectable defensive backfield behind them. I worry about them stopping the run, but we don’t face that many running teams. If any of the unknowns steps up, this could be the best BC defense of all time. More likely, they'll all play okay and Kiwi will get manhandled and the linebackers will carry the team.