2012 Baylor Preview – Defense
Baylor S Ahmad Dixon
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Baylor Bear Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The Phil Bennett defense couldn't come up with any stops. The tackling in the 4-2-5 alignment was shoddy, there was nothing happening against the pass, and the run defense was way too soft. On the plus side, the 118th-ranked pass defense gets all five starters back in the secondary, and while everyone can tackle, they have to spend way too much time doing it thanks to a front six that ends up making too many stops down the field. The front four has to start generating more of a pass rush from the good rotation of ends, while the interior has to start holding up better – don't remember the Alamo – against anyone wanting to run up the gut. There's speed and athleticism across the board, but it has to translate into production.
Star of the defense: Junior S Sam Holl
Tackles: Sam Holl, 113
Sacks: Tevin Elliott, 3
Interceptions: K.J. Morton, 4
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DTs Kaeron Johnson and Nick Johnson
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Eddie Lackey
Best pro prospect: Holl
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Holl, 2) Lackey, 3) CB K.J. Morton
Strength of the defense: Secondary Experience, Athleticism
Weakness of the defense: Stopping The Pass, Stopping The Run
The defensive line didn't get into the backfield and failed to stop the run on a regular basis. It got pushed around by just about everyone, and now it'll be up to a pair of Johnsons to step up and produce on the inside. 6-2, 295-pound senior Nick Johnson isn't massive, but he's a big body from the JUCO ranks who stepped in as a spot starter – getting the call against Texas A&M and Oklahoma – finishing with eight tackles with half a sack. Strong, he should be able to hold his own, while 6-3, 300-pound senior Kaeron Johnson is a quick big man who made five tackles as a backup and one-time starter against Oklahoma. The former fullback is one of the biggest options for the line, and while he moves well, his job will be to plug things up against the run.
Senior Gary Mason Jr. was a part-time starter on the end last season making 26 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and eight tackles for loss, but he needs to do more. The 6-4, 265-pound veteran is always working and always hustling, and with his motor, size and quickness he has to get to the quarterback on a more regular basis. While he was fine last year, he's expected to grow into the key star of the front four. At least that's the hope. Working in the rotation on the right side is former linebacker Chris McAllister who made ten tackles and 1.5 sacks. At 6-3 and 255 pounds he's built like a speed rusher and has the athleticism to be a specialist at times.
Starting on the other side will once again be junior Terrance Lloyd a 6-3, 240-pound veteran who got the call in every game making 36 tackles, 2.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss. He has too much speed, quickness and energy to not be more explosive and more of a playmaker. Staying healthy is a problem after suffering a knee injury a few years ago and missing time this offseason. He'll once again be backed up by 6-3, 250-pound junior Tevin Elliott, a pass rushing specialist who made 27 tackles, three sacks and eight tackles for loss. The team's leading pass rusher in 2010, the former linebacker has the experience to go along with the tools. Now he has to scare someone.
Backing up the Johnsons on the inside will be redshirt freshmen Beau Blackshear and Trevor Clemons-Valdez, two young prospects who beefed up and should be ready to hold their own. At 6-3 and 295 pounds, Clemons-Valdez hit the weights hard and now should be able to take the pounding, while Blackshear will add some quickness to the position behind Nick Johnson.
Watch Out For … Mason Jr. The Bears have several pass rushing options, but they really need the veteran to start exploding on the outside. It would be nice if there was one star to throw a scare into opposing offenses, and Mason Jr. has to be the steadiest speed rusher on the lot.
Strength: A rotation. The Bears have nice enough backups to see time on a regular basis. In a perfect world the starting four turns out to be a rock, but everyone should stay fresh, especially on the outside. There are enough veteran specialists to change things up as needed.
Weakness: Playing football. The line was awful last year with just 19 sacks and allowing 197 yards per game and gave up 5.2 yards per carry. There's too much turnover to expect steadier production against the run, but the hope has to be for more big plays in the backfield.
Outlook: Last year's line was supposed to shine, but didn't this year's bunch has pass rushing options on the outside, and just enough promise on the inside to hope for a bit more production against the stronger running teams, but this should be a problem area once again. Everyone moves and everyone is active, but that didn't translate last season and probably won't this year.
Unit Rating: 5.5
The two in the 4-2-5 was ripped to shreds, but now there's enough of a rotation and enough options to hope for more production starting with 6-1, 235-pound sophomore Bryce Hager in the middle. Very smart, he has the mentality and the body type to be terrific against the run and not miss a stop after making 13 tackles in backup role. But will he really keep the starting job in place of leading tackler Elliott Coffey?
6-0, 240-pound senior Rodney Chadwick brings more size and has just enough experience to step in against the stronger teams and bring more bulk. Able to move a bit, he started ten times last season on the weakside, making 68 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss and five broken up passes. If the D goes to a 4-3, he'll be in.
If Chadwick doesn't take over his old spot on the weakside, 6-1, 220-pound junior Eddie Lackey will hold down the job after coming in from the JUCO ranks. While he's not huge, he can move with great range making 54 tackles for Riverside CC in California. He should be a statistical star, while the combination of 5-11, 220-pound junior Brody Trahan and 6-0, 220-pound junior Cordarius Golston will combine for time.
Trahan started the first three games last year on the weakside but didn't do enough to be disruptive. The former quarterback made 32 tackles, but he didn't do anything against the pass. The speed is there to do more to get into the backfield, while Golston got his feet wet making ten tackles in a limited role.
Watch Out For … Lackey. He was brought in to provide an instant upgrade to the linebacking corps, and with his JUCO experience and speed he should be able to do it. Don't be shocked if he leads the team in tackles.
Strength: Options. The defense only used two linebackers on a regular basis, so the depth is solid. There are plenty of options to use in a rotation and keeping everyone fresh won't be a problem.
Weakness: Holding up against the run. The line didn't exactly do its job last year against the better ground games, but the linebackers almost never picked up the slack. The tackle numbers might not be bad, but most of the plays were made down the field. There weren't nearly enough impact plays.
Outlook: The stats will be fine, but will they mean anything? It would be nice if there was a thumper who could clean up everything against the run and eat up ball-carriers, but there isn't an obvious one at a Big 12 level. Being active is a must and more disruptive would be nice, but a star needs to come through. Lackey could be that guy.
Unit Rating: 5.5
The third-worst pass defense in America has a million miles to go to be even decent, but there are several veterans to work around. In the five defensive back system, deep safety Sam Holl does a little bit of everything, finishing second on the team with 113 tackles with three picks and 2.5 tackles for loss. At 6-1 and 200 pounds the junior has excellent size and packs a punch, but he has to make way too many plays because the front six doesn't always do its job. A pure tackler, he's an all-star in the making if the defense got any more respect. Also working in the deep safety mix is veteran Josh Wilson, a 6-0, 190-pound senior who started the season opener but only finished the season with eight tackles.
6-0, 210-pound junior Ahmad Dixon played every game last season as a nickel back, finishing fourth on the team with 89 tackles with a pick and 5.5 tackles for loss and three fumble recoveries. It's his job to be all over the field and be disruptive, but he has to do far more when the ball is in the air. The team's top recruit a few years ago, he was a top safety prospect and a huge get for the program. The talent and experience are all there, but he has to come up with more picks.
Back at the third safety spot is 5-11, 195-pound senior Mike Hicks, who finished third on the team with 105 tackles with three picks and five broken up passes. More of a mini-linebacker by nature, he fits the cover safety role well with good toughness against the run, and he was one of the few Bears who showed up against the pass.
Able to work at any of the three safety spots, Hicks will be one of the team's top tacklers again, while 5-11, 185-pound senior Chance Casey is a nice veteran backup who started the first five games at corner before moving to cover safety against Oklahoma State and Missouri, finishing the season with 48 tackles and six broken up passes. Really, really fast – he was a Texas state champion hurdler – he's great whenever he's on the field.
Junior Jon Williams took over the starting corner job early on last year and never let it go making 43 tackles with 12 broken up passes and a 90-yard pick six against Texas Tech. At 5-10 and 185 pounds he's big enough to get by, and he can move. The big JUCO pick-up from last year should be the team's top lockdown corner, while the combination of junior Tyler Stephenson and Demitri Goodson will battle for time.
The 5-10, 170-pound Stephenson only saw time in three games and made one tackle, but he can fly, tearing off a 37.67 in the 300-meter hurdles in an AAU national meet and ran the 110-meter hurdles in 14.04. The 5-11, 180-pound Goodson made just one tackle in four appearances, but he can move, too.
5-10, 180-pound junior K.J. Morton was supposed to be a safety after coming over from the College of the Sequoias, but he turned out to be a key corner starting 11 times making 75 tackles with a team-leading four picks and six broken up passes. A great tackler, he doesn't miss any stops in the open field, and he has decent ball-hawking skills, but he has to be better at locking down and holding up on deep passes. He'll be backed up by 5-10, 180-pound sophomore Tuswani Copeland, a promising prospect with phenomenal athleticism with a 22-foot long jump.
Watch Out For … the corners. Morton and Williams were torched on a consistent basis, but they have been around long enough to know what they're doing and could start turning several close plays into picks and gamechangers. Williams might have struggled to come up with picks, but he led the team in broken up passes, while Morton grew into the job and lead the way in interceptions.
Strength: Experience and speed. This group can really, really move. All five starters are back and all five can run with any receiving corps in the Big 12. They have to spend too much time tackling because the front six doesn't always do its job, but they all have to be far better at …
Weakness: Stopping someone from throwing the ball. Granted, offenses had to bomb away to keep up with RG3 and the high-octane attack, but the Baylor secondary didn't exactly hold up its end of the bargain allowing 36 touchdown passes and 291 yards per game.
Outlook: There's experience and the potential to be far, far better if the defensive front can start doing its job by getting into the backfield. The Bear defensive backs are great at tackling, mostly because they spend so much time having to do it, but now they have to start coming up with a few stops against decent passing teams. There are too many seasoned veterans to not be better, but the stats aren't going to necessarily show it.
Unit Rating: 6
While junior Aaron Jones didn't have to come through on a regular basis, it would've been nice to have gotten a bit more than a 10-of-17 season on field goal attempts after connecting on 19-of-27 shots two years ago. He has a good leg, but he didn't show it off too often going 3-of-10 from beyond 40. He's a veteran with the experience that needs to translate into more consistency.
There was a concern after three-time All-Big 12 punter Derek Epperson was done, and there was good reason. The Bears finished 118th in the nation in punting, but that's partly because there weren't that many opportunities. Sophomore Spencer Roth is a 6-4, 225-pound bomber with a huge leg, and he wasn't that bad averaging 40.5 yards per kick and putting six of his 29 kicks inside the 20. Now he needs more help from the coverage team.
Sophomore Antwan Goodley came up with a great year after he took the kick return job by the horns averaging 23.7 yards per try, while Darius Jones was okay averaging 20.1 yards per attempt. Senior Demetri Goodson was phenomenal when he got his chances averaging 33.3 yards per kick on his three tries.
Levi Norwood will also be a part of the kickoff return game – averaging 20.4 yards per try – and he'll be the main punt returner again after averaging 8.2 yards per try. He might not be explosive, but he's good at making the first man miss.
Watch Out For … Roth. The offense was so good that he didn't get too many chances to show what he could do, but he should be a bit better this time around. He'll average well over 40 yards per kick and he should grow into the next great Baylor punting star.
Strength: Experience. All the parts are back with both kickers and all the return men back. The veterans all know what they're doing and there's no reason for the kicking game to not be more consistent.
Weakness: Production. The special teams were all average at best in every way. The return game was mediocre; the kicking game was just okay; and the punting game was among the worst in the nation in terms of net average. The coverage teams were awful.
Outlook: A major plus at times under Art Briles, nothing seemed to work all that well last year. This season there's too much experience and too much speed among the returners to not be better. If Roth can do more and if Jones can be better inside 45 yards, this will be a positive again.
Unit Rating: 6
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