ASU State spring football ends:
Defensive line should be
improved in 2008
By Steve Behr
Appalachian State defensive line coach Mark Speir felt the heat of an inexperienced defensive line last year.
Though the Mountaineers went on to win their third straight national championship, they also struggled when it came to stopping the run. Much of the problem stemmed along a defensive line that was one of the youngest in recent memory, at least for Appalachian State.
What a difference a year makes.
Suddenly a weakness in the defense has the potential to be a strength. Even with the departure of defensive end Tim Washington, the Mountaineers return a defensive line that is deeper and a year older and wiser.
“Everybody last year, except for Gary Tharrington, were first-year players,” Speir said. “They were all guys that hadn’t played a down. They may have played some mop-up, but they had never been the (starters).”
Just one year before, Appalachian State had All-American defensive end Marques Murrell and solid defensive tackles in Omarr Byrom and Daniel Orlebar, who all made running the ball against ASU difficult.
One year later, after all three had graduated, the Mountaineers often had to start young players such as freshmen Bobby Bozzo, Jabari Fletcher, and sophomores Daniel Finnerty and Tony Robertson along the defensive line.
All were first-year starters. Even moving Tharrington and Washington to defensive tackle did not completely stop the Mountaineers’ woes up front.
“We struggled in the middle with our tackles,” Speir said. “We got no production from our tackles. We tried putting in Tharrington and Tim Washington, but we still struggled.”
However, it has taken one year to replace those problems with optimism.
It helps to get new blood into the picture.
Defensive end Quavian Lewis (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), a transfer from Vanderbilt, and defensive tackle, Malcolm Bennett (6-2, 255), a transfer from Georgia Military College, had excellent spring workouts, according to Speir.
Redshirt freshman Gordy Witte, a 6-5, 285-pound defensive tackle, also had a good spring. The three will give the Mountaineers some badly needed depth once the fall season begins.
“(Bennett) has made us a better football team,” Speir said. “He’s strong. He’s one of those who is going to be a big-time player. I think he’ll dominate.”
That line includes Tharrington, who sat out contact over the spring to allow numerous injuries to heel.
Tharrington is an all-SoCon defensive end that had to play even though he had an injured neck, knee and shoulder.
Bennett, Witte and Lewis are all pushing for places in the starting lineup. Speir was also happy with the spring that Robertson had.
“We are so tickled that we are better in the heart of our defense,” Speir said. “Tony had a great spring, and the reason is that there are two bulldogs in the middle. And right now, Gordon Witte has had an excellent spring.”