Only one starter from the Frogs’ 2008 defensive line will be returning for the upcoming season. But if you had to pick one player to return to the D-line in 2009, it would certainly have to be consensus All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes.
Hughes, a 6-foot-3-inch, 257-pound senior from Sugar Land, racked up a nation-leading 15 sacks last season to go along with a total of six forced fumbles, also the best in the nation. A relative unknown until his breakout 2008 season, Hughes started just one game during his first two years with the Frogs.
Because of his outstanding play in 2008, Hughes was named as one of the five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy which honors the nation’s top defensive player. Other players in Hughes’ position probably would have opted to exit the college scene and enter the professional ranks. But – much to the joy of Frog fans – Hughes decided to stay on board for his senior year.
Perhaps he wants to prove to scouts that 2008 wasn’t a fluke or maybe he just wants to be a part of another suffocation-inducing Frog defense. Whatever the reason may be, it will be interesting to see if Hughes can equal or even eclipse his production from 2008, especially considering the all of the new faces that will be alongside him on the D-line.
Sophomores Ross Forrest and Braylon Broughton will fight for the starting defensive end position opposite Hughes. Forrest, a walk-on, appeared in 11 games as a true freshman last season and Broughton, a 2008 Preseason Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year, saw action in just three games in 2008.
Junior nose tackle Kelly Griffin is expected to replace the departing Cody Moore. Griffin started all 13 games as a true freshman in 2007.
Junior Wayne Daniels is expected to slide over from end to play defensive tackle for the Frogs in 2009. Daniels will replace a departing James Vess.
Overall, the Frogs lack experience across the D-line. Hughes will be a force to be reckoned with, but his success and the overall success of the defense will depend on how well the new batch of starters up front perform.
Projected starters: DE Jerry Hughes, DE Ross Forrest, DT Wayne Daniels, NT Kelly Griffin
Other returning players: DE Braylon Broughton, NT Cory Grant, DE Clarence Leatch
Starters lost: NT Cody Moore, DE Matt Panfil, DT James Vess