Aug. 12, 2010
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - As a general rule, defensive tackles are overlooked and underappreciated for the mostly thankless grunt work that they do in the trenches.
But young UCF tackles Victor Gray and E.J. Dunston know that this season the spotlight and the pressure will be directly on them thanks in large part to the player who held down the position before them.
With all-conference tackle Torell Troup now playing for the Buffalo Bills after being selected 41st overall in the spring NFL Draft, Gray and Dunston are being looked to daily to fill the massive void left by Troup's departure.
UCF was one of the nation's best run defenses last season because of Troup anchoring the inside. And defensive end Bruce Miller's run to the Defensive Player of the Year award in Conference USA was aided greatly by Troup usually occupying two blockers on the inside.
That role now falls on Gray, a redshirt freshman from Orlando, and Dunston, a true freshman also from Orlando. Understandably, they have tried to put the pressures of replacing Troup out of their heads.
``I know that people are thinking that we're losing Troup and who can play there? But I'm trying to not think about it that way. I'm just working to be better myself and help this team win games,'' Dunston said.
The Knights think they can win and win big with the two talented freshmen on the inside because of their massive potential. Both Gray and Dunston have been solid so far in fall camp, regularly bursting through the offensive line to make plays in the backfield.
Gray, the starter so far through eight camp practices, is considered somewhat undersized at 6-foot-4, 264 pounds - and that is even after he worked hard to add bulk to withstand the beatings that tackles take against double-teaming linemen. He is a former 230-pound defensive end trying to make the transition to tackle and uses his speed and quickness to make up for what he might lack in raw size.
Gray put on the extra weight by eating as many as five meals a day, even snacking at times in the middle of classes in an effort to bulk up. And he made a noticeable jump in the weight room over the summer, boosting his bench-press max from 400 pounds to 440 pounds.
``It's different on the inside because I'm not used to having that big of a body on me, but I don't use excuses,'' Gray said. ``Reading your keys quicker is big on the inside because everything happens in the blink of an eye, so if you're not on top of your game you will get lost real quick.''
As for Dunston, he is plenty smart, having graduated from Edgewater High School early so that he could get a jump on trying to fill Troup's massive shoes at UCF. He looks back now at that decision as one that has given him a leg up on playing right away as a true freshman.
``Getting here in January helped me a lot and I see a lot of the freshmen now having a harder time. If I had come later, I might have had problems in the weight room and trying to keep up with the older guys,'' Dunston said. ``But me getting here early gave me a big advantage to get quicker and stronger.''
Strength certainly isn't a problem for Dunston, all 6-foot-2 and 306 pounds of him. In the short time that he's been at UCF he's seen his max on the bench press go from 350 pounds to 420 pounds and he seems well on his way to someday soon easily eclipsing 500 pounds.
And his legs are equally as powerful with him squatting 465 pounds five times. He's already caught the attention of head coach George O'Leary and defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable for his ability to hold the line even against double teams. Simply put, linemen can't move him - much the same way Troup used to clog things up in the middle for the Knights.
``He's a young kid, but he's very strong. He's a wide body and he's tough. His best football is ahead of him, but he's really come a long way in the short time that he's been here,'' Huxtable said. ``He's mature and he's handled it all well so far. He hasn't been shy or bashful at all with the older kids. I'm just excited to have him here.''
And Dunston couldn't be more excited about the prospects of winning big at UCF this season. He's raved about the leadership of senior defensive ends David Williams and Miller and fellow tackle Wes Tunuufi Sauvao, something that has helped to ease his transition from high school to college. Now, he said he's in a position to do big things - just as Troup did before him.
``I think I can be great,'' he said candidly. ``But I just want to do what I have to, whether it's taking on double teams or whatever, to help us win.''
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John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.