Preview 2007 - TCU Defense
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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.
Tackles: Jason Phillips, 73
Sacks: Tommy Blake, 7
Sanders, Torrey Stewart, 3
Star of the defense: Senior DE Tommy Blake
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior NT
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
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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
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
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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 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
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
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
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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.