Smith, Meiser provide experience up front
By Brian Dzenis
Leadership on Youngstown State’s defensive line goes from the inside out.
Junior Savon Smith and senior Donald Meiser retain their starting roles from last season and have provided a steady presence as other aspects of the Penguins’ defense change around them.
“We knew coming into this year that we would be the veterans on the field. We’ve had the most playing time,” Smith said. “It’s just about leading these guys, you know?
“It comes down two those long drives, when we need a stop, Donald and I have to be the ones to buckle down. We let the guys know it’s going to be OK.”
Smith seized a starting role in his sophomore season, finishing with 29 tackles and five sacks. This fall, he’s usually first guy out there in the middle when the Penguins deploy three players with a hand on the ground.
When the defense tries a four-man front, Meiser joins Smith. Smith put up 19 tackles and three-and-a-half sacks in 2016.
“Right now, we’re just focusing on technique. We played last year so we know how good we could be,” Meiser said. “We’re trying to get stronger and faster so we’ll be able to take it to the other team more.”
Penguins defensive line coach Don D’Alesio said Smith, Meiser and senior end Fazson Chapman have become “leaders in the room” this offseason. YSU’s defense will run through them.
“They have their gaps and we have guys who play off of them behind them. They play a huge role when we want to change the line of scrimmage,” D’Alesio said. “If we can get a team to be one-dimensional on us and just pass, that’s a good thing. We have two edge rushers who can get after the quarterback.”
With Smith and Meiser’s role set, the challenge is figuring out the next two guys to rotate with them. Junior Lamont Ragland appears to be taking hold of the No. 3 role. The competition for the No. 4 spot has become interesting in the past few days thanks to a new addition in redshirt-sophomore Jason Sims.
“He was an offensive lineman up until three or four practices ago. I just got my hands on him. We’re just getting the basics down with him, but he is a big, strong kid,” D’Alesio said. “If he can play with low pads, he can play some football for us. He’s pretty athletic for his size.”
Sims looks the part of defensive tackle at 6-foot-5, 340 pounds and despite switching positions a few days ago, he already gets a handful of first team reps.
“He’s coming along well. He just needs to actually learn our defense and he’ll be dominant,” Smith said. “He’s huge and we could definitely use him. He’s another big body that puts us in a better position to make those critical third and fourth down stops that we need.”
Redshirt-freshman Wesley Thompson and junior Tommy McCraw are also vying for that fourth spot in the rotation. Back at the top of the depth chart, while Smith and Meiser will see new defensive ends around them this fall, they have the experience to make it work.
“We work with [Chapman and Johnson Louigene] and they know the defense as well as we do,” Smith said. “Our communication just needs to be on point and we all need to be on the same page. We’ll see how good that is once the games come.”