Photo by Matt Starkey | FILE
Cleon Aloese (92) rushes the passer against Eastern Michigan in Peden Stadium on October 15th, 2016.
Tarell Basham, Casey Sayles and Kurt Laseak — all were part of an Ohio defense last season that was ranked the No. 6 rush defense in the nation.
Now, Basham, Sayles and Laseak, a trio of former defensive linemen for the Bobcats, have left Athens.
It’s time for the Bobcats to construct their next “D-Block,” a nickname the defensive line adopted last season because, like a street no one wanted to walk down, the defensive line was a unit opposing offenses approached with caution.
With three-fourths of last year’s defensive line gone, the Bobcats must find replacements. That won’t be hard, though.
Kevin Robbins, Cleon Aloese and Tony Porter played meaningful minutes last season, with none of them playing in fewer than 10 games. The trio will be part of a defensive line that isn’t being rebuilt — it’s being retooled.
It’s a plus that none of the three are underclassmen. The entire projected starting defensive line will be redshirt seniors. The Bobcats won’t have freshmen and sophomores dominate their starting defensive line.
While Basham, Sayles and Laseak combined for a total of 18.5 sacks — 10.5 of those were Basham’s — Robbins, Aloese and Porter combined for 6.5. The Bobcats are going to miss the former group’s production.
The defensive line was perhaps the best unit on the team last season, and it will be a challenge for the new line to match the old one’s production. Before last season, the last time the Bobcats had a top-20 ranked rush defense was in 2010, when they ranked 20th.
The Bobcats will continue to prosper through their experience, even after coming off a more than excellent year. With the starting defensive line earning valuable minutes last season, the first string will be set. Add in Trent Smart, a redshirt senior defensive end, and the first string will be fine.
Rather, it’s the Bobcats’ depth at defensive line that has the potential to be an issue. After the experienced four mentioned above, the Bobcats are mostly composed of freshmen and sophomores on the bench.
Chukwudi Chukwu, Andrew Cree II, Keith Key and Kyle Kuhar are just some players who will likely see more playing time this season. Of the four, Chukwu is the only one who has game experience, playing in seven games last season. Cree redshirted last season, Key struggled with injuries and Kuhar didn’t play last season.
With the season weeks away, the defensive line’s upperclassmen will need to establish a culture in which the unit is still viewed as one of the team’s best.
The “D-Block” — the line opposing offenses couldn’t handle last year — will need to have the same presence on the field this year.