Plano East replaces multiple players on the defensive line but brings back plenty of talent in 2023.
Returning to the fold are the Panther’s top two defensive ends, rising seniors Jadyn Lindsey and Chima Chineke. Those two lead a talented group on the line of scrimmage, but head coach Tony Benedetto knows they’ll have to overcome not being the biggest group in a talented District 6-6A.
“We like the guys we have on the defensive line,” Benedetto said. “Our biggest loss was probably losing a junior, as all-district defensive tackle Aidan Miller moved back to Nebraska, but we have a lot of really good pieces. We’re not the biggest defensive line so we’ll have to overcome that.”
Chineke stands at 6-foot-5 and is one of the top athletes in the Plano East program, leading the team with six and a half sacks last season. Chineke recently committed to the University of Iowa and is hopeful to capitalize on his senior season with the Panthers.
“He’s a special young man and not someone you get to coach too often,” Benedetto said. “He’s still growing into his body and we’re starting to see him develop as an athlete and develop into his body. He’s got some big goals and has some great opportunities in front of him.”
Chineke is entering his third year as a starting defensive end for Plano East. While he’s continued to grow into a three-star recruit and one of the top defensive linemen in the area, a big key to his development has been his willingness to learn and get better, along with his physical gifts.
“We expect him to be a contributor on the field and be someone difficult for teams to defend,” Benedetto said. “Our defensive line coach [Matthew] Clay helped him develop his technique last season and he was able to match his athleticism with his technique at the position. Some defensive linemen look great but if they don’t know what to do with their hands won’t be able to get after the quarterback.”
Lindsey was a second-team all-district player last season for the Panthers’ defense, impressing the coaching staff and opposing teams with his desire and work rate on the field. While he’s not the biggest player on the defensive line, he makes up for it with a willingness to hit people on the field and play with an edge for the defense.
“He’s just a missile out there, and we call him just a great football player,” Benedetto said. “He’s a great leader for us, but he plays with almost no fear and he plays with almost a reckless edge out there. He wrestled for us as well and I think there’s a really good correlation between the two sports and his mindset on the field.”
Lindsey embodies a lot of what coach Benedetto believes can make the defensive line successful. He isn’t afraid of being undersized on the field and embraces the challenge to play physically against bigger opponents.
“Players like him understand their assignment and go full speed,” Benedetto said. “He plays with his head down and goes all out in everything he does. It may not work at a college game against bigger players, but in high school, the ability to play full speed can be impactful.”
On the interior, Ire James is someone who has stood out early in the offseason as far as development. James had 24 tackles and a sack last season in a backup role but now looks poised to be one of the top defensive linemen on the team in 2023.
Coach Benedetto highlighted his work ethic throughout the offseason to his development.
“He is one of the hardest-working kids in the program,” Benedetto said. “We’d see him working on sprints after practice and improving and even beating some of the more athletic kids as the offseason went along. We’re expecting him to have a nice season.”
The Panthers like their starting defensive linemen, but are still looking to find the depth for that group. Playing both ways, Corbin Glass, Adrian Lopez and Ralee Jackson can rotate in during a few series throughout games, something coach Benedetto said the coaching staff will have to adjust to and get the best out of all three players.
“It allows us not to be as big on the defensive and not ask so much out of our interior guys,” Benedetto said. “We want to use more movement because we have great speed and we want to confuse the offense to use their speed and get after our opponent.”
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