The Front Four
Phil Mitchell is one of the best linemen in the Ivies (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)
If Columbia shifts to the 4-3 defense, I expect the competition to be fierce for the starting positions up front. But just like Drew Quinn is a shoo-in at linebacker, Phil Mitchell is the man at defensive end and he carries a tremendous amount of the team's hopes on his shoulders.
Mitchell also battled brutal injuries last season, but somehow managed to play in all 10 games and earn honorable mention All-Ivy honors. He has the ability to dominate games as a pass rusher and defending the outside running lanes, but the Lions' troubles defending up the middle last year forced him to play nose guard for about half the season.
A healthy Mitchell going out of the 4-3 could be a tall order for opposing offensive units. In a league where most teams don't even have one dominant defensive lineman, Mitchell can make a big impact in every game.
After Mitchell, the question marks abound. The returning players with the most playing experience at the line are junior Matt Bashaw, senior Conor Joyce, senior Eli Waltz, and sophomore Brian England.
England had a very good year for a freshman, getting into all 10 games and helping to shore up the middle of the defense late in the season. He also has pretty decent size at 261 pounds, (and I expect that number to be bigger this season).
Bashaw seems like a better pass rusher than run stopper, and he may excel as a pass rush specialist but I don't want to pigeonhole him too quickly.
Coach Wilson was quoted as saying he expected big things from Conor Joyce last season, and I don't think his 30 tackles were what he had in mind.
Waltz was another Lion battling injuries last season, but he stepped up and played anyway. I'm not sure his nose tackle position will exist this coming season, but I expect him to be in the mix for playing time up front.
Lou Miller is the veteran wildcard in this equation. Miller moves up from the linebacker spot and if he can as effective as a linemen, he has a great shot at starting.
Four very compelling freshmen join the defensive linemen ranks this fall, and I thnk there's a good chance one of them will beat the long odds against freshmen linemen getting real playing time.
First the big boys: Chris Groth and Owen Fraser. Groth comes in at 280 pounds, only to be bested by Fraser at 290. But it's Groth who won a huge number of accolades as a high school star in Michigan. Groth could be ready to play right now at the college level. Fraser did a postgrad year so he is older than most freshmen, and that should help his chances.
A pair of smaller freshmen also look impressive, especially if they bulk up before September. First is J.D. Tyree who at 6"5 and 225 pounds could be a force at 255 or 260. The other lighter prospect is Shea Selsor, who was impressive in a high-quality high school conference in Ohio. Selsor is listed at 230 pounds right now.
It's hard to overstate just how much a strong defensive line could help the Lions this coming season. Mitchell is the anchor, but he needs help. If even one other lineman can step up to Mitchell's level or close to it, Columbia could have a special year.