Raiders’ new-look defensive line strives to be a force in 2017

Photo by Sarah Grace Taylor/ Sidelines Archives

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raider defensive line was one of the position groups hit hardest by graduation this past year, losing defensive tackles Shaquille Huff, Raynard Felton and Jimal McBride, and defensive ends Steven Rhodes and Chris Hale. As a group, the five seniors combined for 15 tackles, including 25 tackles for loss and 11 sacks last season.

After the firing of former defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, defensive line coach Tommy West will have a fresh batch of players and a new scheme to help Middle’s defensive line become one of the best units on the field in 2017 under new DC Scott Shafer’s scheme.

Going into the spring, the defensive line got a huge boost with the addition of defensive end Walter Brady, who transferred to Middle Tennessee from Missouri last season.

After sitting out in 2016 due to the NCAA’s transfer rules, Brady will bring experience against some of the best offensive lines in the nation to the Blue Raiders to be a force off the edge. As a freshman in 2015, Brady led all first-year players in the nation with seven sacks, a mark that also tied for the team lead for the Tigers. Brady also came up with a fumble recovery and an interception to go along with his 40 tackles, 12.5 of which were for a loss.

Another player that should be a force off the edge for the Raiders this season is Jahmal Jones. Jones appeared in all 13 games for MT last season and had a career-high 21 tackles. After earning three starts in 2016, Jones looks to shore up the other defensive end spot at the end of Fall camp.

“JJ [Jahmal Jones] and Walter Brady have done a good job outside, and we’ve got guys behind them trying to steal their jobs,” said Shafer.

Malik Manciel will be another guy that the Blue Raiders are looking to to step up along the interior. The redshirt sophomore appeared in 12 games a season ago and tallied 14 tackles to go along with a sack and a forced fumble that he earned in a game against Florida International. Manciel may be a guy that can be used to spell Brady and Jones as a defensive end because of the speed he possesses, and he will most likely be used as the team’s “3” technique, lining up on the outside shoulder of the play-side offensive guard.

Rosheem Collins will likely play the other tackle spot and should have an immediate impact on helping Middle Tennessee improve their run defense. Collins came to the Raiders this spring as a JUCO signee from East Central Community College in Mississippi. In his two seasons at East Central, the Georgia native had 44 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Collins should be lining up as the team’s “one” technique on the inside shoulder of the weakside offensive guard and will most likely line up over top of the center in packages that have only three down linemen.

Despite so many newcomers, the players are confident in each other’s ability to pick up where the seniors left off last season.

“We lost a couple of key guys,” said Manciel. “I like Rosheem Collins, he’ll play the nose this year.  I really like him, and we’ve built good chemistry together and are getting to know each other.”

That chemistry will go a long way in determining how well this group can work together this season.

Although Manciel and Collins are building their relationship, the fact that Manciel and Brady were teammates in high school should go a long way as well. The duo played together for one season at Florence High School in Florence, Alabama, as seniors. Brady and Manciel combined for 16 sacks and a whopping 184 tackles, including a staggering 53.5 tackles for loss in their lone season together.

“[Playing with Brady] is special to me because we compete a lot,” said Manciel.  “We go at it back and forth so I know we can bring that competitive spirit out of each other. [Brady] brings a pass rush aspect to the game that is unmatched, and I like that.”

If Brady and Manciel can duplicate the type of year they had together in high school to go along with strong performances in Collins and Jones, opposing offenses may have a lot to worry about this year.

Follow MTSU sports reporter Anthony Fiorella on Twitter at @A_Fiorella74 for more coverage.

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