Six defensive linemen from last year’s UAB roster are no longer with the team.
One of them – Alex Wright – was a third-round NFL draft choice. Tyree Turner was an all-conference selection. Antonio Moultrie is a Miami Hurricane. All six played a big role.
Yet, UAB defensive line coach Kyle Tatum said his group is not starting from scratch.
“I’d like to think we’re just reloading, man, we’re never trying to rebuild,” Tatum said.
Dig a little deeper and it’s easy to see what he’s talking about. On the interior, Fish McWilliams has played in 39 college football games. Isaiah Forte and Kevin Penn have been successful when healthy, and Michael Fairbanks is one of the most versatile players up front. Mix in JUCO transfer newcomers Tyrique Howard (6-foot-6, 348 pounds), Joker Gill (6-foot-5, 275 pounds) and Drew Tuazama (6-foot-5, 255 pounds), as well as young players like Montaj Cook and Devin Manigault, and the concern about depth seems to be melting away in the August heat.
“The biggest thing is the new guys and getting them sharpened up in the Blazer way and how we do things and the different techniques we play,” Tatum said. “This training camp has been all about eyes, hands and feet, playing the right technique and doing it the right way. I think we’re all bought in on the same page, doing everything exactly how we want it to be done.”
Tatum said the depth chart changes daily, which means the separation between the starters and reserves has narrowed.
“We do have a lot of depth,” Tatum said. “But, we have some undeveloped depth that we have to develop. You look to Fairbanks and McWilliams and Forte and Penn, those guys are very trustworthy because they’ve been in the heat of the battle. Right now, they’re kind of ahead of everybody. But, I tell you what, Tyrique Howard had a phenomenal day today. He’s 348 pounds and a lot like Anthony Rush, the guy we’ve got starting for the Falcons.”
The tone changes today when the Blazers hold their first practice in full pads.
“These practices coming up, they’re critical,” Tatum said. “They’re starting to understand how hands and feet and pad level. It’s just making that push to be more consistent, doing it and then we’re going to have great depth. That’s what it’s supposed to look like.”
Fairbanks is poised take a larger role in his fifth season in the program.
“Looking back, I was always in almost in a shadow role,” said the 6-foot-3, 265-pound Fairbanks. “I was still playing a good bit and doing what I can to help the team. Now, being in the position I’m in, I’m able to lead more by example and help the younger guys out.”
For Tatum, one of his biggest tasks is finding out the role for each player.
“We have different personnel we like to go to, where it’s not about taking a guy off the field because he has weaknesses, it’s all about finding his strengths and putting him in the right position,” Tatum said.
He uses Nikia Eason as an example. At 6-foot-4, 220-pounds and playing on the edge, he is not necessarily an every-down player. However, in obvious passing downs he can play a critical role.
“We’re going to get him in there because you can’t block him off the edge,” Tatum said. “We’re going to find the right match for the player’s strength. My guys in the interior, base downs, we’re going to have our run guys in there. It’s all about bringing the right guys together and putting the right guys in the right situation. The more packages we have, the more we [have] guys locked in.”
Perhaps Fairbanks biggest strength is his versatility. He can line up inside. He can line at the Jack or Sam linebacker spots. He can stand up or put his hand on the ground. He produces wherever he lines up.
“It’s huge,” Tatum said of that type of versatility. “In our defense, we’re so multiple, so sometimes we don’t want to change personnel because of tempo and stuff. We keep the guys on the field because we trust they can play inside, they can play outside. Drew Tuazama can play inside, can play outside. Jalen Mayala is coming on. Those guys are kind of hybrid guys, which we need.”
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