We continue our position preview today by turning our attention to the defensive line.
The Flames lose the production of Jessie Lemonier, Vincent Elefante, and Devin Pearson, all JUCO transfers who provided much needed depth and experience the past two years as Liberty made the jump to the FBS ranks. Lemonier started all 25 games and recorded double figure sacks in each of the past two seasons. Elefante started all 13 games in 2019 alongside Lemonier.
TreShaun Clark came in as a true freshman and immediately proved he was too valuable to keep off the field. He played in all 13 games, starting 8 games while recording 39 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks. As he moves into his sophomore season, he will be counted on to anchor one defensive end spot.
Elijah James played in all 13 games last season after joining the program as a JUCO transfer. He recorded 19 tackles as he was a key depth piece at defensive tackle. This year, he’s expected to move into a starter’s role.
Ralfs Rusins’ story is pretty remarkable. He just started playing football a few years ago, and the native of Latvia enters his redshirt-senior season as one of the defense’s best players. He started all 13 games at nose guard in 2019 where he was 4th on the team with 60 tackles while adding 6.5 TFLs and 2 sacks. He will anchor the defensive line unit in 2020.
Austin Lewis battled through injuries in 2019 to play in 12 games, recording 33 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks while he split time at one defensive end spot with TreShaun Clark. Now, Clark moves to the other side of the line to fill the void left by Lemonier’s absence, and Lewis steps up as the favorite to be the every day starter at defensive end.
Jayod Sanders enters his senior campaign as one of the most experienced members of the defensive line unit having played in 30 games during his career. In 2019, Sanders played in 11 games as a reserve defensive end, but when he was on the field he was able to get in the backfield as he recorded 5.5 TFLs and was third on the team with 4 sacks.
Henry Chibueze was one of the highest rated prospects in Liberty’s 2018 signing class, coming in as an offensive lineman. After redshirting in 2018 and not making a push up the depth chart in 2019, Chibueze switched to the defensive line towards the end of last season. Now, he will push for playing time and additional depth behind Rusins at nose tackle.
Elisha Mitchell missed all of the 2018 season due to injury, fought back last season to see playing time in 11 games. This year, he looks to provide additional depth and experience in the interior of the defensive line.
Brayden Monday was one of the top freshmen to join the program last season, and he played in the team’s first four games before being shutdown to preserve his redshirt season. This season, Monday will push Austin Lewis for starting time at defensive end.
William Green and Devonte Lloyd both joined the program late last summer as JUCO transfers and they both suffered through an injury-plagued 2019 campaign. They each had their redshirt year which they were able to use. If Green and Lloyd can remain healthy, they will provide much needed depth on the interior of the defensive line.
Micaiah Overton joined the program a year ago as a tight end and made the switch to defensive line prior to the spring. Once he gets acclimated to his new position and adds some weight, he will move to the interior of the d-line.
Zack Amerson and Mason Wolk also return to the program.
Durrell Johnson comes in as JUCO transfer after recording 41 tackles, 20 TFLs, and 8.5 sacks in 8 games played last season. His addition should help ease the loss of Lemonier and he will look to push TreShaun Clark for playing time.
Kendy Charles joins the program from Orange Park, Florida where he picked Liberty over offers from Coastal Carolina and Western Kentucky.
Karsen Perkins joined the program for the spring from Concord, North Carolina. He is the 4th highest rated recruit in school history and 3rd highest for the 2020 class. At 6’4″, 250 pounds, Perkins is the body type the Flames’ coaching staff is looking for at defensive end in the FBS era.
Aakil Washington and Rashad Whitehead are two more newcomers that are expected to join in the summer. Both are three-star rated prospects and show a tremendous amount of upside.
It’s amazing how different this unit looks from just a couple years ago. Thanks to a heavy infusion of talent and scholarship numbers, the defensive line group is inching towards a solid three deep and that’s before all the true freshmen arrive this fall.
Thanks to the depth the coaching staff has been able to develop in a short period of time, none of the talented group of true freshmen will be forced to play immediately, but can instead spend a year getting acclimated to the program. Of course, one or more of them could come in like TreShaun Clark did a year ago and be too good to keep off the field.