This group is the unit that most needs to improve for the program this season. Pat Narduzzi's defense can only do so well without a pass rush and if he, defensive coordinator Josh Conklin, and defensive line coach Tom Sims can fashion a pass rush out of this group then they've done something special.
The pet project for the entire line may be 6'4" 240 pound sophomore Rori Blair. In most years Blair would have been redshirted last season but instead he was forced into action. He was sometimes overmatched but he also led the team with 5 sacks. That's an encouraging sign considering he was an undersized freshman reserve. With just one consistent pass rusher on the line, everybody else on the line then becomes significantly better. Blair may have the best chance to be that player because of his pass rushing success last year, and because he has good quickness coming off the edge.
Returning starter Shakir Soto, a 6'3" 270 pound redshirt junior, struggled mightily all last season and to be blunt he was not productive at all. To say that he needs to be much better is an understatement. Pushing both will be upperclassmen Ejuan Price and Allen Edwards. Price, a 6'0" 255 pound redshirt senior, has talent but he's been snake bit in his career with injuries. If he can recover from his most recent season ending injury then it would be a huge help for the defense. Edwards is a 6'4" 235 pound junior college transfer. The junior is well built and athletic, and the hope is that he can be a contributor immediately.
Two redshirt freshmen are also trying to get into the mix. Hez Trahan is a solid 6'4" and 260 pounds, but may lack the explosion to be a big time pass rusher. His size, however, could help him on the strong side. It's not out of the question that he moves inside to tackle eventually. Shane Roy also has added some good size during his redshirt year and is now 6'4" and 250 pounds.
Things look more promising at tackle though somebody needs to step up to at least be better than average. Both starters return in 6'0" 310 pound redshirt senior Khaynin Mosley-Smith and 6'2" 275 pound redshirt senior Darryl Render. Both were solid, if unspectacular. Massive junior Tyrique Jarrett is 6'4" 335 pounds, and he backed up Mosley-Smith last year. Obviously a player that big has the potential to be a force, especially when they have good feet like Jarrett does, but so far he hasn't done much in his career. Backing up Render last season was 6'3" 280 pound redshirt sophomore Justin Moody, and he has a lot of potential. He will push Render this season.
Three more younger players will try to crack that foursome. Redshirt sophomore Jeremiah Taleni, 6'2" 295 pounds, played some at the end of the year and showed a few flashes. Redshirt freshmen Connor Dintino, 6'3" 295, and Mike Herndon, 6'4" 320", are intriguing talents that could be factors in future years.
Bottom line: This was a weak unit last season and not much talent was added. The best case scenario this year is that Narduzzi, Conklin, and Sims use their expertise to improve this group. That's not as impossible as some may think. Sometimes when you're working on a puzzle, you can't figure it out, then someone with fresh eyes walks in and sees it immediately. That may happen here. But, as of right now, it's a pretty average bunch until proven otherwise.