We are officially in football kickoff month! 30 days from opening kickoff across the country in Auburn, Alabama and we’re back for more freshman playing time predictions. Today we’ll look at the defensive line newcomers before looking at predictions for the two-deeps in the next day or so.
Last season the defensive line coaches really didn’t use any true freshman extensive amounts of time, though Destiny Vaeao got into 10 games, starting 2. He didn’t really contribute as much as you would have thought with those numbers, only making five tackles on the season. Robert Barber was supposed to play but injury held him back and Darryl Paulo didn’t play because his size wasn’t up to snuff.
2013 should be a totally different story. After a solid recruiting year, coach “Joe” Salave’a really has some interesting new pieces to use in the rotation. The most coveted pickup is probably Harbor City native Paulo Lepua, who is quite frankly a steal for the Cougs. At 6’3″, 262 lbs he’s an athletic, explosive and relentless player who automatically improves the depth and speed of the defensive ends. There was some talk about Lepua spending some time at BUCK when he first committed, but with the emergence of Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan in the Spring at that position it’s probably safe to say the young kid should be able to focus on DE.
Lepua isn’t the only new kid on the block who should make some noise. Danial Ekuale from Pago Pago, Samoa has been given rave reviews for his strength and quickness at NT, checking in at 6’3″, 275 lbs. His story is a bit unique, as he was a tight end and bounced all the way up to 290 plus in his senior season to try and ready himself for the rigors of the college game on the line, but it was mostly unhealthy weight. After the WSU coaches told him he had gotten to big, too fast, he shed the weight but stayed strong and is ready to be right in the thick of things along the line.
The forgotten recruit so far in my opinion has been Gerald Sterling from Aliceville, AL. If there’s one guy who really wants to be on the depth chart for opening day near his hometown it’s this kid right here. Sterling is the same size as Ekuale and at 6’3″, 275 lbs offers another good size body to rotate in. He reportedly struggled with the decision to move away from his family later in the recruiting process, so he’s got to be amped to possibly get a chance to shine for a few snaps in his backyard. I don’t expect either of them to be more than a filler/role-type players but with their decent size both Sterling and Ekuale could immediately contribute for 10-12 meaningful snaps a game.
Emmitt Su’a-Kalio I think is a guy that much like Darryl Paulo last season the coaches would like to redshirt but is a definite interesting addition. He’s about as small as the Cougars have at 6’4″, 245 lbs and I’m sure his weight will be a major factor in his (presumed) inability to make the depth chart this season. However he is seen as a raw athlete with a whole lot of untapped potential. If he can get his weight up and tap into some of that hidden potential he could be a solid role contributor in the coming seasons.
So there ya go. I can see three of the four true freshman playing meaningful snaps this season. The way offenses work these days, rotating defensive linemen out every three to five plays is absolutely crucial. Of course more importantly is that you have the athletes to be able to rotate your depth and not fall off very much in size or athleticism, which the Cougars have more of as a group this season than last. Can’t wait to see these guys flying off the ball this season!