Defensive line depth shaping up to be strength in CMU's defense
On the defensive i, the Chippewas bring back an experienced group. Robi Stuart is back after missing the entire 2021 season, while Jacques Bristol, John Wesley Whiteside and Tyrece Woods all have played plenty of meaningful snaps.
Up front, the Chippewas will have to replace Troy Hairston. You can find Hairston, a former walk-on now in training camp with the Houston Texans, ranked eighth in sacks in program history.
Amir Siddiq, who emerged as a starter and top performer on the edge last season, transferred to Charlotte in the offseason. Yet, the cupboard may not be bare heading into the upcoming season.
On the defensive interior, the Chippewas bring back an experienced group. Robi Stuart is back after missing the entire 2021 season, while Jacques Bristol, John Wesley Whiteside and Tyrece Woods all have played plenty of meaningful snaps.
Jason Williams, a 2020 recruit who greyshirted during the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, saw important time in his first year of action. With five bodies readily in the mix ahead of fall camp, there is depth taking shape.
"When you're strong up front, you've got a better chance, right?" Akey said Tuesday at the Mid-American Conference's Media Day. "I think we've got a chance to be pretty good there. Having Robi back, he's got great experience. He's got great strength, he's a tough guy, so that helps.
"(Stuart) is back in the mix with (Bristol), Tyrece and Wesley Whiteside did a great job for us last year. Jason Williams, as a young guy, did some good things for us last year. So I think that interior group has a chance to be pretty good."
Though Hairston leaves big shoes at defensive end, Thomas Incoom and LaQuan Johnson have established themselves as key returning pass-rushers. Akey said Tuesday that Incoom, a Valdosta State transfer in his second season at CMU, has stepped up as a leader ahead of his final year with the Chippewas.
"Thomas Incoom is coming off a good debut for us a year ago," Akey said. "Played well in the finale, the Sun Bowl. He has kind of taken a leadership role, a lot of those guys have. (Bristol) has, Wesley Whiteside has. It's been cool to see those things grow."
The vets will see plenty of action on the edge, but there's depth to be had at this position as well. Michael Heldman and Jonah Pace are redshirt freshmen who could help along the unit, while Fred Stokes is entering his fourth season and could crack into the rotation.
There's also newcomers Oumar Conde and Malik Denkins coming with a fair amount of fan-fare. Conde arrived in the spring after taking a postgrad year at Myrtle Beach Collegiate Prep, while Denkins led the NJCAA in sacks at Hocking College last season.
Though Akey has had limited exposure to the new defensive end outside of what he's seen on film, the defensive coordinator anticipates Denkins making an impact early.
"I've got a lot of excitement about it," Akey said. "Obviously, having led the country in sacks for the JUCO-level, that's good. We need to bring that burst and rush ability to the edge, we're giving up some production there with the guys that graduated out so I'm excited about him. He'll get started with us in training camp because he had to finish up his responsibilities at Hocking and then he'll be with us. So that's another one, he'll be in the mix with the guys that we had in spring and summer."
The Chippewas will also bring in consensus three-star recruit Kade Kostus as a defensive end. The Rockford native was the 45th overall recruit in Michigan according to 247Sports and held 17 Division I scholarship offers before committing to CMU.