Freshman Orientation: Defensive Line

Jarrod Clements - 247Sports.com

We move to the defensive side of the ball and take a look at the new defensive linemen in the 2013 class.

Your defensive line is literally your first line of defense on a football field, and in 2013 the Illinois defensive line left a lot to be desired. A unit that had 41 sacks and 103 tackles for a loss in 2011 had only 22 sacks and 66 tackles for a loss in 2012.

That drop alone explains the overall lack of quality on defense last season. So it's no surprise that the Illini added as many defensive linemen as possible in this class, and while we've already taken a look at Paul James, here are the goods on the rest of the guys in this class.

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Name: Jarrod Clements
Hometown: Dayton, Ohio
Position: Defensive End
Height: 6'3
Weight: 275
Stars: Rivals 3, 247Sports 3, ESPN 3

The one they call "Chunky" is listed as a defensive end, but played both inside and outside on the defensive line in high school. Given his size already, I can't help but think Clements projects as more of a defensive tackle in college should he continue putting on weight. And he could prove to be pretty disruptive there, as he's quick off the ball and has good footwork. I get a bit of a Corey Liuget feel watching him.

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Name: Dawuane Smoot
Hometown: Groveport, Ohio
Position: Defensive End
Height: 6'3
Weight: 230
Stars: Rivals 3, 247Sports 2, ESPN 3

The word I think when I see Smoot is quick, and at only 230 pounds he has to be. From what I can see in the video on plays when Dawuane is actually being blocked he's using his speed to get by the blocker. That will work occasionally against a Big Ten offensive tackle, but Smoot will need more moves than that to be a consistent pass-rusher in college. So I'd like to see him get stronger. I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up moving to linebacker at some point, either.

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Name: Bryce Douglas
Hometown: Plainfield, IL
Position: Defensive Tackle
Height: 6'2
Weight: 330
Stars: Rivals 3, 247Sports 2, ESPN 3

Immediately becomes Primiano's favorite player because they went to the same high school. Is a big boy, as he's already 330 pounds and that's big enough to play tackle in the Big Ten. Watching the tape I'm not sure Bryce has what it takes to become a disruptive force in the backfield, but he's definitely big enough and strong enough to become an effective run-stuffing tackle for this defense.

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Name: Abe Cajuste
Hometown: Miami, FL
Position: Defensive Tackle
Height: 6'3
Weight: 290
Stars: Rivals 3, 247Sports 3, ESPN 3

The lone juco transfer on the defensive line, Cajuste has two years of eligibility remaining and the plan is to have him step right in and take over for Akeem Spence. I wouldn't expect Cajuste to be a star on the line, but he's definitely going to be an above average player. He's big and he's quick, and will cause problems. He's not much of a disruptive force and I wouldn't expect a ton of tackles for loss, but he'll be very good against the run.

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Name: Merrick Jackson
Hometown: Cahokia, IL
Position: Defensive Tackle
Height: 6'2
Weight: 320
Stars: Rivals 3, 247Sports 3, ESPN 3

Now this is a player that I'm going to be keeping my eye on because there's a lot of potential here. Merrick is a load for offensive linemen to handle and can be a very disruptive force. However, at the moment it looks like most of the weight he carries is fat guy strength more than muscle. I don't think he'll see the field much if at all this season, but after a year or two of a strength and conditioning program this is a kid that could be special if he puts the work in.

Follow The Champaign Room on Twitter at @Champaign_Room. You can follow Tom Fornelli on Twitter at @TomFornelli.

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