At this point I left off sophomore Tyree Young, 6-1 275. He was considered our best defensive lineman before he suffered a broken ankle last season. He would definitely push for a starting job at NT if he makes it back. There was also talk of Tyree moving to LB. If he does, he could push for a starting job at strong side linebacker or possibly could back up Lewis Moore in the middle. We return our entire two-deep at the NT and DT positions. Redshirt sophomore Troy Banner, 6-3 295, is coming off a redshirt year and should push for playing time also.
The Panthers return three out of four of last season's two-deep at DE and need to replace starter Brian Guzek, who was a playmaker at his DE position. Of the backups, Thomas Smith played the most and should step into the starting role opposite Claude Harriott. Kevin Harris and Andy Alleman both saw playing time last season and should be solid backups.
Linebacker is totally up in the air right now. It's anyone's guess at this point. Lewis Moore is the only returning starter. He asked to be moved from strongside linebacker to the middle, and will man Hayes' position this year. Replacing future pro Gerald Hayes won't be easy, but the talented Moore should soften the loss. Backing up Moore in the middle will either be Joe Dipre or Azzie Beagnyam at this point. Two talented incoming freshmen in H.B. Blades and Clint Session will also compete for the backup position in the middle.
Strongside linebacker is the biggest question mark for the defense at this point, with last year's starter (Moore) moving inside and his backup last season having left the team. Beagnyam and Dipre should battle for this starting position in the spring. Whoever doesn't end up starting will back up at middle linebacker until the talented incoming freshman class comes in.
Blades, Session, and Thomas will all compete for starting and backup positions come fall. I see Session as mainly a middle linebacker with Blades and Thomas being able to play the middle or strongside positions. On the two-deep, I listed Blades as the backup strongside linebacker for now, mainly because in the past we have always put a physical young linebacker at strong side first and then moved him into the middle after he got experience. We did that with Hayes and Moore.
Depending on how McKillop has recovered from his ankle injury, he could very well win a starting or backup position in our two-deep. I believe he is just as talented as Blades, Session, and Thomas. Out of our five talented incoming linebacker recruits, Blades, Session, Thomas, McKillop, and Clermond, I think that at least two will play as true freshmen. Clermond is the only one that I think we will redshirt for sure, and it wouldn't surprise me if any of the other four would play.
The safety position is mostly set. The Panthers return both starters in Gilliard and Morris. Humphies is a former starter at free safety and will also push for playing time. Redshirt freshman Sam Bryant, 6-0 205, has caught the coaches eyes' and will look to break into the two-deep at safety this season. Sophomore Darren McCray will also push for playing time.
Cornerback is unsettled at this point and hopefully spring drills will answer a lot of questions. Shawntae Spencer has started on and off for three years and will man one position. Sophomore Josh Lay should start at the other position. Former starter William Ferguson has been moved back to defense and he will most likely play corner to help with our lack of depth. Also looking to break into the two-deep are two redshirt freshmen in Reggie Carter and Larry Moore. Marcus Furman has recently been moved to cornerback and with his speed and quickness, he has a great chance to push for playing time.
The defense returns 7 starters and has a chance to be very good once again if questions at linebacker and cornerback can be answered.