Pirates Breakdown: Defensive Line

By Sam Gordon

Size, speed, and experience make up the Massachusetts Pirates’ defensive line. Most are familiar faces with a new one in there as well. Here is the Pirates Breakdown of the big boys upfront on defense.

R.J. Roberts

The Troy alum has a heck of a first step at the snap of the ball. His work with his hands and ability to gain separation makes him a formidable force on the defensive line.

On the edge, he wreaked havoc with one of his best performances coming against the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks in the Pirates’ inaugural year.

In four games with the team, Roberts recorded 7.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a recovery.

But what makes his play even more impressive, is his versatility. Roberts also played a pivotal role on special teams. Against Lehigh Valley, the defensive lineman recorded a blocked kick to go along with his sacks on defense.

Roberts’ technique also helps him get the inside of the line of scrimmage.

Look for his name when the season gets under way.

J.D. Griggs

The man on the defensive line that needs no introduction whatsoever. In both seasons with the Pirates, Griggs has been both the unstoppable force and immovable object at once.

The former Jacksonville Jaguar exhibited tremendous speed and hand fighting skills in pursuit of the quarterback which led to his nine sacks and First-Team All-NAL berth in 2018.

Griggs is not a one-trick pony with rushing the passer. On numerous occasions, Griggs showed linebacker-like closing speed when tracking a receiver with the ball after the catch. For anyone who watches football film regularly, this is an impressive feat for a predominantly down lineman.

It goes without saying however that Griggs is best with his hand in the turf going after the quarterback. Dubbed, ‘The Sack King’ by his fans, Griggs has lived up to the name with a combined 18 sacks in his first two years as a Pirate.

Griggs is a pass rusher any arena football team dreams of having.

Youhanna Ghaifan

When you pull up the film on Youhanna Ghaifan, there is one thing that immediately catches your eye. His speed. The former Wyoming Cowboy has top notch closing speed against ballcarriers in the open field which makes him formidable in his own right.

Ghaifan has to work on his technique with his hands to get to the quarterback a little bit more often. As an arena rookie, he also has to learn the new format and that will only come with being out taking snaps.

One thing that gives him a leg up on the other defensive linemen on this list, is his footwork. Playing soccer his whole life, Ghaifan has taken those ball handling skills and translated that to fast movement around offensive linemen.

Exceptional footwork, some work to do with his hands. Other than that, look for Ghaifan to make an impact this year.


Willie Yarbary

If you look up Willie Yarbary’s film at Wake Forest, there is one highlight that sticks out like the sorest thumb. Against Duke, Yarbary executes a ridiculous spin move reminiscent of Dwight Freeney and sacks eventual first-round pick Daniel Jones.

Against Florida State, Yarbary used it again to get to the quarterback.

The Wake Forest alum is as versatile as they come on the defensive line showcasing his ability to stop the run just as well as he rushes the passer.

Yarbary also does not give up on a play until the whistle has finally blown and is constantly going after the ball. One example comes up in Wake Forest’s matchup against Louisville. The quarterback attempts to find a receiver in the middle of the field and fumbles the ball, which is picked up by another skill player who tries to make a play out of it. Yarbary dives to make a shoestring tackle which ends the broken play and prevents Louisville from turning nothing into something.

A full offseason only helps Yarbary get used to the faster pass-happy National Arena League. He is one of the players to watch for a breakout year.