What you need to know ...
Seven starters return to the Mountain West's best defense after
forcing a nation-leading 40 turnovers and holding teams to 108
rushing yards per game. Take away the wild 51-50 overtime
shootout with BYU and the Horned Frog defense allowed a mere
15.7 points per game. The defensive line should be unreal when
it comes to getting into the backfield thanks to the return of
ends Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz, but there will be early concern
over the new tackles. Cornerback is a worry for the secondary
needing seniors Vernon Russell and Mike Salvage to shine right
away. Things are rock-solid up the middle with a great linebacking corps and excellent safeties.
Tackles: Jason Phillips, 71
Sacks: Chase Ortiz, 9
Interceptions: Brian Bonner, Steven Coleman, 4
Star of the defense: Junior DE Tommy Blake
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior CBs
Vernon Russell and Mike Salvage
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman CB Corderra
Best pro prospect: Blake
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Blake, 2) DE Chase
Ortiz, 3) LB Jason Phillips
Strength of the defense: Pass rush, ends, linebackers
Weakness of the defense: Tackles, corners
Losing top tackles Zarnell Fitch and Jared Kesler hurts a
little bit, but there's size returning in Jarracea Williams, Lorenzo
Jones and Cody Moore to give hope that the situation inside is fine.
Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz form one of the nation's best 1-2 pass
rushing tandems, and there's experience behind them with Jamison Newby
strong enough to start. Getting to the quarterback won't be a problem,
so the only question is if the tackles can hold up inside.
The key to the unit: Hope for experience to turn into
production at tackle and hope Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz come up with a
repeat of last year.
Defensive Line Rating: 8
- LDE Chase Ortiz, Jr. - 37 tackles, 9 sacks, 14 TFL, 2
Ortiz was buried deep on the depth chart going into the season, but he
quickly became a star earning All-Mountain West honors after leading the
Horned Frogs in sacks and tackles for loss. He's only 250-pounds, but
he's tremendously quick and nasty to stop one-on-one. He benefits from
having Tommy Blake take away attention on the other side and makes teams
pay when they gameplan for the former linebacker.
- DT Cody Moore, Soph - 5 tackles, 1.5 TFL
Moore saw a little bit of time in the rotation last year despite being
banged up. He's the biggest tackle option with the biggest linemen
playing on the nose, and he's quick enough at 275 pounds to get into the
backfield on a regular basis if he's able to hold down the starting job.
- NT Jarrarcea Williams, Sr. - 3 tackles, 2.5 TFL
At 310 pounds, Williams has to establish himself as an anchor in the
middle. The former high school fullback has a little bit of starting
experience and should be a decent interior pass rusher with his
quickness and size even though he hasn't been able to make much of an
impact so far.
- RDE Tommy Blake, Jr. - 59 tackles, 7 sacks, 13.5 TFL
Blake grew from a tremendous pass rushing specialist to a strong
all-around end and the best player in the Mountain West last season. The
former running back is a blur in the backfield and more than holds his
own against the run despite only being 250 pounds. With next level
athleticism and moves, and with Chase Ortiz on the other side garnering
attention, he'll be a near-lock for another big sack total.
- DE Jamison Newby, Sr. - 19 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3
Newby would be a starter for most Mountain West teams and is a strong
backup behind Tommy Blake on the right side. He's an experienced veteran
who's a decent pass rusher and solid against the run.
- NT Lorenzo Jones, Soph. - 11 tackles, 1.5 sacks,
Considered the star of the future, the 300-pound true sophomore showed
off tremendous quickness and potential in his limited role last year.
Jones was a huge recruit for the Horned Frogs and should be a regular in
the rotation if he doesn't push Jarrarcea Williams out of a starting
- DT James Vess, Soph. - 7 tackles
Vess will be neck-and-neck with Cody Moore for the starting tackle job
this fall. He's not as big as Moore, but he's one of the fastest players
on the line and should be a tremendous pass rusher in time.
- DE Jared Retkofsky, Sr. - 7 tackles, 1.5 TFL
The 6-5, 270-pound senior has been a strong reserve over the last two
seasons. He adds more bulk at end behind Chase Ortiz on the left side
and can play inside at tackle if needed.
All the key parts return to a linebacking corps that'll
feature speed and two tremendous up-and-coming sophomores. Jason
Phillips and Robert Henson finished 1-2 in tackles last year and should
be the team's leaders once again. Phillips played like a veteran in the
middle, while Henson tore up offense despite only getting two starts.
David Hawthorne can start at either spot if needed, while LSU transfer
Darius Ingram is a promising option on the strongside.
The key to the unit: Get even more production out of
the super-sophomores now that they know what they're doing and hope for
even more quality playmakers to develop to provide more depth.
Linebacker Rating: 7.5
- Robert Henson, Soph. - 69 tackles, 2 sacks, 8.5 TFL
Henson will get every shot at winning the strongside job after finishing
second in tackles last season. While not as big as David Hawthorne, the
222-pound sophomore is faster and is always around the ball with a great
burst into the backfield.
- Jason Phillips, Soph. - 71 tackles, 1 sack, 8.5 TFL
Phillips flew up the depth chart to lead the Horned Frogs in tackles as
a freshman. He came to TCU as a lightning fast tailback before bulking
up to 240 pounds and using his speed to become a big hitter with great
range in the middle. It'll be a shock if he doesn't earn All-Mountain
- David Hawthorne, Jr. - 41 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 6.5 TFL
Hawthorne came back from a knee injury to shine on the strongside become
one of the team's top overall playmakers. He'll be in a battle with
Robert Henson for the job, but he offers a bit more size and more
experience. At the very least he'll be one of the team's top tacklers as
a quality reserve.
- Ryan Schlenger, Sr. - 4 tackles
More of a safety than a linebacker, the 6-3, 218-pound senior will have
a hard time seeing time in the middle with Jason Phillips holding down
the starting job and Darius Ingram quickly becoming a factor.
- Darius Ingram, Soph.
He's only 218 pounds, but the LSU transfer has wide receiver speed to go
along with the smarts to handle himself in the middle. He wasn't
able to stay healthy last year and needs to move his way into the
This will be the X factor, especially at corner. Mike Salvage
and Vernon Russell are seniors with JUCO experience, but they didn't do
much last year and will have to lock down on the outside right away. The
safeties should be fine with Marvin White and David Roach two of the
Mountain West's best with good reserves waiting in the wings. Once again,
though, corner will be the issue needing young prospects Corderra Hunter
and Rafael Priest to push for time.
The key to the unit: Get big plays from the corners and
don't give up as many deep passes.
Secondary Rating: 7
- CB Mike Salvage, Sr. - 8 tackles
A top special teamer last year, the former JUCO transfer will get the
first look at the starting job on the left side. At 190 pounds he's one
of the team's bigger corner options.
- FS David Roach, Jr. - 41 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 interceptions, 2
broken up passes
It'll be up to the former weak safety to take over for Jeremy Modkins at
free safety. He's a big hitter at 6-2 and 210 pounds who hasn't shown
any problems after suffering a knee injury a few years ago. He hits like
a linebacker, and now he has to prove he doesn't cover like one.
- SS Eric Buchanan, Sr. - 35 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL, 1
interception, 4 broken up passes
Buchanan was known as a good coverman moving from corner to safety, but
there was a question about his toughness and hitting ability. That went
out the window early last year as he turned into a big popper who isn't
afraid to make tough plays against the run. Now it's the other way; he
has to make more plays against the pass.
- WS Marvin White, Sr. - 67 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 interceptions, 2
broken up passes
The former JUCO transfer made a huge impact right away finishing third
on the team in tackles and turning into a force against the run. He's
more of a linebacker than safety even though he looked good in pass
coverage cleaning up all the short to midrange passes.
- CB Vernon Russell, Sr. - 6 tackles
The former LSU Tiger wasn't healthy last year and struggled to play in
nine games. He's a big, 195-pound corner with big-time skills and
technique. If he can stay 100% he'll be one of the team's top defenders.
- CB Corderra Hunter, RFr.
He'll eventually be the team's top corner. He's 6-2 and 180 pounds with
track star speed and good hitting ability. Even though he'll start out
behind Vernon Russell on the right side, he could find a starting spot
somewhere early on.
- SS Brian Bonner, Jr. - 43 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 TFL, 4
interceptions, 3 broken up passes
Bonner can do just about everything able to play strong safety with good
enough speed to play weak safety. He's a solid veteran who's a top
playmaker whenever he's on the field.
- FS Steven Coleman, Soph. - 10 tackles, 1 interception
An interesting prospect, Coleman is 6-3 and 205 pounds with good
athleticism at free safety. He has corner ability at safety and now has
to prove he can be a steady hitter behind David Roach.
Chris Manfredini should be an All-Mountain West
placekicker and punter Brian Cortney should be reliable, and now the
hope is for more range from the entire kicking game. Losing All-America
kick returner Cory Rodgers is a killer after he averaged 30.3 yards on
kickoff returns and 15.3 yards per punt returns. Michael DePriest will
be the main kickoff returner and will join Donald Massey to try out
returning punts. The coverage units were amazing last year and should be
rock solid again.
The key to the unit: More distance on field goals and
bigger blasts from the punting game.
Offensive Line Rating: 8.5
- PK Chris Manfredini, Jr. - 13-13 FGs, 40-44 extra
Manfredini took over for an ineffective Peter LoCoco and hit all 13 of
his field goal attempts with the biggest shot from 43 yards out. He was
automatic from short distances and should get a few more chances from
deep even though LoCoco has the better leg.
- P Brian Cortney, Sr. - 62 punts, 2,394 yds, 38.6 yards per
kick, 14 inside the 20
Cortney didn't blast the ball much and didn't hang it up
quite enough, but the team was able to net well. He has good accuracy
and should be steadier considering all his experience.