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2012 Position Preview: Defensive Line

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We wrapped up our preview of the offense last week. Now we are taking a look at the the defense who is under new leadership this year. Chris Tormey is the new DC and now has Derrick LeBlanc coaching the defensive line. This unit gave up 232 rushing yards a game in 2011. That number will need to shrink if the Cowboys look to contend in the Mountain West this year.

Who's Gone:

DE Josh Biezuns - Graduated

DE Gabe Knapton - Graduated

DT Ben Durbin - Transferred to Iowa State

Who's New:

DT Chase Appleby - HS

DE Justin Bernthaler - JC

DT Sam Hardy - HS

DT Uso Olive - HS

DL - Austin Tixier - HS

Depth Chart:

Left DE: Miraldo Michel Backup: Jeff Rouche

Left DT: Mike Purcell Backup: B.J. Sumter

Right DT: Kurt Taufa'asua Backup: Patrick Mertens

Right DE: Sonny Puletasi Backup: Eddie Yarbrough

This group loses two fan favorites in Gabe Knapton and Josh Biezuns. Now the Cowboys will be looking for a fresh face to step-up and fill those bookend spots on the defensive line. There is plenty of depth returning in the middle. In fact there was so much depth they moved Ben Durbin from tackle to left defensive end, he was named the starter after spring practices. Unfortunately Durbin decided that he wanted to use his senior year to fulfill a life long dream of being third on the depth chart for Iowa State.


Last year Miraldo Michel (6-3 265) dealt with a lingering injury and family issues. That meant he only played in one game and burned up a year of eligibility. Now he is a senior and has to make the most out of these next four months. He gained the most from Durbin transfer. He was rated three stars by Rivals coming out Ellsworth CC.

Jeff Rouche is trying to make the same kind of move that Gabe Knapton did as a junior. After spending two years at linebacker he is now moving to defensive end. Last year Rouche appeared in four games and recorded two tackles. At 6-3 234 he is one of the smallest players on the line.


Mike Purcell (6-3 303) has been solid the last two years at defensive tackle but never got the same fanfare as Knapton or Biezuns. Now a senior, he is the leader of this group and is considered one of the best tackles in the Mountain West. Last year he had 48 tackles and two sacks. Last year he missed one full game and parts of two others due to injury. He will need to stay healthy to anchor the line.

After bouncing around B.J. Sumter has landed back at his original spot at defensive tackle. In 2011 he was moved to offensive line for the first half of the year but never progressed past third on the depth chart. He appeared in eight games last year and recorded five tackles. A juco transfer Sumter spent the 2010 season as a redshirt to increase his conditioning and also shed a few pounds. Standing 6-1 he has slimmed down to a more manageable 305. He also serves an important role as the team barber.


The other senior in the middle is Kurt Taufa'asu who is 6-2 and 284lbs. He has had a great fall camp and Coach Christensen thinks that he and Purcell are among the best duo in the Mountain West. Last season Kurt appeared in twelve games and started three of those. Last year he tallied 27 tackles and one sack. Was part of the 2010 recruiting class and went to the same juco as Sumter. Rated three stars by Rivals I think he will have a big breakout this year. In the first scrimmage he had 1.5 sacks and blocked a field goal attempt.

A great comeback story is Patrick Merterns (6-5 300) who is healthy and ready to go. He started 12 games at tackle as a Freshmen in 2010 and was named UW's Freshmen of the Year. He totaled 39 tackles and two sacks that year. Then he developed a mystery illness that left him very weak and caused him to lose 50 pounds and burn a year of eligibility as he recovered in 2011. He participated in spring drills but was still below his normal playing weight and his endurance was gone. Now he is back up to 300 lbs and can handle all the rigors of practice. A junior right now, he would be eligible to apply for a medical redshirt after the 2013 season.


Carrying on the legacy of the #12 jersey is sophomore Sonny Puletasi (6-3 241). He was roommates with Ruben Narcisse and wears the #12 in his honor. Puletasi was a key backup last year and played in twelve games tallying eight tackles and two tackles for loss. He earned she starting spot here after a strong spring, but he will be defending that spot all fall.

The highest rated defensive player in the 2011 signing class was DE Eddie Yarbrough (6-3 253). Last year the staff said that Eddie has an "All-American" ceiling but had the luxury of redshirting him thanks to group of seniors playing end. Now he has his chance to play and will be gunning for the starting spot that Puletasi owns.

Another veteran to look out for is junior Mark Willis. He missed spring drills after recovering from surgery and is still working his way back at this time. Willis has a nice frame at 6-4 225lbs, he appeared in nine games last year and totaled 14 tackles. As a redshirt freshmen he played in six games. Willis will always be a sentimental favorite of mine. We attended the same high school, though I don't know him and I'm also much older. When he signed with the Cowboys in 2009 it certainly piqued my interest in starting up this blog as well.


With two seniors lost last year and three more set to finish this year, there is going to be plenty of turnover on the d-line in these two years. Luckily the coaching staff anticipated this and had a bumper crop of linemen in the latest recruiting class.

That group of five linemen includes four high schoolers and one junior college transfer. DE Justin Bernthaler played two years at Fullerton CC in California but he is originally from Stuttgart, Germany. The number of Germans on the roster was a big boost in helping to recruit Bernthaler. He seems to have a solid shot at playing this year but just enrolled this fall. Sam Awrabi is a freshmen defensive end with a great motor. Not sure if he will be able to crack the rotation this fall but he will certainly make a big impact in his career.

Uso Olive is a super strong run stopping defensive tackle. He's 6-1 305 and it will be tough to keep him out on the bench this year. The only thing that may prevent him from playing is all the veterans that are already ahead of him. This may be a situation like Yarbrough in 2011 where they had the luxury of depth and could redshirt a talented freshmen. Chase Appleby and Sam Hardy are two other defensive tackles with nice size that will be very important in 2013. Austin Tixier was originally going to be a grayshirt and join the team in 2013. That plan changed and he is enrolled now and taking part in fall camp. He played defensive tackle in high school, if he wants to stick at that spot then he will need to add some weight since he is currently listed at 6-3 250lb.