Editor's Note: This is the fifth installment of an eight-part series produced by the FSU Athletics Communications Office looking at different position groups as the Bulldogs prepare for their 2010 season opener on Friday, Sept. 3, at Hillsdale.
Big Rapids, Mich. - A defense is often only as good as its defensive line.
While the Ferris State University coaching staff believes they have a talented group of linebackers led by senior standout Matt Ryan (Howell) and the opportunity to field a strong secondary keyed by the return of senior safety Chad Wilson (Howell), the Bulldogs will need improved play up front in order to win more of the battles in the trenches this season.
Fortunately, the Bulldogs' front four in their traditional 4-3 scheme should be an established bunch guided by defensive line coach and former Bulldog standout Whitney Bell.
Two full-time starters are back along the defensive line in senior tackle Jacob Moreno (Holt) and sophomore defensive end Jordan Morgan (Chicago, Ill./Mt. Carmel). Both claimed All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Honorable Mention accolades following productive seasons in 2009.
"We're relatively young, but certainly athletic up front and have three or four kids who really move well for their positions," said FSU Defensive Coordinator Duane Wilson. "Hopefully, we'll continue to improve as time goes along and be anchored by the leadership of Moreno."
The 6-2, 281-pound Moreno played in nine games last fall and was tabbed as FSU's Most Valuable Defensive Lineman. He totaled 49 stops with 20 unassisted tackles and also had 6.5 tackles for loss. Moreno is projected to start at one of the interior tackle positions for the third consecutive season as he made six starts in 2008 and eight in '09.
"He'll provide excellent leadership up front and is a potential all-league caliber player," Wilson said. "He's coming off a good junior campaign and is a veteran player with high potential."
Morgan made the most of his initial season following a redshirt year with a team-high four quarterback sacks last season from his defensive end position. He placed fourth among the team's leaders with 60 total tackles, including 24 solo stops. The 6-4, 252-pounder added six tackles for loss and recovered a team-best three fumbles along with a blocked kick.
"Jordan had an excellent freshman year and really has a promising future," said Wilson. "He's an athletic and fast lineman who continues to grow and should be a big contributor in our defensive scheme."
A third player is also back with starting experience in junior defensive tackle Muneer Bawayeh (Dearborn/Fordson), who appeared in nine games and made two starts last fall. A 6-4, 270-pound player with great size and speed for his position, Bawayeh tallied 36 tackles with 13 solo stops in 2009. He's a two-time GLIAC All-Academic Team honoree and will likely start next to Moreno on the inside.
"He's another player who moves well for his size and could be an all-league type of player down the road," Wilson said. "Muneer's struggled with injuries at times, but continues to develop and should play a key role."
Morgan most likely may be flanked on the opposite side by sophomore Brad Iskow (Bad Axe) at the other end spot. An athletic lineman with the ability to play either on the inside or the outside, Iskow was somewhat of a surprise last fall after a redshirt season. He played in nine contests and totaled 22 tackles with 16 unassisted hits and also came up with 2.5 sacks for a loss of 18 yards while adding a quarterback hurry, forced fumble and blocked kick.
Behind those four individuals, however, the Bulldogs won't have a lot of experience on the roster as no other defensive linemen have seen game action along the line to this point in their careers.
On the inside, sophomore Rance Mask (Lansing/Everett), a promising youngster, figures to contend for time and help provide depth. He redshirted in 2008, but did not appear on the field last fall. The other interior relief role could possibly go to newcomer David Gifford (Gaylord), who did not play a year ago following a successful prep career.
The two backup outside spots may be filled by a pair of redshirt freshmen in Florida native Brandon Ross (Port Charlotte, Fla./Charlotte) along with William Mazur (Comstock Park). Mazur earned a lot of repetitions in the spring due to the lack of depth and has a bright future in the program, according to Wilson. The 6-2, 252-pound Ross is coming off a solid redshirt year and is competing for a significant role.
FSU also moved sophomore safety Cody Groulx (Montrose/Hill McCloy) from the secondary to the defensive end position during fall camp. He played in 10 games and made two starts at safety in 2009, but the Bulldogs believe he has the ability to grow and become a solid end before it is all said and done.
The Bulldogs added some promising young recruits along the defensive line in the offseason and have a number of other players who could eventually see time up front if healthy including sophomore Dean Roberts (Grass Lake/Chelsea) and a number of freshmen such as Garrett Woods (Ceresco/Marshall), Jacob Baldino (DeWitt), Jeffrey Dean (Clarkston), Michael Grimm (Macomb Township/Warren De La Salle), Michael Perdue (Jackson), Capus Robinson (Mt. Morris/Flint Kearsley), Justin Williams (Pontiac/Central) and Briar Keen (Essexville/Garber) among others.
"The good news is we really had several young kids on the defensive side get some quality playing time last year because of injuries and hopefully they'll be much improved this year with that added experience," said Wilson.
Next Installment: The "Countdown To Kickoff" series will resume on Wednesday (Sept. 1) with a look at the linebackers.