Defensive line not concerned about lack of size

Jake Byczko, Cedric Douglas concerned with playing hard and violent

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Defensive line not concerned about lack of size

Eva Trainer

Eva Trainer

Eva Trainer

By Ben Painchaud, Collegian Staff

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Massachusetts football’s defensive line is not concerned about its lack of size and lack of production in 2018 as the unit prepares for the team’s upcoming intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday.

Jake Byczko does not believe that the defensive line’s size matters, saying after practice on Thursday that, “I think we all know our strengths,” yet also conceding that “sometimes we use [size] to our advantage.”

Compared to other FBS programs, the defensive line of UMass is underwhelming in size. According to UMass’ 2018-2019 winter roster, the heaviest defensive lineman that the Minutemen have is redshirt junior Mario Patton, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 310 pounds. For reference, Auburn’s defensive line—projected to be among the nation’s top defensive line units in 2019—has five defensive lineman weighing 300 pounds or more, according to its 2019 roster.

Eight of the Minutemen’s 14 defensive linemen—again, according to the winter roster—weigh less than 270 pounds. Increasingly, there is an emphasis on nimbleness, skill, and speed for defensive linemen.

“Aaron Donald is not the biggest dude in the world, and he’s the best in the NFL,” said new defensive line coach Cedric Douglas—so it’s not necessarily a bad thing that the Minutemen’s defensive line is relatively small.

Yet, in 2018, the UMass defensive line was not able to make up for its limited size with production. The defensive line registered a total of just four sacks in 2018, with Byczko notching 3.5 sacks while Joe Previte picked up the other .5. UMass as a whole recorded just 10 sacks on the season, tying for 128th among FBS squads in that category.

The defensive line unit recovered only two fumbles, with Byczko being responsible for both. Furthermore, UMass was 125th in rushing defense—a mark not entirely reflective of just the defensive line, to be fair—allowing 3,297 yards on the ground.

“I don’t really think a ton of people are thinking about last year,” Byczko said. “I think everyone’s thinking about the first game or getting better in spring ball and summer…we’re just trying to just focus on what we got now and getting better.”

Cedric Douglas, who was most recently a defensive graduate assistant at Arkansas State, said that the unit has “learned a lot” during spring practices.

“Guys developed at such a high level,” Douglas said. “…there’s some guys that you can see take that and run with it and help us out this fall, for sure.”

In the Minutemen’s intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday, Douglas “wants to see dudes align the right way, knowing what the calls are.” The two biggest things he wants to see are “playing as hard as we can play…and being as violent as we can be.”

Byczko echoed Douglas in terms of what he hopes to see from the unit on Saturday. “Just do your job,” he said. “Align up right, play violent and hard. That’s what we’re taught to do and that’s what we’re going to do.”

As UMass approaches its spring scrimmage and continues preparing for the 2019 season, Byczko wants fans to know that the defensive line is “going to be tough. We’re going to be violent, and we’re going to be fun to watch.”

Ben Painchaud can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Ben_Painchaud.