When Southern’s Delwin Williams starts talking about his teammates on the defensive line, he can’t help but smile.
“Our defensive line is huge,” Williams said. “We’re some huge boys. I love it. It gives me and big boy (nose guard Casey Narcisse) time to just sit back and watch the young ones play ball.”
Make no mistake, Williams and Narcisse will have plenty of work to do themselves, but they’ll have lots of help from their large and versatile friends.
Of the starting front four, it’s hard to name a specific position for Williams (6-foot-2, 250 pounds), Benay Pryer (6-5, 310) and Kadeem Lewis (6-3, 271). They frequently switch from defensive end to tackle, and from pursuing the quarterback to clogging up running lanes.
That makes for lots of options for the Jaguars, who can use a wide variety of combinations in their 4-3 and 3-4 defenses and a bunch of different schemes for pass-rushing, third downs, goal-line situations and red-zone scenarios.
“You have to know your playbook,” defensive line coach Myron Jackson said. “You have to be a flexible guy, because we’re going to put the best ones on the field that we feel give us the best opportunity to win.”
That’s been the challenge during fall training camp, as the Jaguars had to bring along their newcomers in a hurry. Pryer, a senior transfer from UL-Lafayette, caught on quickly and is now a starter, and freshman tackles Justin Woods (5-10, 284) and Gabe Echols (5-11, 305) picked up their assignments fast enough to figure as contributors this fall. Sophomores Jaylen Jordan (6-4, 282) and Arthur Miley (6-7, 241) round out the two-deep roster and are working to convert their potential into consistent output, and all are taking their cues from the veterans.
“I’m trying to teach them that coming in as ends, you have to be versatile,” Williams said. “You can’t just want to play end or just play tackle. You have to get it and go, because who knows? One game we might be all used for speed. The more the better.”
Williams, a senior, is the most polished in terms of knowing both spots, and Jackson praised him for his technique.
That was evident in Southern’s brief scrimmage on Saturday, when Williams delivered the hit of the day after slipping past a blocker and stuffing running back Sylvester Nzekwe for a 1-yard loss.
“Delwin is just so technically sound,” Jackson said. “He has superb hands and gets hand placement on just about anybody. He always gets in the works.”
Jordan is another lineman capable of playing at several spots, and Miley is an exciting substitute with his height, speed and wingspan.
But the drawback of all that size is the difficulty of staying low.
Pad level is the area most cited as in need of improvement, because whenever the linemen come in straight up, they’re easier to block.
“It’s getting there, but it’s never enough for me,” Jackson said. “If I could keep it three feet off the ground and play, I’d be happy. Any tall guys, it’s going to be a struggle. Guys that weigh a little more, it’s a struggle for them also. It hurts to bend your knees. You have to strain and give effort. You have to train yourself to do the right things.”
Once they get that down, the Jaguars’ line will be right where it wants to be: big, technically sound, and versatile.
Well, not everyone is so versatile.
While switching positions is the norm for some, the 5-foot-10, 305-pound Narcisse has a more static job as anchor of the line.
“Nose guard, that’s me, and that’s where I’m going to be at,” he said. “I don’t get at the (three-technique), and I’m not trying to play end.
“But if they needed me to, I would.”