With the start of the 2021 prep football season now just a month away, Chattanooga area programs are hitting the stretch run of the preseason camp circuit.
By now coaches have a great idea of what their team's strengths and weaknesses are — and so do we. This week sports editor Stephen Hargis and staff writer Lindsey Young will analyze some of the most notable positional groups in the area and what makes them stand out.
Today's featured group is the defensive line. Nothing can set the tone of a big game like a dominant defensive front, whether it be made up of three, four or five players. A weak front can cause breakdowns in other areas and with today's fast-paced offensive attacks able to reel off plays in bunches, a lack of depth can prove fatal to a defense.
The following groups are seemingly set for the challenge:
There are unknowns at certain positions for the Red Raiders — who are expected to be among the best in Division II-AAA — but the defensive front is not one of those questions. That's because one returning starter and a pair of talented transfers are expected to solidify the line.
Junior Marceo Collins (6-2, 255) was a starter last season and already has a scholarship offer from Arkansas State. Senior Bridger Knee (6-2, 250), an Army commitment, transferred in after helping his previous school — Bowling Green High — claim a Kentucky state title last season and junior Tony Boggs (6-2, 260) also transferred in from Cascade, a middle Tennessee program.
"We feel pretty good about what those guys can bring for us," Baylor coach Phil Massey said. "We'll need to develop some depth behind them, but that's a pretty good group up front."
The Lions are blessed with talent across the board, but no single group could impact the team's hopes for a deep playoff run in Class A private than a front four that could become a dominant unit.
The unit, coached by Doug Davis, should get plenty of pressure off the edges with ends Caden Mathis and Daniel Geil. Mathis (6-4, 240) is a three-year starter who is equally adept at stopping the run and getting after quarterbacks. Geil (6-3, 210) was one of the standouts during spring drills and, according to head coach Jay Poag, "He has a huge motor and will be a force on the edge this year."
What should make those ends even more dangerous is the likelihood of facing single blocks due to the presence of tackles T.K. Blansit and Evan Lovain. Blansit, a junior, checks in at 6-5, 385, while senior Lovain adds another 285 pounds inside. Teams looking to run the ball inside against the Lions should find it difficult.
The two-time defending Division II-AAA state champions will likely rely on its front seven early while a young group of defensive backs and offensive weapons adjust to varsity competition.
Two starters that missed the playoff run due to injuries are back and healthy once again. That includes senior nose guard James Howard (5-11, 270), who is a nightmare to block. One of the nation's top prep wrestlers, he creates havoc in opponent's backfields with his quickness, strength and understanding of leverage.
Also back from a season-ending injury last year is defensive end Thomas Pilon (6-2, 260) as well as fellow senior end Matthew Plunkett (6-4, 205), both of whom have starting experience, along with junior Jay Williams (6-2, 230)
"Plunkett was kind of a surprise last year but we know what he's capable of now," Blue Tornado coach Ralph Potter said. "He and Pilon are very physical. Howard is just so tough to manage inside, he really can disrupt things pretty well for us. All of those guys have played a lot of quality snaps and are great competitors."
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.