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Eastern Michigan DL: These Guys Set the Tone
The Eagles' defensive line has plenty of talent spread around this position group. They've just got to stay healthy.
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We wrapped up the positional previews for the offensive players, now it’s time to focus on the other two phases of the game: defense and special teams. EMU really depends on its defensive line to make big plays drive after drive, and the team has some strong dudes that can make a difference in the MAC West division. But staying healthy, for some players, might be an issue.
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EMU 2022 Positional Previews: Defensive Line
There are a lot of fun places to highlight around this football team, but ultimately this has been a defensive line-driven football team during the Chris Creighton era. This position group always sets the tone for the rest of the team to play up to and is the group that always has to come through with the big, late stops in games.
As EMU looked ahead to 2021, the defense was able to keep team captain Turan Rush around for his final, extra year of eligibility (44 career EMU games played, 21.5 career sacks) to hold down his defensive end spot while Jose Ramirez continued to grow into his role on the opposite end. Rush was already a full-time starter by 2019 who came to EMU in 2018 as a junior college transfer. Ramirez came to EMU via JUCO in 2019, and finally started eight games in 2021. Rush was EMU’s defensive sacks leader in the 2019 and 2020 seasons, but Ramirez passed Rush in 2021.
Ramirez was a Third Team All-MAC selection in both 2020 and 2021 seasons.
While Ramirez started the final seven games of the year, Mikey Haney earned the first five starts at their defensive end spot. Haney, though sitting out the 2022 season because of injury, played all through 2019 and 2020 with 16 starts in those years. Even when Haney spent the second-half of 2021 as a rotational player, he still had plenty of playing time and produced fairly well. Carter Stagner was another rising member of the 2018 signing class in the defensive end room, but he’s no longer with the team.
The interior defensive line had a lot of experience to show for between junior Jordan Crawford and senior Woo Scott, and 2019 signee Alex Merritt started in 10 games last year after he made 5 starts in EMU’s shortened schedule in 2020. Three true freshmen also saw the field in 2021: Carter Evans, Peyton Price, and Melvin Swindle II. By 247sports composite scores, Evans and Swindle were the two highest-rated recruits in EMU’s 2021 signing class.
DE, DeZaun Brooks 2021: 3 games, 1 tackle for loss
DT, Jordan Crawford 2021: 12 games, 20 tackles (9 solo, 0.5 TFL)
DE, Carter Evans 2021: 5 games, 4 tackles (1 solo)
DT, Tim Grant-Randall 2021: 1 game, 2 tackles (1 TFL)
DE, Aaron Hamilton 2021: 2 games, 5 tackles (1 solo, 0.5 TFL)
DE, Mikey Haney 2021: 13 games, 25 tackles (7 solo, 4 TFL, 3 sacks) 3 pass breakups, 5 QB hurries
DT, Dexter Manior 2021: 7 games, 3 tackles (1 solo)
DT, Alex Merritt 2021: 12 games, 19 tackles (4 solo, 2 TFL, 0.5 sack) 1 pass breakup, 2 QB hurries, 1 fumble recovery
DT, Peyton Price 2021: 11 games, 14 tackles (5 solo), 3 pass breakups
DE, Jose Ramirez 2021: 13 games, 63 tackles (32 solo, 12 TFL 6.5 sacks), 4 pass breakups, 10 QB hurries, 3 forced fumbles
DL Rafe Reyes 2021: 4 games, 1 tackle assist
DE Turan Rush 2021: 12 games, 37 tackles (21 solo, 6.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks), 3 pass breakups, 19 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble
DT Woo Scott 2021: 13 games, 29 tackles (14 solo, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack)
DT, Michael Smith Jr. 2021: 12 games, 28 tackles (10 solo, 2 TFL, 1.5 sacks), 1 INT, 1 QB hurry
DE, Carter Stagner: 6 games, 7 tackles (2 solo), 1 QB hurry, 1 blocked kick
DT, Melvin Swindle II: 3 games, 2 tackles (1 solo)
DE, Grant Trueman: 13 games, 20 tackles (7 solo, 1.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks), 2 QB hurries
Eastern Michigan already published its pre-camp depth chart which featured Mikah Coleman (End), Jordan Crawford (Nose), Alex Merritt (DT), and Jose Ramirez (Bull) as its starting line.
Coleman has only played in four games in his young career, but no stats otherwise. At 6’6, 245 lbs., Coleman is also probably the skinniest defensive end on the roster. Coleman’s, from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, signed with EMU in 2020. Crawford spent his first two years of college at Tyler Junior College in his home state of Texas (Houston; Pearland HS) before he transferred to EMU in 2020. He quickly became an every-game player and made four starts in 2021; Crawford has 39 career tackles for EMU (2 TFL). Merritt, from Cincinnati (Archbishop Moeller HS), has been one of the highlights of the 2019 signing class. Merritt’s made 15 starts over 22 games played in his career with 41 total tackles made, 4.5 for loss. Ramirez joined the team in 2019 as a transfer from Riverside C.C. The Florida-bred D-end (Lake Alfred, Fla.; Auburndale HS) began his college career at Arizona in 2017 before he played a year in the JUCO ranks. For the green and white, Ramirez already has 90 tackles (14.5 for loss, 8.5 sacks) and four forced fumbles to his name.
Behind the starters, EMU has Carter Evans listed as End #2, Tim Grant-Randall as Nose #2, Peyton Price as Tackle #2, Dexter Manior as Tackle #3, Grant Trueman as Bull #2, and Aaron Hamilton as Bull #3.
Evans (Crystal Lake, Ill.; Prairie Ridge HS) is the younger brother of starting running back Samson Evans, and was the second-highest ranked recruit in EMU’s 2021 signing class. Evans played in four games last year and recorded four tackles. Tim-Grant Randall (Conroe, Texas; Oak Ridge HS) came to EMU last year from Blinn C.C. where he spent the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Price signed with EMU in 2021 and had a huge, breakout season as a true freshman. The Lafayette, Ind. native (Jefferson HS) had unique ties to EMU’s defensive coordinator coming in. Brian Price, Peyton’s older brother, played for DC Neal Neathery when they were both at UTSA. The older brother has also recorded 20 tackles in the NFL. Manior (Rincon, Ga.; Rockdale County HS) was with Navy in 2019, then later joined EMU during the winter of 2021. Trueman’s the most-experienced backup D-lineman with 22 career games played for EMU, and that’s after he played 21 games for Citrus College over the 2017 and 2018 seasons. For Eastern, Trueman (Chino Hills, Calif.; Chino Hills HS) has made 26 career tackles (2.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks). Hamilton (Alpharetta, Ga.; Johns Creek HS) has had injuries that sidelined him much of the last two years, but has appeared in a total of eight games and recorded 14 tackles (2 solo, 0.5 TFL) since signing with EMU in 2019.
Jaavon Brown is an incoming recruit from the Northeast (New Haven, Conn.; Hillhouse HS) after he played for FCS-level Central Connecticut State in 2019 and the last two years at Independence C.C. Listed at 345 lbs, Brown is the heaviest player on Eastern’s roster this year. Sterling Miles transferred in this offseason after spending his first two seasons with Cincinnati. Miles is from West Bloomfield, Mich. (West Bloomfield HS). Joseph Zelinsky (Cressona, Pa.; Blue Mountain HS) joined the team this year after his first two years spent at Hudson Valley C.C.
Maliek Bogard (Beggs, Okla.; Beggs HS) is an incoming freshman and EMU’s top-rated recruit in the 2022 cycle.
DT Melvin Swindle II (Oklahoma City, Okla.; Hertiage Hall HS) was EMU’s top-rated signee of the 2021 signing class, and is EMU’s second-highest rated signee in program history, says 247sports composite rankings. DE Jaden Gaines (Alpharetta, Ga.; Chattahoochee HS) was the #4 ranked recruit from EMU’s 2021 signing class, and had limited playing time on special teams as a true freshman.
Adrian Gonzalez joined EMU last year. Gonzalez, from Mexico, played his first collegiate years for Borrego Salvajes Monterrey, which represents the city’s technical institute (ITESM) and was the team’s rookie of the year for the national championship-winning team. Carter Gilbert joined the team last year as an in-state walk-on (Oxford; Oxford HS).
Zackariah Kadri switched over to defense after he played in 10 games for EMU as an O-lineman. Kadri (Lynnwood, Wash.; Mountlake Terrace HS) transferred to EMU from Reedley College in 2019 after two seasons with the JUCO squad.
Mikey Haney (Maumee, Ohio; Maumee HS) is a returning, three-year starter for the defensive line (33 career games, 29 starts) that has made 87 tackles (7 TFL, 5 sacks), 4 pass breakups and 5 QB hurries. Unfortunately, Haney suffered a season-ending injury during the team’s spring game earlier this year.
Missing a starting defensive end and his potential backup, both to enter their fifth years with the program, is an obvious blow to this team. While Eastern could have dipped its hand into the transfer portal for an immediate answer here, the school decided to instead bank on its youth to come through. If any of the young guys can prove that they’re capable of filling in, then they’ll stay on the field. Right now, I’d expect this defensive end position to be somewhat of a revolving door until somebody proves otherwise.
At the other three spots: EMU certainly has the talent to keep its team in the running for a MAC title. Ramirez is an incredibly talented D-end, and he’s primed to finish his college career on a high note. The three freshmen that got to play some interior D-line last year have really stood out on this defense so far, which is saying something.
While talent isn’t something I’m personally worried about with this group, health is. Merritt had some trouble staying healthy last year, and Crawford has some durability issues as well. As far as I can tell, Hamilton has yet to hit the practice field this year as well. Football’s a nasty game where injuries are guaranteed to happen, but this is a position that’s already feeling the effects of losing one, talented starter for the year, this team doesn’t need to make it into a party.
But like I said before. This isn’t a defensive line that lacks talent. That isn’t even an issue.
Up next for the EMU 2022 Positional Preview series: Linebackers + special teams.
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