Of all of the famous Louisiana Tech Bulldogs that have gone on to success and stardom in the NFL, only one played on the defensive end. Hall of Famer Fred Dean. Of course, they have obviously sent defensive players on to the NFL that didn't play offense; three of them are currently on NFL rosters, all of them defensive backs (S Hiram Eugene, CB Tramon Williams and CB Jerron Wishom), but their most famous alumni of Willie Roaf, Terry Bradshaw, Luke McCown, Tim Rattay, etc. were offensive stars. On the current roster it is much the same, with transfer Taylor Bennett drawing the headlines and RB Patrick Jackson earning the accolades, leaving the defense aside. Plus, to make the 91st ranked defense even worse, two of the Bulldogs' better defensive players of a year ago, DE Chris Pugh and DT John Muse, have since graduated. However, they do return fellow All-WACers junior FS Antonio Baker and senior LB Quin Harris, who figure to lead the defense to greater heights this upcoming season, a necessity if they really are to compete for a WAC crown in 2008.
Defensive End :: As I mentioned, Pugh is moving on after a six-sack season, but the other starter, Ben McGlinton, is also on the outs. This makes the pass rush a big-time issue for the Bulldogs entering 2008, quite possibly the most severe problem on the Bulldog D. The two most talented Bulldogs with a possibility to fill the pass rush void are both incoming recruits, although JUCO transfer Kwame Jordan figures to make more of an immediate impact than freshman Eric Harper. Both were well-sought after prospects and key coups by the supposed recruiting expert, Derek Dooley, and both are players that LaTech will need to begin luring to Ruston if they are to consistently be a WAC title contender. Harper is likely the key member of the incoming freshmen class, as Dooley had to fight off Nebraska and Texas A&M, both of whom received oral commitments from Harper at one point or another, for him. I would assume both will be in the starting lineup when they play Kansas, although the Bulldogs do return four players who saw some action last year at defensive end: sophomore Mason Hitt, sophomore Randy Grigsby, junior Adrian Logan and junior Jared Parten. Still, you would have to believe talent would overrule the extra year-or-two of experience that the foursome of Hitt, Grigsby, Logan and Parten possess, although Grigsby himself is a physical freak-of-sorts. This is comforting, as a Kansas fan, to know that LaTech is losing their two best pass rushers, as we will be breaking in two brand spankin' new tackles both at LT and RT. So while both Jordan and Harper contain plenty of potential and talent to give our tackles fits, I'll take my chances.
Defensive Tackle :: While star-DT John Muse is on the outs, having signed a UDFA deal with the New York Giants the day after the NFL Draft, the Bulldogs are returning their other starting tackle, junior D'Anthony Smith. Smith was recently named to the Watch List for the 2008 Bronco Nagurski Award as the best defender in college football, a prestigous honor that he shares with fellow teammate and defensive star FS Antonio Baker. It is curious, for Smith to be named to that list, considering that he wasn't even named to the All-WAC team last season. Still, D'Anthony is obviously an extremely talented player, and one to watch out for when the Bulldogs take on the Jayhawks. The other DT position, to replace Muse, has yet to be determined, with junior Ramone Randle standing as my personal favorite to start opposite D'Anthony. Just a gut feeling, and one that took only a few minutes of google-searching to come to, but based off of last year's PT and stuff, I wouldn't be surprised to see Ramone starting at DT entering the Kansas game. Other DTs who could make an impact include senior Breon Jackson and redshirt freshman Adam Hymel.
Linebacker :: Just like DT, they are returning one star player (LBer Quin Harris) while replacing the other starting slots. Harris was a Second Team All-WAC performer last season and has a boatload of potential, but the other two starters last season (Anthony Crosby and Mark Dillard) are both graduating. However, even while Dooley claims that "none of the linebackers stodd out", it appears that two players have emerged as clear front-runners to fill the slots left open by the departed seniors. According to USA Today, two LBers were identified as 'Spring Movers'; junior Brian White, who had a monster spring game, and redshirt freshman Jay Dudley, who also had quite the spring game. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that either will automatically be penciled into the starting lineup, but you have to figure that they will be at least considered to start at the LB positions surrounding Quin Harris. Other players who figure to see some field time include seniors Brannon Jackson and Nolan Darby and sophomore Brian Henry.
Cornerback :: It seems like every position of the LaTech defense has at least one 'star' returning, with the rest of the spots open for replacements. In this case, the returning starter is senior Weldon Brown, who had 4 INTs last season. In order to replace departed starter, Tony Moss, LaTech will have to find a corner amongst a bundle of mostly-inexperienced potential replacements. The favorite to replace Moss, sophomore Josh Victorian, had a monster spring game after seeing very little field action last season. Still, Victorian's tremendous spring practice session likely earned him the starting position opposite Brown, at least for the beginning of the season.
Safety :: Unlike most other positions on the Louisiana Tech D, they are returning both starters at the safety position. Headlining the returning starters, and the LaTech defense as a whole, is junior FS Antonio Baker, who will likely be First Team All-WAC this season. Joining him is returning starting SS, junior Deon Young. Young and Baker, combined with Brown, make the secondary Tech's most experienced defensive unit by far, and it will likely be the Bulldogs' defensive strength, at least at the beginning of the year. Last year, the unit as a whole struggled, giving up a boatload of passing yards (287 a pop, although they did play Hawaii), but figures to improve this season by leaps and bounds because of the aformentioned acquisition of an extra year of experience.
As a whole, the defense, just like the offense, figures to be an improved unit in 2008. Not improved enough to get them within reach of a WAC Championship (likely), but it will likely lead them to a bowl, as long as they are presented with passable QB play from Taylor Bennett. We will wrap up LaTech tomorrow, but it is clear that they will be a pretty tough team to play; not nearly as tough as South Florida, sure, but more tough than most Kansas fans are expecting.