First Line of Defense
Charles Bay may be the best DE in the Ivies, but he needs help
Because defense in football is truly a team effort, (at least more than it is with the skill positions on offense), I will continue my analysis of the best returning veterans in the Ivy League by focusing on entire defensive sub-units, not individual players.
I'll start today with defensive lines.
Any discussion about veteran defensive lines has to begin with Dartmouth, where the entire starting front four from 2009 returns this fall. That includes the rapidly evolvling Charles Bay, who only started playing football a few years ago and is now as fearsome a defensive end as you can have at this level.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that the defensive line, while it improved at times last year, was not what you could call very effective over the course of the season. The Big Green front four gave up tons of rushing yardage and didn't register nearly enough sacks overall to help keep Dartmouth in enough games. That was especially true in the disappointing finale against Princeton where Dartmouth gave up 238 yards on the ground and got just one sack. Even the win over Cornell two weeks earlier was not a dominant game for the front four.
Nevertheless, the Big Green will use that added experience this year and will probably make strides, but there's a long way to go in this area. Dartmouth must find a way to make opponents pay for double-teaming Bay.
The next logical place to go is Harvard. No returning Ivy veteran D-linemen this year made 1st Team All Ivy last year, but of the five returning defensive linemen who made 2nd Team or Honorable Mention All Ivy last season, THREE are from Harvard. They are 2nd Teamers Chucks Obi and Josue Ortiz and Honorable Mention Victor Ojukwu.
Naysayers will jump to point out that 1st Teamer Carl Ehrlich has graduated, but Ehrlich played last season with a knee brace and was not anywhere near 100%. And that means the returning players should really take muc of the credit for last year's stats that included holding opponents to just 82 yards rushing per game.
On the other hand, Harvard's linebackers were big reason for those stats as well and most of the best Crimson LB's have graduated.
Penn would have had one returning 2nd Team All Ivy defensive lineman, but tragically Owen Thomas committed suicide this spring. There are still some great guys coming back. Brian Levine officially made All Ivy Honorable Mention as a linebacker, but he is essentially a defensive end and a rising star. And with the Quakers, you really have to count almost the entire linebacking crew as being part of the upfront defensive line.
Princeton has one very promising returnee in Joel Karacozoff, but the Tigers need a lot of help here.
Yale's defense was strong overall last year, but you could argue the defensive line wasn't the biggest reason why. Tom McCarthy IS back for 2010, (sorry, I originally had him as graduating, but he has been granted 5th year status), helped keep opponent rushing attacks to fewer than 150 yards per game, but that's still not super. And the Bulldogs only recorded an anemic 13 sacks on the season. Honorable Mention All Ivy Joe Young returns this year, but he and McCarthy will need the new starters to make an impact.
As for Columbia, the Lions boast an impressive returning crew of defensive tackles in 2008 All Ivy Honorable Mention Owen Fraser, plus 2009 starters Chris Groth and Bruce Fleming. Fraser missed almost all of 2009 to injury, but he looked good in the Spring Game. With his strength and freakish speed, he could easily be the best defensive tackle in the Ivies this season. Groth and Fleming did more than yeoman work in his absence.
But Columbia loses all-time sack leader Lou Miller and great situational pass rusher Matt Bashaw. Despite the very promising play of Josh Smith and others like Will Paterson, Shea Selsor, Seyi Adebayo and Josh Martin, it's hard to say the Lions will have the top defensive line in a year after guys like Miller graduate.
So here's how I rank the top three returning defensive lines for 2010: