By Cody Stark
Huntsville ItemAssistant Sports Editor

Sam Houston State feels like it has the opportunity to have a pretty good defense this season.

The Bearkats return an experienced, yet young secondary, and have four linebackers who are interchangeable. But Sam Houston's success begins with the big boys up front.

Heading into preseason camp, the Kats were looking for some defensive linemen to fill the four spots left vacated by graduation, including All-American defensive end Chris Brown.

As Sam Houston makes its final preparations for the season opener with Baylor in Waco on Saturday, the Bearkats are going to rely on some guys with very limited experience on the defensive line going up against a potent Bears offense.

"I don't think it ever goes as fast as you want it to be as a coach," said SHSU defensive coordinator Scott Stoker about the defensive line's progression. "I mean we have some guys playing for us that have never started a game. We are really green right now on the D-line, and that is going to be a big question mark going into Saturday."

The Bearkats are slated to start juniors Eddie Decambre and E.J. Nduka at defensive end. Senior Coty Gatewood should also see some action, but he was just cleared this week following an injury that has caused him to miss the past few weeks of practice.

Decambre started two games last season and posted 20 tackles, seven for a loss, and had an interception in a win over Saint Joseph's. Gatewood has seen action the past three years and has 27 career tackles. Nduka played in 10 games in 2009 and had four of his seven tackles in the loss to Stephen F. Austin.

Those three players pretty much sum up all of SHSU's experience on the defensive front.

"So far, everything has been going pretty well," Decambre said. "We are just learning as we go, but we are a lot better than we were last year. We have some young guys, but they have some potential."

Besides sophomore tackle Marlowe Poitier, who played in all 11 games in 2009, the Bearkats are inexperienced on the interior.

In fact, true freshman Gary Lorance is expected to start at nose tackle. This time last year, he was playing for New Boston High School, and now he is going to get his feet wet against a Big 12 opponent.

Sophomore J.T. Cleveland is the other starter at tackle. He saw limited action in 2008, but he is basically starting over after missing last season due to an illness.

Two other true freshmen, Dwight Kennedy and John Trotter, will see action at tackle and end, respectively. Redshirt freshman transfer Zesmond White from Tulsa will backup Decambre at end.

"We have showed some things in practice, but we just haven't been very consistent," Stoker said. "We are going to rotate heavily on the D-line because we don't know who can play and who can't. Some guys play better when the lights come on and some play worse. You really don't know who is going to step up until you get on the field."

The Bearkats did get another defensive line transfer at the start of camp. Tackle Jervon Graves played in 10 games as a freshman at Utah State, but he has some catching up to do before he sees significant time on the field.

"We are slowly working him in, but coming from Utah to this Texas heat, it is taking him a little time to get used to it," Stoker added. "We hope to play him in there. He has had a decent camp when he is fresh. We can't give us a lot of snaps, but there are some personnel groupings where he is a big old body who can get in there.

"When he is fresh he is pretty good, but we are counting on him around the fourth or fifth game to be in Texas shape, not Utah shape."

Sam Houston will open the season Saturday Sept. 4 at Baylor and follow that game with a second road contest Sept. 18 at Western Illinois.

Sam Houston opens its home schedule on Saturday Sept. 25 with Bearkat Family Weekend against Gardner-Webb. Special events during the evening include an appearance by the Houston Texans cheerleaders, a salute to Hillcrest Heroes honoring local police and fire-fighters, a huge pregame tailgate and a postgame fireworks display.

Other home games will be Oct. 16 (Homecoming) vs. Southeastern Louisiana, Nov. 6 vs. McNeese State and Nov. 20 vs. Texas State. The final three home games will kickoff at 2 p.m.

Season tickets for Bearkat football at Bowers Stadium are available through the new exciting "2-2-2" offer, order your tickets now by going to the Bearkat tickets page on www.gobearkats.com or call (936) 294-1729.

The "2-2-2" offer also includes two corner tickets to the "Battle of the Piney Woods" game with Stephen F. Austin at Reliant Stadium in Houston on October 23.

Fans also may visit the Sam Houston athletic ticket office located in the Ron Mafrige Field House located in the south end zone of Bowers Stadium. Ticket office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.