MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - As the line goes, so goes the defense.
That's an axiom older than football itself.
"If you're not good up front, you're not good," Central Michigan defensive line coach George Ricumstrict said. "That's no secret. It's like that everywhere, on every team. It's not pressure, it's what you look forward to, it's why you sign on to play. That's just how it is, and the guys understand that, and they want that responsibility.
"They want the opportunity to show what they can do and they want to go out and be impactful."
Time will tell if the Chippewas are better up front on defense than they were a year ago, when they finished 6-6 overall, 5-3 in the Mid-American Conference.
Coach Dan Enos has said throughout camp that the defensive front may very well be the most-improved unit on the team.
The Chippewas return plenty of experience to the defensive front, most notably tackle Leterrius Walton, who enters the 2014 season down 25 pounds from last year's playing weight and who appears poised for a breakout season.
"I knew that losing 25 pounds over the off-season would make me a better player overall, and me doing that just puts me, and the team, in a better situation," said Walton, who last season recorded 9 ½ tackles for loss, second best on the team. "I know that going into this season that I feel confident knowing that I'm capable of performing the best that I can."
The same likely could be said for Walton's brethren across the defensive front.
Sophomore tackle Jabari Dean returns after missing the final nine games a year ago with an injury. In 2012, he made 10 starts and was named CMU Defensive Rookie of the Year.
"It feels great to be back on the field," said Dean, who redshirted last season. "Not being able to get better in practice, that hurt every day just being on the sideline and not being able to participate."
Joining Walton and Dean up front are ends Blake Serpa and Joe Ostman. Ostman was the lone true freshman to play for the Chippewas last season, and he quickly established himself with his athleticism and work ethic -- traits that have helped move him to the top of the depth chart.
Serpa made two starts and appeared in all 12 games a year ago. He was second on the team with three sacks, and posted seven tackles-for-loss, fourth-best on the squad.
That experience, coupled with a year of development, can only help as the Chippewas seek to improve a defense that was eighth against the rush (197.8 yards per game) among the 13 MAC schools a year ago.
CMU was third against the pass (203.9) and fourth in total defense in 2013 (401.8).
"I think (experience) translates into a better understanding of the defense," Dean said. "As we get a better understanding of the defense, that helps improve it. And it's not just the D line, we've got more depth, more experience, everywhere on this football team. The intensity has improved, everything has improved."
"We had guys who needed to gain weight," Ricumstrict said, "we had guys who needed to lose weight, we had guys who needed to get healthy, and they've done all those things.
"They've done everything that we asked of them. So far in camp you can see those things. We're playing better as a unit.
"We've stayed healthy and guys are pushing each other. There's a lot of competition, and that's a great thing at any position.
"We've got some quality depth. We're four-deep if we throw our freshmen in there, which is pleasant because we're able to rotate guys in, look at guys. We've got a lot of guys who have played a lot of football here and we're all pushing each other, and they're going to be pushing each other for playing time."