In the weeks since the completion of the NFL draft, I have been looking at the various offensive position groups in an effort to shed light on where the team currently stands with their personnel and to foreshadow needed moves once free agency begins. Today, I turn my attention to the defensive side of the ball, starting with defensive ends.
At left end, Robert Geathers started every game in 2010 but disappointed with only one sack. On the other side, Michael Johnson entered his second season with the team having converted him to linebacker, but he started 10 games at end, adding 2.5 sacks. He split time with Frostee Rucker, who suffered a season ending injury against Indianapolis, and Antwan Odom, who missed time due to injury and a PED suspension. Odom, who started the 2009 season with 8 sacks in 6 games before an Achilles injury ended his season, will have an uphill battle to make the team this season. The lone bring spot last season was the play of rookie Carlos Dunlap, a second round pick in 2010, as he set the club rookie sack record with 9.5 sacks last season, only a half sack behind defensive rookie of the year Ndaumkong Suh. Even more impressive is the fact that he accomplished this feat in 8 games, as he played sparingly early due to a preseason injury and a couple of weeks of not being on the active game day roster. Veteran Jonathan Fanene missed most of last season due to injury and is set to be an unrestricted free agent. James Ruffin got a late season callup from the practice squad after injuries hampered the team, while Victor Adeyanju was a late season pickup from the waiver wire.
Best case scenario: Carlos Dunlap will be counted on to continue his impressive run late in the season, and his emergence likely allowed the team to not pursue a defensive end in a draft that experts said was one of the best ever for the position. The big question mark will be who he replaces in the lineup, as Robert Geathers hasn’t come close to the 10.5 sacks he registered in 2006 and Odom may be on his way out. We have great depth at the position, with Michael Johnson emerging and Frostee Rucker finally breaking into the starting lineup. Marvin likes to rotate the D linemen, so several guys will see starter minutes.
Worst case scenario: Before the emergence of Dunlap late last season, the position was seen as underachieving and a big part of the problem. The team total of 27 sacks was well off the 2009 total of 34.
Another Possibility: Should Odom finally bounce back from his 2009 injury, he could make a push to stay on the team and add even more depth to a unit that should be pretty solid. There has been some talk of Michael Johnson moving back to linebacker, though I think he is best suited for defensive end.
Outlook: A lot of draft experts thought we needed to get a defensive end in the first few rounds of the 2011 draft, but I disagree and like the unit we have. There is a nice mix of experience and youth at the position, and Dunlap looks like he may be an emerging star. Even if the team cuts Odom, we still have a solid rotation that can put pressure on the quarterback. The emergence of Dunlap may help Geathers return to form as well. I believe this is one of our most talented position groups.