- DE Justin Foxx, R-Sr.
- NG Jamal Bruce, R-Jr.
- DT Sydney Sarmiento, R-Sr.
- DE Kenny Anunike, R-Sr.
- DE Dezmond Johnson, R-Jr.
- DE Jonathan Woodruff, Jr.
- DE Britton Grier, Jr.
- NG Carlos Wray, So.
- NG Keilin Rayner, R-Fr.
- NG Steven Ingram, R-Jr.
- DT A.J. Wolf, R-Fr.
- DT Sam Marshall, R-So.
- DE Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, R-Jr.
- DE Jamal Wallace, R-Jr.
- DE Allen Jackson, R-Fr.
- DE Michael Mann, R-Fr.
- DT Nick Sink R-Jr. (moved to play TE on offense)
- DT Mike Ramsay, Fr.
Unlike last season, the defensive line is more experienced than the secondary. The line only lost former defensive tackle Nick Sink to tight end. Last season, the defense gave up more than 460 yards of offense and 36 points per game. Coaches have said they are counting on the experience guys got last year to help make them better this season.
Staying healthy has to be one of the biggest goals heading into this season. Unlike the offensive line, last year's defensive line used TEN different starters throughout the season. Except for DT Sydney Sarmiento, now-TE Nick Sink and DE Jonathan Woodruff, if a guy started on the defensive line he got hurt. Every season recap in the media guide includes an injury during the season, with some d-linemen also having surgery afterwards.
Last season's sack leader Kenny Anunike has been banged up throughout his career. He had his fifth surgery during his time at Duke (although this time it was on his ankle instead of his knee). Jamal Bruce didn't play the first six games last season because of a foot injury. Justin Foxx missed time during the season because of a ruptured ligament in his finger and had surgery on his knee in January. Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo was hurt near the end of the season. Coaches have said they will keep an eye on how many minutes those guys play to try and keep them healthy all season.
Coaches said they are hoping the experience up front can help protect the young secondary. They said the front six are "grown men." They have filled out and matured physically and also have experience. Those guys will have to make tackles and handle the run. That means guys up front will have to physically beat one-on-one blocks. Coaches said the team will stick with the 4-2-5 this season, but they will scheme a little bit different than last year mostly in coverage.
Two red-shirt freshmen could see a few snaps this year (especially if the D-Line Apocalypse happens again). A.J. Wolf is a 6'4" 270 lb. defensive tackle who received the Most Improved Defensive Player award during spring ball. Keilin Rayner is a converted linebacker at the nose guard spot. He is listed as 6'3" and 270 lb. The Leland (NC) native is third on the depth chart at nose guard but could see more time as his technique improves.
Out of all the ugly stats on defense last season (and there were plenty), the coaches have pointed to two as the most important: points per game and explosive plays. While total defense is typically measured in yards, the only stat that matters the next day is points. Explosive plays (plays of 20+ yards) also usually produce points (although not always). The key for the defensive line is to be disruptive, get into the backfield and wreak havoc.
What needs to happen in 2013:
The silver lining of all the injuries last season is experience. All that experience means nothing if it doesn't translate to the field though. The guys up front have to make plays this season. The secondary is young and could have growing pains.
Ideally, the depth at d-line would allow guys to stay fresh and run amok in the backfield. At the very least, the d-line needs to apply pressure and shorten the coverage time. Kenny Anunike has led the team in sacks the past two years and could do so again this season. The defense did cause a fair number of turnovers last year, picking up 12 fumbles and 11 interceptions, and needs to do the same this year.
Coaches know the defense doesn't have to win a 7-3 game. Like last season, the defense needs to keep it close. With a powerful offense, the team always has a chance to win.