Spring Preview: Defensive Line
The weather has gone from spring back to winter like conditions but practice on the Southside is just heating up.
Next up for preview: Defensive Line
The Blazers have 10 defensive lineman listed on the roster. Six have played in at least one game for the green and gold. There are three Seniors, three Juniors, and four Freshmen. The tallest among these players is Jae'vien "Joker" Gill standing at 6'5". The farthest from home is Matthew Craig and Trevon McClain who both hail from Jacksonville, Florida. The closest to home is Montaj Cook from Alabaster, Alabama. Let's dig into the front line of the Blazer defense.
#44 Isaiah Forte - 6'3" 300lbs - Redshirt Senior
Isaiah Forte is one of the 3 seniors the Blazers have coming back. Forte has played in 9 games as a Blazer recording 7 tackles and a quarterback hurry. Isaiah had a long list of offers and preferred walk on opportunities out of Carver High School in Montgomery, Alabama. He chose the JUCO route spending 2018 at Northeast Mississippi CC where he recorded 14 tackles. Isaiah, just like most of our lineman, is a big run stopper. That is of course a staple in a David Reeves defense. He will most likely draw a lot of double teams freeing up the linebackers to make plays. There should be extremely high expectations for . He has been on the Southside for two years now. Look for him in the starting rotation.
#99 Fish McWilliams - 6'0" 315lbs - Redshirt Senior
One of the best names on the team makes his return to the Blazers and looks to add to his already impressive career. Fish McWilliams has appeared in 39 games as a Blazer and has 2 starts. Fish has recorded 35 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 8 tackles for loss. McWilliams, much like Forte, is a big body that will draw the double team. Expect him to be a day one starter this year. I believe the team and coaches will lean on him this season to be one of the leaders along the defensive front. Again, much like Forte, expectations will be high for the young man from Pensacola, Florida.
#92 Kevin Penn - 6'3" 315lbs - Redshirt Junior
Kevin Penn had two offers out of Austin High School located in Decatur, Alabama. Ole Miss and UAB. Thankfully he chose to wear the green and gold. Penn was a 3 star out of high school and has appeared in 9 games as a Blazer. In those 9 games he has recorded 9 tackles. Penn's production this season will need to take an upswing. He will be called upon to join the rotation and make plays. Kevin has had plenty of time to ready himself and I believe he will make the impact that is expected of him. Expecting a big spring and fall from him.
# 95 Jae'vien "Joker" Gill - 6'5" 270lbs - Senior
Looking to jump in and make his presence known early this spring, is JUCO transfer Jae'vien Joker Gill. Joker played JUCO ball at Mississippi Gulf Coast CC. In two years at MGCCC Joker recorded 24 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks. He held numerous offers before his commitment to UCF in 2020. He did not stay long though transferring out of Central Florida before the season started, to Southern Miss. But once again he sought the transfer portal committing to Missouri shortly after. Unfortunately for Gill Missouri pulled their offer which led to Joker ending up here on the Southside. I guess you could say it was fortunate for us. Joker has the ability to line up on the edge or line up in the middle. Gill will be a factor!
#55 Gralyn Stokes - 6'0" 285lbs - Redshirt Junior
Gralyn has appeared in 2 games and has recorded one tackle for the Blazers. The Atlanta native spent 2019 after high school at Allen University in South Carolina. He transferred to UAB in 2020. Expect him to see time at the defensive tackle spot in the rotation.
#96 Montaj Cook - 6'1" 300lbs - Redshirt Freshman
Local freshman Montaj Cook has played in 2 games as a Blazer but has not recorded a stat. In high school he was a state champion, a team captain, and nightmare for lineman and running backs. Given some time I believe he will become a contributor. Who knows, maybe he starts that this year.
#94 Devin Manigault - 6'4" 260lbs - Redshirt Freshman
Devin did not appear in a game last year for the Blazers. The St. Paul's Episcopal High School standout looks to put his stamp on the Blazer defense this year. He has played at every spot on the defensive line in high school. That diversity could lead to some early playing time with the Blazers who always try to keep a deep rotation on the line.
#97 Trevon McClain - 6'4" 295lbs - Redshirt Junior
McClain did not appear in a game last year for the Blazers. He is a transfer from Mississippi Valley State by way of Jacksonville, Florida.
#89 Jalen Williams - 6'0" 245lbs - Redshirt Freshman
Jalen did not appear in a game last year for the Blazers. Williams played for Murphy High School in Mobile before making his way to Birmingham.
#90 Matthew Craig - 6'1" 270lbs - Redshirt Freshman
Matthew did not appear in a game last year for the Blazers. He hails from Jacksonville, Florida and played for Mandarin High School. He recorded 222 tackles as a high school player.
Tyrique Howard - 6'6" 310lbs
Not listed on the official spring roster it is possible that we will see Tyrique join UAB in the summer. Howard is transferring from Itawamba CC. He is a big defensive lineman that looks to fill in the same roles as Penn, Forte, and McWilliams. Expect him in the rotation.
The 2022 defensive line class is short on experience but not on capable bodies. The defense that Reeves and Clark runs introduces a heavy rotation of defensive lineman as they constantly try to keep fresh legs and energy in the game. There are at least 8 that will be fighting for one of those coveted rotation spots. An obvious starter will be Fish McWilliams. Who will join him? Give me Penn, Joker, and Forte, depending on what defense the coaches look to run. This position will not be as competitive as some because I believe most will find their way on the field in some capacity. Could the coaches be done recruiting the line though? That is something that will be interesting to keep up with. If the coaches bring in some other talent then look for an uptick in competition.