Returning to anchor the line are Chima Uzowihe and JaRon Greene. This combo, who started all 14 games, combined for 71 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, and 11.5 sacks. The Flames will have to replace senior captain and leader Dominique Davis as well as Toby Onyechi and Dylan Bowman. Davis was the leader on the defensive line in 2014 with 61 tackles. He also had 12 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Onyechi started all 14 games and totaled 49 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and a team-high 9.5 sacks.
Gerald Holt, Nolan Spicer, and Erwin Dessources have all seen playing time over the past 2 seasons and are the early favorites to fill in for Davis, Onyechi, and Bowman. Tolen Avery, who redshirted in 2014, will also vie for playing team next season.
There will be lots of holes to fill at linebacker with Nick Sigmon, Dylan Lewellyn, Andrew Jauch, and Bobby Partilla all moving on. This group started 28 games in 2014 and combined for 149 tackles.
Nick Newman, Jimmy O’Grady, and Dexter Robbins all saw considerable playing time in 2014. Newman looks to move into the role of the next star of the defense. He was 2nd on the team in tackles with 79 and also recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown in the playoffs against Villanova. Newman had supplanted Lewellyn as starter at the Will by the end of the season. When Sigmon went down to an injury in the middle of the season, O’Grady and Robbins filled in admirably for him. They will look to continue that at the Mike in 2015.
At the Sam spot, we will see someone new break onto the scene. Rising senior Miles Hunter and redshirt-freshman Lucas Irons make the most sense.
Entering the 2014 season, the cornerback spot was the biggest question mark on the defensive side of the ball. After losing Walt Aikens and Kevin Fogg to the NFL, the Flames struggled much of 2014 at keeping the other teams’ passing attacks at bay. With a year under their belt, Wesley Scott, Justin Guillory, and Tyrin Holloway should return much improved in 2015. Liberty will have to replace Kenny Scott who turned into a valuable asset as the season wore on. He finished 3rd on the team in tackles with 64 and 2nd on the team with 3 interceptions.
Jacob Hagen will end his career as one of Liberty’s best safeties. He’s been named to multiple All-American teams for the 2nd year in a row and finished 7th in the Buck Buchanan award voting which is given to the top defensive player in all of FCS. Hagen led the team with 108 tackles, 22 pass breakups, 8 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles.
Gary Sampson came into his own starting alongside Hagen in 2014. The sophomore finished the year with 51 tackles and 2 interceptions. In 2015, he will be counted to be one of the leaders of the defense. A.J. James and Alpha Jalloh both played important roles this past season. In 2015, one of them will have to step into a starting role. James impressed in his true freshman season as he showed great promise and athletic ability going forward. Charles Williams and Cameron Jackson will also fight for playing time next season.
With the offense and special teams returning in full gear, the defense will have the most question marks entering 2015. The Flames return just 5 starters, but have plenty of young talent ready to step into leadership roles. With Uzowihe and Greene returning upfront, the defensive line should be expected to continue to wreak havoc in opponents’ backfields. Newman, O’Grady, and Robbins provide a solid nucleus at linebacker where just one other starter needs to assert himself. How good the 2015 version of Liberty’s defense is likely rests with the secondary again. Will the young corners take that next step needed? Will the safeties be able to replace Hagen’s leadership? These answers may be all that’s standing between the Flames and a return trip to the FCS playoffs in 2015.