Burton joins new-look Blue Hen defensive line that’s determined to quiet doubters

The Hens’ Frank Burton has the distinction of being named the state Lineman of the Year in 2014 and then the state Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 for William Penn. There is a feeling of coming home for Burton, who spent two years at Ball State. UD sports information photo/Scott Day

NEWARK — Frank Burton doesn’t mind if people want to think Delaware’s defensive line might be the Blue Hens’ weak link.

That’s all just more motivation for the former William Penn High standout.

“Coach ‘V’ tells us all the time, we’re no-name guys,” said Burton, referring to UD defensive line coach Lavern Belin. “A lot of people don’t know who we are and what we’re going to do this year. But we’re going to shock a lot of heads.

“I think it’s good that nobody knows us because it’s going to keep us humble and it’s going to keep us hungry.”

Frank Burton

Clearly, second-year Delaware head coach Danny Rocco would love to see his defensive linemen prove the experts wrong.

In the meantime, though, the Hens have a lot of work to do on the defensive front as they get ready to host Rhode Island on Aug. 30 in their season opener.

Two of Delaware’s three starting defensive linemen from a year ago — Bilal Nichols (Chicago Bears) and Blaine Woodson (Cleveland Browns) — are in NFL training camps right now. All told, four of the Hens’ top six defensive linemen last season were seniors.

“The defensive line is a position that I’m really interested to see how this plays out,” Rocco said when preseason practice opened. “You lose four seniors — and two of them are in the NFL right now — and you come into camp with Cam (Kitchen) and Sal (Mauro) out (with injuries). Who’s going to play on the ‘D’ line?”

But Rocco and his staff didn’t just cross their fingers and hope things work out on the line. They brought in a pair of sophomore transfers in Burton (Ball State) and Caleb Ashworth (Cincinnati).

A couple weeks into camp, Rocco said the two newcomers have gone a long way toward giving Delaware more of a veteran presence on the line. Both players have been with the Hens since spring practice.

“They both have demonstrated a toughness, a willingness and a desire to get coached,” said Rocco. “And they’re choosing to buy in. These two guys, to me, act like they’ve been here for two or three years — they are that committed to who we are and what we’re doing. That’s really exciting.”

Burton is no stranger to sports fans in Delaware. His father, also named Frank, is a member of the Delaware State University Athletics Hall of Fame after playing both football and baseball for the Hornets.

The younger Burton has the distinction of being named the state Lineman of the Year in 2014 and then the state Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 for William Penn. There is a feeling of coming home for Burton, who spent two years at Ball State.

The 6-foot-2, 270-pounder is one of 25 in-state players on Delaware’s roster.

After seeing action in 11 games for Ball State last fall, Burton knows he’s expected to make an impact right away.

“I came here definitely to contribute to the team as much as I could,” said Burton. “Coach ‘V’ did a great job of just helping me transition — as well as Coach (Chris) Cosh. They just made me feel very comfortable.”

The problem with Delaware’s defensive line right now, besides its lack of experience, is that a number of older players are dealing with different levels of injuries. That includes Kitchen and Mauro as well as Dominick Covatto.

Still, Burton looks around at the talent at the rest of the Hens’ defensive positions and he remains optimistic.

“There are some great leaders,” he said. “That’s the reason why our defense runs very well — because we have the leadership that’s in place. If everybody’s buying into the defense, we’re going to be something that’s very special.”

Extra points

Woodson was signed by the Browns on Wednesday. The 6-foot-2, 295-pound undrafted free agent was released by the 49ers on July 26. … Nine of Delaware’s 11 games will be televised this season. The Hens will be on the CAA Game of the Week three times on CBS Sports Digital, including games against Rhode Island (Aug. 30), New Hampshire (Oct. 20) and Stony Brook (Nov. 10). Delaware’s matchup with defending NCAA Division I FCS national champion North Dakota State can be seen on the ESPN+ app.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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