2007 TCU Preview - Defense

Posted May 30, 2007

Preview 2007 TCU Horned Frog Defense Preview


TCU Horned Frogs

Preview 2007 - TCU Defense

- 2007 TCU Preview | 2007 TCU Offense Preview 
2007 TCU Depth Chart
| 2006 CFN TCU Preview 

What you need to know:
The Horned Frogs finished second in the nation in total defense, third in scoring defense, and led the Mountain West in several top categories. It'll be a total shock if they weren't even better. The only possible problems will come if injuries strike. Nine starters return, led by all-star ends Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz, who make life easy for everyone else on the defense with the pressure they provide. The 4-2-5 has four good linebackers, an amazing group of safeties, rising stars at corner, and a good, active line. The only potential issue is a lack of raw bulk at tackle, but that's looking for a problem.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jason Phillips, 73
Sacks: Tommy Blake, 7
Nick Sanders, Torrey Stewart, 3

Star of the defense: Senior DE Tommy Blake
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior NT Cody Moore
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Nick Sanders
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, experience
Weakness of the defense: Backup defensive linemen

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The Horned Frogs will once again have one of the nation's most disruptive front lines thanks to the return of senior ends Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz, arguably the best tandem in America. Blake flirted with the idea of turning pro early, and then chose to come back in what should be an All-America season. In three years he's made 134 tackles, 19 sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss with a blend of blinding quickness and good size. Up to 252 pounds, he's filled out his 6-3 frame and should be even stronger against the run. Ortiz doesn't get the same publicity as the main man on the other side, but he's been almost as effective over the last two seasons with 64 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss. While he doesn't have Blake's speed burst, he's similar in size and is great at getting into the backfield. The First Team Mountain West performer demands the full-time attention previously reserved for Blake.

Also returning is 6-3, 282-pound junior James Vess at tackle after making 32 tackles and four sacks. He came on over the second half of the year to become an impressive interior pass rusher who took advantage of all the single blocking he saw. The team's fastest tackler, he's like an end playing in the interior.

The one newcomer to the starting four is 292-pound junior Cody Moore, who isn't exactly starting from scratch with three starts last season and 14 tackles with three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. He bulked up in the last year and should be more of an anchor on the nose, but he'll need to use his quickness to continue to be a regular in the opposing backfield.

Projected Top Reserves: Ortiz and Blake will rarely be off the field, but the Horned Frogs have decent prospects behind them in junior Matt Panfil and sophomore Allen Christopher. Panfil, who made four tackles last year and will start out behind Ortiz, is only 232 pounds, but he can move.
Christopher will play behind Blake after making three tackles in a little bit of action.

Bringing the bulk will be 6-2, 303-pound redshirt freshman Cory Grant, who'll play on the nose behind Moore to start out. While hardly polished, he's one of the team's strongest players and has all the measurables to grow into a run stuffer.

Watch Out For ... Blake and Ortiz to combine for 20 sacks. The two are going to be even better, even with all the hype coming their way.
Pass rushing. Behind the big two on the outside, Vess is a threat in the middle and Moore will make plenty of plays behind the line.
Backups and size. It's not Panfil and Christopher's fault; they each saw time in every game last year. They just happen to be playing behind the two best ends in the Mountain West. The backup tackles have almost no experience, and if Grant goes down, or can't play, the second team gets really small.
Outlook: As long as Blake and Ortiz are Blake and Ortiz, TCU will finish in the top ten in America in sacks and tackle for loss. Everything revolves around the outside going in, and Vess and Moore should shine with all the focus on the stars. TCU always finds productive playmakers to fill the gaps, and it'll have to hope a good rotation forms among the reserves over the course of the season.
Rating: 8.5


Projected Starters: The Horned Frogs only use two true linebackers in their scheme, and they have two very good ones returning in senior David Hawthorne and junior Jason Phillips.

The 225-poind Hawthorne made 43 tackles last season, and has 102 in his career, on the strongside. Coming off a fantastic spring where he was all over the field making big play after big play, he's on the verge of being an all-star playmaker with the license to go after the quarterback as well as be steady against the run.

Phillips is a 234-pound rock in the middle with 144 tackles in the last two years with 14.5 tackles for loss. While he doesn't do quite enough against the pass, the First Team All-Mountain West performer doesn't miss anything against the run.

Projected Top Reserves:
Technically, Hawthorne combines with junior Robert Henson, who steps in from time to time when the defense needs a third linebacker. He's not as big as Hawthorne, but he's faster. Even as a reserve over the last two years he's earned Honorable Mention All-Mountain West honors with 133 stops, 3.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss and was third on the team in tackles. Along with all he does for the defense, he's a top special teamer.

Behind Phillips in the middle will be sophomore Daryl Washington, who got his feet wet as a true freshman with 16 tackles and a blocked punt. He has sideline to sideline range with the type of size, at 6-3 and 228 pounds, and quickness that would make him an ideal weakside linebacker if the defense used one.

Watch Out For ... A fantastic rotation and more 4-3, even if it doesn't always look like a 4-3. There are four terrific playmakers to rotate in and wreak havoc all over the field. They all need time.
Depth. The plus of playing two linebackers is the depth it creates, and TCU has two great ones in Henson and Washington. They're too good to keep off the field, and could step in and start without a problem.
Plays against the pass. Nitpicking time, because the linebackers don't do much for the passing game by design. That's what the five defensive backs are for. It would be nice if there was a little more size, but again, nitpicking.
Outlook: This is the Mountain West's best linebacking corps, and it's not even close. Phillips is a lock for all-star honors, Hawthorne has jacked his game up to another level and will be an all-star, and Henson is an all-star in reserve. Washington, when all is said and done, might be the most talented of the bunch, and former LSU transfer Darius Ingram is a nice emergency backup waiting in the wings.
Rating: 8.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The nation's seventh best pass efficiency defense gets three starters back in the 4-2-5 alignment, led by all-star senior Brian Bonner at strong safety. With enough range to play any of the three safety spots and the hitting ability to be a difference maker at strong safety, he's the team's most versatile defensive back, and he's also the leader of the defensive backfield. He made 49 tackles with 4.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions last season. If that wasn't enough, he's also a phenomenal punt returner averaging 12.7 yards per try.

Also returning is 6-2, 215-pound senior David Roach, who made 33 tackles and broke up four passes playing the weak safety. Listed as the starter at both free and weak spots, he'll get the start somewhere and might move around over the course of the season. He hits like a ton of bricks, but while he can move, he needs to do more when the ball is in the air.

Trying to find the starting third safety will be the key in fall practices. Most likely, 6-3, 204 pound junior Steven Coleman will play free safety in a rotation with Roach, who'll move around. Coleman made 18 tackles and two interceptions last season and is on the verge of being a regular producer and more of a difference maker. If nothing else, he'll be a top special teamer.

There's also experience returning at corner, but only one spot is set. Sophomore Nick Sanders turned into one of the surprises of the 2006 season earning acclaim for a 30 tackle, three interception season with seven broken up passes. He's not lightning fast, and he's not huge, but he's always around the ball.

The right side is up for grabs, and that's not a bad thing, with senior Torrey Stewart likely to get the nod after playing well at the end of last year. The former JUCO transfer grew into a role with an interception in each of the final three games of the year, to go along with eight tackles. He could be the team's sleeper star going into the season with a fantastic mix of talents that might make him the number one corner.

Projected Top Reserves: Stewart might start, but sophomore Rafael Priest will see plenty of action. A starter for all 13 games last year, he made 27 tackles and broke up nine passes. One of the team's fastest players, there will be a role for him somewhere if he doesn't win the starting job; he has too much upside to keep off the field.

The team's top safety backup, who might end up slipping into the starting strong safety spot if Bonner moves to free safety, will be junior Stephen Hodge, a special teams star who also made a big impact in the secondary with 30 tackles. While he's a good tackler, he doesn't do much for the pass defense.

Watch Out For ... even more of the same. The secondary didn't quite know it was doing last year, and now that it's experienced, it should be terrific.
Versatility. Bonner and Roach are each two of the Mountain West's better safeties and can play anywhere. That allows the coaching staff to move them around where needed and put the best players on the field. It also helps when there's a corner like Priest who can play either spot.
Not much. As good as this group is, it still hurts to lose a top safety like Marvin White, who led the team with 86 tackles and four interceptions. He was the leader and playmaker who set the tone for the secondary.
Outlook: How good was the TCU pass defense? Texas Tech was held to 204 yards and no touchdowns, and there was only one game with more than 300 yards allowed (the loss to BYU). With the emergence of players like Sanders and Bonner into stars, it'll be a major disappointment if this isn't the league's best secondary.
Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Everything will be fine if kicker Chris Manfredini shows better range and if punter Derek Wash can get some blast. Manfredini, a senior, is deadly from 40 yards and in hitting 12 of 14 attempts last year, but Peter LoCoco handled the longer kicks, and hit nine of 12 on the year. It's all Manfredini this year, and that's not a bad thing considering he's hit 35 of 38 career field goals. Wash got a little bit of work last year playing behind Bryan Cortney, and averaging 37.5 yards per kick. He'll have a fight on his hands with redshirt freshman David Porter also in the hunt for the job.

Watch Out For ... Manfredini to show off decent range. While he doesn't have LoCoco's leg, he'll be more than fine as long as he's not asked to make a lot of 45+ yarders.
Manfredini and punt returner Brian Bonner. Bonner averaged 12.7 yards per punt return. Getting Donald Massey back to return kicks, after he averaged 21.4 yards per try last year, is also a big plus.
Punting. Wash doesn't have a huge leg, but he has to find a way to averaged 40 yards a kick. Cortney didn't have a big leg either, but he was accurate. Wash has to be consistent.
Outlook: Manfredini will be an all-star, the return game will be among the best in the league, and the coverage units will be terrific. As long as the punting is decent, the special teams will be stellar.
Rating: 8


Related Stories
2007 TCU Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 29, 2007
2007 TCU Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 29, 2007
2007 TCU Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 29, 2007

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