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2019 Vanderbilt Football Position Preview: Defensive Line

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NCAA Football: Mississippi at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Something happened on Vanderbilt’s defensive line during the off-season that might have been a bit of a tell. Two players — Tyler Steen and Jonah Buchanan — moved from the defensive line to the offensive line.

Especially in Steen’s case, that seems to be an indication that Derek Mason doesn’t believe he needs them on the defensive line. And a look at this group might tell you why. Three players who combined for 35 starts in 2018 return, and Vanderbilt also welcomes some talented transfers — at least two of whom will play in 2019 — and a true freshman who won’t need a year in the weight room. The line does lose a stalwart in Dare Odeyingbo, but it returns his younger brother Dayo (who could be a star) along with a bunch of talent. In a relatively short time, this unit might have become a strength for Vanderbilt.

The Starters

Dayo Odeyingbo, junior: The star of the defensive line has come along nicely. The 6’6”, 275-pound Odeyingbo got into the rotation as a true freshman, then started ten games last year, notching 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and six quarterback hurries. Those numbers could be better; will Odeyingbo take another jump this season?

Drew Birchmeier, redshirt junior: A surprisingly steady contributor as a sophomore, the 6’4”, 295-pound Birchmeier started 12 games in 2018 and was good at creating havoc at the line of scrimmage: Birchmeier forced two fumbles and had four pass deflections, in addition to three tackles for loss. Expect those numbers to improve with more experience.

Cameron Tidd, redshirt junior: The 6’3”, 296-pound Tidd didn’t post huge stats in 2018 (24 tackles, two tackles for loss), but started all 13 games and figures to start up front again in 2019.

The Depth

Eddie Zinn-Turner, redshirt senior: The 6’1”, 315-pound Zinn-Turner joins the program as a graduate transfer from Marist, where he had 49 tackles last year and was an honorable mention All-Conference pick. He also had three sacks, three pass deflections, and blocked two kicks and has good size for the nose guard spot.

Brandon Maddox, junior: A late addition to the 2019 recruiting class from Pima Community College, the 6’3”, 285-pound Maddox had 13 tackles for loss and 6 sacks at the JUCO last season.

Josiah Sa’o, redshirt junior: Is Sa’o ready to make an impact? The 6’2”, 295-pound junior hasn’t played a ton in three years at Vanderbilt and might be in danger of being passed for playing time with all the talent coming into the program.

Rutger Reitmaier, redshirt sophomore: After a circuitous route to get on the field at Vanderbilt — he enrolled early at Oregon, left after a semester, then spent a semester at Lipscomb awaiting admission to Vanderbilt — Reitmaier had less of an impact than anticipated in 2018: the former four-star recruit played in all 13 games but had just seven tackles. Part of the issue is that 6’3” and 270 pounds isn’t great for a 3-4 defensive lineman, but we’ll see if he can make a bigger impact in 2019.

Stone Edwards, redshirt sophomore: After a year in the weight room, Edwards got up to 270 pounds and made an impact as a redshirt freshman, notching seven tackles with a sack in a reserve role. Edwards figures to be in the rotation again.

Lorenza Surgers, redshirt freshman: Still listed at 6’5” and 250 pounds after a year in the program and with a long depth chart ahead of him, Surgers is probably a year or so away from making an impact.

The Freshmen

Daevion Davis, freshman: The 6’2”, 300-pound Davis was an early enrollee and ranks near the top of the list of true freshmen most likely to make an immediate impact, as he already has the size to play on an SEC defensive line.

Christian James, freshman: The 6’4”, 255-pound freshman from Memphis has nice potential but doesn’t figure to see the field in 2019.

Nate Clifton, freshman: Vanderbilt has historically recruited poorly at nearby Brentwood Academy, for whatever reason. But the 6’5”, 270-pound Clifton joins Cam Johnson and Gavin Schoenwald at Vanderbilt. A redshirt seems likely.

The Transfers

Malik Langham, redshirt freshman: Vanderbilt was a player in Langham’s recruitment out of high school, but he ultimately chose Florida. But after a year with the Gators in which he appeared in two games and notched one tackle, the 6’5”, 285-pound Langham is now in Nashville, closer to his home in Huntsville. Whether he’ll play in 2019 or sit out is an open question.

Derek Green, freshman: Like Rutger Reitmaier last year, Green is a freshman but also a transfer. He enrolled early at Oklahoma, then left after a month and is now at Vanderbilt. Green already has SEC size at 6’5” and 310 pounds.