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Run-stopping trio returns to anchor defensive line


Central Michigan defensive end Troy Hairston trips Western Michigan running back Sean Tyler Sept. 28 at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo.

Defensive coordinator Robb Akey calls senior Robi Stuart 'Captain Caveman.' The nickname was given because of Stuart's chest-thumping celebration after the senior makes a big play. 

Akey expects to see a lot of that chest thumping in 2020 – fans should, too. 

"You can count on him to throw some guys around in there," Akey said. "He's done a great job with his strength. He's a real sharp guy, a real smart guy. He can help make some things go and I think he gives us a chance to have some strength in the middle of the front."

Stuart, a Saginaw native, is one of three returning starters on the Chippewa defensive line. Senior Troy Hairston II is projected to be a starter at defensive end this year. The Birmingham native played in each game last season filling in for now-graduated Sean Adesanya. 

The unit fared well against the run last season and will be counted on to do so yet again in 2020. 

Mohammed Diallo, a senior transfer from Texas A&M, is perhaps the most intriguing guy up front. He showed flashes of being a force inside throughout his six games last season and should take a substantial step forward in year two within Akey's system. 

If Diallo is unable to take the starting defensive tackle spot next to Stuart, expect sophomore Jacques Bristol to step in. Bristol started six games in 2019 and had four sacks, an impressive number for a true freshman. He was originally opted out of the 2020 season, but elected to return soon after the shortened season was announced. 

Two other depth options at defensive tackle include sophomore Tico Brown and senior Joshuwa Eldridge. Both players played in all 14 games last year and provide insurance if one of the top three options goes down to injury. 

On the edge, the Chippewas will rely on Johnson and Hairston to put pressure on the quarterback and set the edge against the run, something both were successful with last year. As a first year defensive end after moving from linebacker, Hairston made 28 tackles and two sacks. 

Johnson, meanwhile, took a huge step forward last year after playing the maximum four games to keep his redshirt as a true freshman. He had six sacks and 13 tackles for loss. As a sophomore, he'll once again be a three down player. 

In similar fashion to the defensive tackles, there are depth options on the edge. Junior Amir Siddiq played in 12 games with one start last year and sophomore Max Saylor saw time in 11. The two of them will likely top the leaderboard in terms of backups, while true freshman Cade Cote gives the Chippewas an interesting option to experiment with. 

The depth and experience is there for the Chippewas to be successful on the defensive line in 2020. Stuart has first-team potential within the Mid-American Conference, while the expected breakout from Diallo could take the team to the next level. 

With all of the team's success against the run last season, the pressure will be on the players to get to the quarterback. CMU has an unproven secondary, so it's likely that teams will try to air it out, at least early in the season. When that happens, the front four will be relied on heavily to cause havoc in the backfield. 

Regardless of the situation, the defense's success will start and stop on the defensive line. The ability to get to the quarterback cannot be understated, especially with all the talent behind center in the MAC.