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Nevada position preview: D-line has playmakers but who will plug the middle?

Kameron Toomer
Nevada has a fairly deep defensive line group, which includes{ }Kameron Toomer. (Byrne Photo/Nevada athletics)

The Nevada football season will begin Oct. 24 with a home game against Wyoming. We'll preview each of the Wolf Pack's position groups before the season begins. Today’s position: Defensive line.

Player breakdown

Projected starters

* DE Dom Peterson: In his first two seasons, Peterson has 84 tackles, 25.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and three forced fumbles while being the only Wolf Pack player to earn first-team All-Mountain West honors in 2019. In his freshman season, he was a strong run stopper. Last year, he improved vastly as a pass rusher. Now, he's one of the MW's elite defenders.

* DT Tristan Nichols: Nichols was a third-down pass-rushing specialist last season, his first year at Nevada. Playing in 11 games, Nichols had five tackles, including four sacks, and a forced fumble in 2019. A 6-foot-4 and 245-pound senior, Nichols must play a larger role this season, including helping in run defense on first and second downs.

* DT Jaden Lewis: A junior, Lewis got his first extensive playing time last season, appearing in nine games with five tackles, including two for loss. He's technically listed as a defensive end, but Nevada needs some help on the interior and Lewis is 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds, so he has the size to help in run defense at defensive tackle.

* DE Sam Hammond: This season has been a long time coming for Hammond, who walked on at Nevada in 2016 and has put in all the work required to be a college starter, which included adding more than 50 pounds. Hammond has 53 tackles, four tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries in his career. He could be in line for a big season in 2020.

Key backups

* Kameron Toomer: Toomer's last two seasons have been cut short by injury, so he'll try and make it all the way through his senior year. In 21 games, he has 31 tackles, including four TFLs.

* Breylon Garcia: A top recruit last season, Garcia played in nine games as a true freshman in 2019, recovering a key fumble against Purdue. He should see more playing time this year.

* Adam Lopez: A heart issue caused Lopez to miss Nevada's final seven games in 2018 and all of 2019, but he's a big defensive tackle (330 pounds) who could give Nevada some stoutness inside.

* Giovanni Miranda: A former linebacker, Miranda is now a defensive end. He had 13 tackles in 13 games as a redshirt freshman and could be a future starter at defensive end in time.

* Amir Johnson: Johnson moved from offensive line to defensive line midway through last season (he also was put on scholarship this offseason) and will add depth to the defensive line.

* Zak Mahannah: A Reno High graduate, Mahannah was Nevada's 2018 scout team player of the year and appeared in six games during his junior season last year.

* Chris Green: Green was projected as a starter at defensive tackle but was suspended following an arrest earlier this month and seems unlikely to play this season.

Others on roster

* Maurice Wilmer, Thomas Witte, Christopher Love, Curtis Bonam, Teivis Tuioti, Aaron Overton Jr., Jack Powers, Daniel Grzesiak, Jack Bolduc

Overview

Nevada has a gigantic group of defensive linemen, 20 players in all. The position has been bolstered with some position changes, including three offensive linemen, two linebackers, one tight end and one defensive back moving to the line as Nevada made the transition from a 3-3-5 defense to a 4-3 defense. That's seven players switching to defensive line, which at a minimum gives the position strength in numbers. The most noteworthy addition was that of Miranda, the heralded linebacker recruit coming out of high school who played all 13 games last season. The overall experience at this position isn't great with only Peterson starting more than six college games (and only three returning players having started even one). But Peterson is a bona fide star, the group is relatively old and its position coach, Jackie Shipp, is good, so there's reason to believe the line will play at a high level in 2020.

Comfortability level

7 (out of 10) – This is Nevada's best position group on defense, or at least the one I trust the most entering the year. Peterson could be the best defensive player in the league and Hammond seems poised for a big senior season. With the suspension of Green, there are question marks on the interior of the line, which has been sturdy in recent seasons but lost nose guard Hausia Sekona to graduation and will now be without the projected starter, which was going to be Green. That leaves Nevada light in on the inside (both in terms of proven players and actual physical weight), but this unit should be solid against the run and has the ability to get to the quarterback as long as Peterson remains healthy.

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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