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May 16, 2018

Positional Breakdown | Defensive Line

Between now and the start of training camp, bclions.com rolls out positional previews for each group that will hit the field at Hillside Stadium in Kamloops on May 20th. We continue the series with a look at the defensive line.

Just how determined was Ed Hervey on beefing up the defensive line in his first offseason as BC Lions’ General Manager? All you have to do is consider this nugget: ten of the 15 reporting to Kamloops will be newcomers. Some can also foresee three or four potential full-time starters that were not in orange last year.

Although there were some tough decisions to be made at other positions, most notably the secondary, the former Eskimos receiver and football ops. boss knew how he wanted his new defence to be built.

“What you take away from the secondary, you give to the defensive line,” Hervey stated as his mantra this offseason.

And his work drew lots of praise from critics. After swinging separate trades for veterans Odell Willis and Gabriel Knapton, Hervey was able to land Julien Laurent following a trade with Winnipeg for the seventh overall pick in this month’s CFL Draft. Add to that the annual assortment of rookie international free agents, and we should be in for one heck of a battle starting this Sunday at Hillside Stadium.

One aspect of the defensive line that brings about some familiarity is the man coaching them. Randy Melvin is back after serving as the club’s defensive line coach in the championship season of 2011. More recently, he was a guest coach in 2017 training camp, drawing rave reviews from some of the younger players.

“It’s awesome,” Melvin said about returning to the den.

“It’s coaching. I enjoy what I do and I’m very excited to be back.”

Any 30-year veteran of the coaching world will tell you they are only as good as the players they have at their disposal. When breaking down some of the newcomers and returnees, Melvin likes what he sees, but won’t get too excited until the ultimate goal is within reach.

“When I go into a situation, I treat it all the same. We are creatures of habit and guys have some history. I’m really excited to work with them and we’ll try to pull it together as a unit and as a team,” he explained.

“I think I’m coming into a great situation. One, that I was here last summer, got to work with them and see how they worked. So there’s some familiarity there. And then their willingness to learn at that time. I don’t expect anything different.”

Melvin brings an impressive coaching resume to the revamped unit. Along with earning a Grey Cup here seven years ago, Melvin was on Bill Belichick’s staff when they won their first Super Bowl to conclude the 2000 NFL season. In that title game victory, Melvin’s defensive line played a big part in slowing down the St. Louis Rams offence that was dubbed the ‘Greatest Show On Turf.’

With a solid mixture of national and international defensive linemen (full list below) coming to this year’s camp, he expects the competition to be intense from the first whistle.

“It’s ferocious because, at the end of the day, that’s how you get better, ” Melvin claimed.

“Human nature says if you’re comfortable you won’t push as hard. We want it to be fierce, we want pressure and that’s kind of how it will operate.”

He may not have Brent Johnson, Aaron Hunt and Eric Taylor at his disposal this time, but some of his current pieces will have a big say in how successful 2018 may be.

THE DEFENSIVE LINEMEN 

*Newcomers in bold

Mic’hael Brooks (I)

Maxx Forde (N)

Edward Godin (N) – the 2017 Lions’ draft pick returned to Laval for his final year of eligibility and was re-signed by the club in February of this year.

Rashari Henry (N)– selected in the sixth round (47th overall) of the 2018 CFL Draft after four seasons at Wilfred Laurier.

Josh Kaddu (I)- the Oregon Ducks product was signed in March of this year. Kaddu has NFL training camp experience with Philadelphia, Minnesota and Miami.

Gabriel Knapton (I)- acquired in a trade with Montreal for wide receiver Chris Williams on December 13th, 2017.

Julien Laurent (N)-  selected in the first round (7th overall) of the 2018 CFL Draft after 33 games in three seasons with Georgia State.

Claudell Louis (I)- signed as a free agent earlier this month. Louis attended 2017 training camp with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Junior Luke (N)

Luther Maddy (I)

Ivan McLennan (I)- signed as a free agent on March 8th of this year. McLennan notched 17 defensive tackles and a sack in 11 games with Montreal last season. He attended Atlanta Falcons camp in 2016.

David Menard (N)

Cedric Reed (I)- the Cleveland, Ohio native was signed in January of this year. Reed spent 2016 training camp with the Miami Dolphins, appearing in three pre-season contests.

Odell Willis (I)- the two-time CFL All-Star was acquired in a trade with Ottawa on February 2nd. Willis had 22 defensive stops and eight sacks with Edmonton last season.

INTRIGUING NEWCOMERS

Willis and Knapton–  these two bookends on the line will have a large say in the development of this group. Odell’s 2017 numbers show he can still play at a high level. Should his reps. be managed well in training camp and early on, there is no reason he can’t still be one of the league leaders in those important categories. Along with his ability to get to the quarterback, Knapton has a work ethic that is matched by very few at his position. The offseason work at his Colorado cattle ranch is a big reason he will always be ready to put the hard hat on.

Laurent-  with the development of Forde, Luke and Menard, the national contingent has improved gradually on the defensive line. Laurent is expected to make it even better. The Georgia State product was a player Hervey coveted in round one and he promises to make those battles up front a little nastier.

ODELL WILLIS of the BC Lions during the official TSN session for CFL at the Axworthy Health & RecPlex Centre in Winnipeg MB, Thursday, March 22, 2017 (Photo: Johany Jutras)

KEY NUMBER

59– a league-leading number of knockdowns for the Lions last season. With some of these key newcomers we’ve mentioned, that total should be in the same ballpark once again.

QUOTABLE

“He’s the Godfather, man. His resume speaks for itself. When you’re in his presence you just pay your homage to him. Whatever knowledge you can give you just soak up and take from him.”- Willis on finally getting the chance to play under Wally Buono.

Check out the remainder of our positional breakdowns, and schedule for the remainder between now and the weekend:

READ: Breaking Down The Special Teams

READ: Breaking Down the Offensive Line

READ: Breaking Down the Running Backs

Wednesday, May 16th– Linebackers

Thursday, May 17th– Receivers

Friday, May 18th– Defensive Backs

Saturday, May 19th– Quarterbacks

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com