Mountain West Football: Post-Spring Practice Defensive Line Rankings

Mountain West Football: Post-Spring Practice Defensive Line Rankings

Air Force

Mountain West Football: Post-Spring Practice Defensive Line Rankings

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Mountain West Football: Post-Spring Practice Defensive Line Rankings


Spring football practices across the Mountain West will go a long way toward answering who could have the conference’s top d-line next fall.


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Who looks most likely to dominate in the trenches right now?

12. Colorado State

Projected starters/depth: C.J. Onyechi (DE?), Devin Phillips (DT), James Mitchell (DT?), Grady Kelly (DE?), Cam Bariteau, Teivis Tuioti

The Rams’ defensive line was hazardous for opposing quarterbacks in 2021, but outside of Phillips they’re essentially starting over since every other major contributor has moved on. Transfer reinforcements with a track record like Onyechi will help, but how well previous depth pieces like Mitchell and Kelly step up will go a long way toward determining how strongly Colorado State could rebound. Considering the problems Nevada had in stopping the run late in Jay Norvell’s Wolf Pack tenure, too, it’s a narrative worth watching closely.

11. Hawaii

Projected starters/depth: Ezra Evaimalo (DE?), Blessman Ta’ala (DT), John Tuitupou (DT?), Andrew Choi (DE?), Jojo Falo, Tariq Jones, Zach Ritner

The Warriors are another team working with lots of upheaval up front, but they get the edge over Colorado State here because Ta’ala has proven he is a force on the interior. As for everyone else? Well, Choi has previous starting experience, but there are plenty of athletes, like Tuitupou and Evaimalo, who have waited for a chance to be part of solving what has been a long-standing issue.

10. Nevada

Projected starters/depth: Breylon Garcia (DE?), Dom Peterson (DT), Christopher Love (DT), Dion Washington (DE?), William Green, Maurice Wilmer

Like Hawaii and Colorado State, the Wolf Pack are undergoing lots of transition on the defensive front lines. Unlike the Warriors and Rams, however, being able to pair Peterson, a legitimate star, with up-and-coming Love on the interior is a pretty solid foundation. There’s a lot more uncertainty on the edges, but it could be a lot worse.

9. UNLV

Depth chart: Eliel Ehimare (DE), Naki Fahina (DT), Tavis Malakius (DE), Waisale Muavesi, Darius Johnson, Nick Dimitris

UNLV’s standing here has much to do with turning present potential into results, as they have elsewhere on both sides of the ball. Kolo Uasike’s size and level of play will be tough to replace inside, but Muavesi tips the scales at 300 pounds himself and Ehimare could be a name worth watching after picking up three TFLs in the team’s last five games in 2021. Add talents like Johnson and Dimitris to the mix and, all of a sudden, you’re talking about a unit that could make a bigger-than-expected leap if everything goes according to plan.

8. New Mexico

Projected starters/depth: Jake Saltonstall (DE), Bryce Santana (DT), Kyler Drake (DE?), Jaden Phillips, Omar Darame, Tyler Kiehne, Justin Harris

Rocky Long has already worked wonders in Albuquerque, even if doesn’t seem that way on the surface, but one big task he now has on his plate is replacing defensive end Joey Noble, who was far and away the most disruptive Lobo in the front six. Thankfully, Saltonstall and Santana both return with starting experience under the belt and others like Drake and Phillips were able to at least get their feet wet last season.

7. Air Force

Projected starters/depth: Christopher Herrera (DE), Kalawai’a Pescaia (DT), Jayden Thiergood (DE?), Elijah Brockman, Payton Zdroik, Kupono Blake

The Falcons won’t have it easy replacing Jordan Jackson, but they were fairly strong up front because of their depth so while Air Force may not boast any obvious all-conference-caliber defenders here, there aren’t any weak links, either. Herrera and Pescaia provide a solid veteran foundation while others like Zdroik and Blake may find themselves with a greater timeshare in the rotation if they continue to perform well in fall practices.

6. Utah State

Projected starters/depth: Byron Vaughns (DE), Hale Motu’apuaka (DT), Philip Paea (DT?), Patrick Joyner Jr. (DE?), Daniel Grzesiak, Poukesi Vakauta, Seni Tuiaki

The defending Mountain West champions got more headlines for the explosive offense, but the emergence of the defensive line was just as important to the Aggies finally getting over the top. With Nick Heninger, Marlon Moore and others out the door, though, it’s tempting to say this could be a problem area but the reality is Utah State is deeper than you think here. More will be expected of returners like Vaughns, Joyner Jr., and Motu’apuaka, but Grzesiak’s arrival from Nevada and a trio of young veterans to provide depth means that they should be just fine.

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