The nose tackle position in the 3-4 defense is thought to be the most physically demanding position in football.
Unlike a defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense, the 3-4 nose tackle is responsible — pretty much by himself — at occupying the middle of the offensive line and controlling the run game up the middle. That demands a player who’s much bigger than a 4-3 defensive tackle — while also retaining some mobility at 300-plus pounds.
The Commodores struggled to get consistent production in the middle of the defensive line in 2015. The good news, though, is that both part-time starters return in 2016. Will either of them produce enough to win the starting job outright?
Contenders to Start
Jay Woods, redshirt junior: Woods started five games in 2015, notching 24 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, a sack, and two forced fumbles. He was stellar in the Georgia game (6 tackles, sack, forced fumble) but struggled to maintain that level as the year went on, eventually losing his starting job. Woods was reportedly dealing with an injury as fall camp started and will miss at least the season opener against South Carolina.
Nifae Lealao, junior: At 6’5” and 312 pounds, Lealao has more ideal size for the nose tackle spot than Woods, but didn’t start until the last four games of the season. Lealao’s highlight of the 2015 season was blocking a field goal in the Ole Miss game; aside from that, though, he recorded just 18 tackles and opponents were successful at keeping him out of the backfield as he only registered one tackle for loss.
Darian DeBrossard, redshirt freshman: DeBrossard hasn’t been playing organized football for very long and so a redshirt year was practically a given, particularly as he came into Vanderbilt weighing 340 pounds as a true freshman. He’s since dropped to 290 (according to the team roster) and hopefully has increased mobility after spending a year as a scout team defensive tackle.
Josiah Sa’o, freshman: The 6’2”, 295-pound freshman from San Diego already has good size and, as a last-minute pickup, is the Commodores’ highest-rated recruit on the defensive line. He has the potential to contribute early, though it’s unlikely that he’ll claim the starting job right away.
Cameron Tidd, freshman: At 6’3”, 275 pounds, Tidd projects as a defensive tackle but will probably need a year to add strength before he figures to contribute there. He might see time as a freshman, but a redshirt year seems more likely at this stage.