Countdown to Kickoff: 73 Days
This week, our “100 Days to Kickoff series continues as we look at five players who are primed to have a bigger role and be invaluable to the team in 2016. There are players every year that seem to step up at the right time and make a difference. This week, we’ll be selecting players who have the ability to have those breakout performances that will take the team to the next level this fall.
DE Anree Saint-Amour
After the Virginia Tech game last year, I made the proclamation that Anree Saint-Amour was the most talented DE on the roster. I’m sticking by that assertion going into this season(at least until I get to see Jordan Woods play in a college game). Saint-Amour’s quickness made him a coveted college recruit, and it is this trait that will carry him as a college player. However, if he is to break out this year, it will be Saint-Amour’s other attributes that allow him to take the next step.
Last year, I wrote a “Breakout Players” article for Antonio Simmons, proclaiming that his elite quickness would lead him to a breakout season as a rotational pass rusher. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Watching Simmons this season, he was unable to overcome his lack of size, and didn’t develop his pass rush moves enough to succeed in his second year. Like Simmons last year, Saint-Amour will need to work on his playing strength and pass-rushing technique in order to progress.
Saint-Amour is currently listed at 247 lbs, much higher than Simmons(235) last year. That playing strength will allow him to rotate regularly with starter KeShun Freeman, while Simmons was only largely able to play in a situational role. With better size comes better run defense and a better bull rush. It should be exciting to watch the new skills develop.
Don’t expect Saint-Amour to start this year. Freeman is a returning 2-year starter who has made strides this off-season. The breakout season won’t manifest itself in double-digit sacks or tackles for loss, but in the details. Freeman has gone his first 2 years without a reliable backup, and as a result, he has stayed in the game for a disproportionately high number of snaps. This, along with playing too early in his career, affected his results and his development. Rotation and staying fresh are most important along the defensive line, so Saint-Amour and Freeman will make each other better. Watch both DEs this year and see how their pass rushing becomes more energetic, quick, and powerful. Don’t expect either to rack up more than 10 sacks, but together, that number should be achievable if Roof cuts them loose. The team and the fans desperately need the return of a competent pass rush, and with these two DEs leading the way, it just might happen.