2007 Baylor Preview - Defense

Posted Jun 6, 2007

Preview 2007 Baylor Bear Defense Preview


Baylor Bears

Preview 2007 - BU Defense

- 2007 Baylor Preview | 2007 BU Offense Preview
2007 BU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Baylor Preview 

What you need to know:
Pass rush, pass rush, pass rush. Baylor didn't come up with any last year, and it affected the entire defense. With only 11 sacks and 51 tackles for loss, BU let opposing quarterbacks spend all day to throw, and the secondary struggled. Worse yet, the run defense was awful. Now, there's hope for improvement in the 4-2-5 alignment with promising tackles in Vincent Rhodes and Trey Bryant, along with tackling machine Joe Pawelek at linebacker. The secondary has more raw talent than last year, but not a lot of experience, so it'll be up to veteran ends Jason Lamb and Geoff Nelson to finally produce some sort of pressure on the quarterback.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Joe Pawelek, 86
Sacks: Geoff Nelson, 2.5
Interceptions: Dwain Crawford, 3

Star of the defense: Sophomore LB Joe Pawelek
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior CBs Alton Widemon & Josh Bell
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Vincent Rhodes
Best pro prospect: Rhodes
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pawelek, 2) Rhodes, 3) S Dwain Crawford
Strength of the defense: Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
Both starting ends, sophomore Jason Lamb and senior Geoff Nelson, return. One of them has to become a steady pass rusher. The 6-2, 260-pound Nelson was a career reserve who made 36 tackles and a team-leading 2.5 sacks. He has the experience and just enough quickness to be around the ball, but if he's not getting into the backfield being a disruptive force, he's not doing much for the line.

The 6-6, 253-pound Lamb showed plenty of potential in a good first year, making 38 tackles and a sack with 5.5 tackles for loss, doing a good job over the second half of the season. The former tight end is a smart defender with just enough athleticism to grow into the type of end who demands a double-team, and he showed flashes of growing into a top player this spring.

Also returning is 6-2, 302-pound junior Vincent Rhodes at tackle. He started the last eight games of last season making 34 tackles and showing good interior pass rushing skills with eight quarterback hurries with two sacks and five tackles for loss to go along with 35 tackles. He has the size and the quickness, and now he has to be the leader to revolve the run defense around, at least up front.

Next to Rhodes at nose tackle will be 6-3, 310-pound sophomore Trey Bryant after a five tackle, two tackle-for-loss first season. After only seeing time in three games, he'll now be asked to become the team's top anchor option after coming to Baylor as a top recruit a few years ago. With good bulk and decent athleticism, he should grow into one of the team's top stars. At least, that's the hope.

Projected Top Reserves: Nelson is set at one end, but he'll be in a rotation with 6-1, 262-pound redshirt freshman Jameon Hardeman, a promising pass rusher who originally signed with Arizona State before coming to Waco. He has all the tools with 6-1, 262-pound size and tremendous quickness, he could be the spark to ignite the stagnant line.

Inside, behind Rhodes, will be 6-3, 271-pound sophomore Damien Taylor after making eight tackles in a limited role. While he doesn't have a lot of size compared to other Bear tackles, he's strong and has ability to be a decent backup in the rotation. Even with his quickness, the better he can hold up against the run, the more he'll play.
Watch Out For ... Hardeman to be the end the line needed last year. He might not start, but he could turn into a pass rushing specialist who can come in and make a few big plays here and there.
Strength: Tackles. Eventually, Rhodes and Bryant will form a solid 1-2 tackle punch on the inside. Bryant needs time, and Rhodes needs to do more against the run, but the duo has tremendous potential.
Weakness: Pass rush.  The line struggled in all areas last year, but it was particularly awful when it came to getting to the quarterback. Baylor was 116th in the nation with 11 sacks and not nearly enough pressure. All the ends have to be far better.
Outlook: Pushed around against the run, inept at creating a pass rush, the line was awful last season even though the line was supposed to be one of the team's strengths. All of a sudden, the line got young, inexperienced, and ineffective. Now the front four has to create a better rotation and figure out something, anything, it can do at a high level on a regular basis.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters
The linebacking corps, and the entire defense, revolves around 6-2, 231-pound sophomore Joe Pawelek in the middle. One of the team's few bright spots last year with 86 tackles, two sacks and 86 tackles for loss, he was all over the place cleaning up the messes left by the line. Originally a smallish defensive end, he found his home in the linebacking corps showing great range and toughness, despite not being the best of athletes. He's one of the Big 12's toughest defenders.

Next to Pawelek will once again be senior Nick Moore, a solid tackler who finished second on the team with 75 stops and four tackles for loss. The former Georgia Tech transfer is 6-1 and 226 pounds, and while he's a hard hitter, he isn't the ideal weakside defender. More suited for a strongside role, he has to show he can make more plays against the pass and be more disruptive.

Projected Top Reserves: While Moore is a regular, he'll have to fight off 6-3, 226-pound sophomore Antonio Jones, who made 44 tackles as a reserve and part-time starter. An excellent athlete with nice range, he'd grow into a top all-around defender if he got a bigger role.

Behind Pawelek will be 6-2, 225-pound junior Ben Hixson in the middle after making seven tackles in a limited role. While he's not going to see too much time considering Pawlelek is impossible to get off the field, he's a good tackler who could see time on the other side.

Also looking for time will be 6-1, 223-pound redshirt freshman Chad Lowe, how originally appeared to be destined for Kansas State before switching to BU. While he's not all that bid, he's a fantastic tackler who hits like a ton of bricks.
Watch Out For ... Jones. Lowe is a rising star who'll eventually be a regular, but for now, Jones will make a big impact behind Moore and should be the all-over-the-field playmaker that Moore isn't able to be on a regular basis.
Strength: Hitters. Pawelek doesn't miss and Moore is always around the ball. Lowe, who will have the hardest time finding the field among the five top linebackers, might be the biggest hitter of all.
Weakness: The scheme. In a perfect world, BU would have Pawelek in the middle, Moore on the strongside, and Jones on the weakside with Hixson and Lowe playing both inside and out when needed. In the 4-2-5, some of BU's best defenders will be on the bench far too often.
Outlook: The strength of the defense, Pawelek and Moore are two tough tacklers who should be 1-2 in stops again. Because of the scheme, the backups are plentiful with Jones, Hixson and Lowe all able to produce.
Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
The BU scheme uses an extra safety to play on the outside as a third linebacker and extra pass defender. Maurice Lindquist was great in the role last year, and now it'll be up to sophomore Jeremy Williams to be the main man in the team's glamour defensive position. At 5-10 and 204 pounds, he's a well-built defensive back who has some of the best wheels on the team. With his speed, he has the range to make plays all over the field, but he needs experience after seeing all his time on special teams.

The one returning starter to the secondary is 6-0, 208-pound Rover Dwain Crawford after a 55 tackle, three interception season at free safety. The former star high school running back now knows how to play in the secondary at a Big 12 level, and should use his great speed to be one of the team's top tacklers again. With his experience, he needs to be a leader and a tone-setter.

Moving into Crawford's vacated free safety spot will be 6-2, 209-pound sophomore Jordan Lake. Despite playing in a reserve role, he showed flashes of greatness making 15 tackles and an interception with two forced fumbles in just five games before suffering a broken collarbone. While he doesn't have ideal speed for a free safety, at least, compared to Williams and Crawford, he's a big hitter who makes things happen.

Both starting corners have to be replaced, but senior Josh Bell and Alton Widemon each have seen time. Widemon made 20 tackles and broke up two passes, and now the Tulane transfer has to use his past starting experience to grow into a consistent pass defender. Making tackles would be nice, but his worth will be in coverage.

Bell is a tall, rangy corner who made eight tackles and broke up a pass. He's seen enough time over the last two years to step in and become a consistent starter, while he has enough speed to hold his own against the faster receiver. Widemon will be the number one; Bell needs to show he can be a good number two.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Brandon Stiggers started in eight games and finished sixth in tackles making 47. The former JUCO transfer isn't the talent Williams is at outside safety, but he'll see plenty of action and could end up seeing time at one of the other safety jobs. While he's quick and is a good tackler, he doesn't do enough against the pass.

Combining behind Lake at free safety will be junior Marlon Price and redshirt freshman Tim Atchison. Price is a veteran, mostly a special teamer, with enough speed to move to corner if absolutely needed. Atchison is a pure tacklers who'll eventually solidify a spot somewhere in the secondary. It might be next year, but he's an up and comer.

Behind Crawford at Rover will be junior Jake LaMar, who's coming off a decent year as a reserve making 13 tackles with an interception. Mostly a special teamer so far, he could be moved around in the secondary to utilize his tremendous speed.
Watch Out For ... Crawford to be a major producer. A good all-around defensive back last season, he should take his game to another level now that he knows what he's doing.
Strength: Options. Considering only one starter is returning to a first-team role, there's far more depth and far fewer problems than you might think. The reserves have talent.
Weakness: Cornerback. This is the problem. The Bears didn't shut anyone down who wanted to throw the ball on a regular basis, and while Widemon and Bell aren't starting from scratch, they're seniors who haven't been able to force themselves into starting jobs until now.
Outlook: Teams spent so much time running the ball that the pass defense, by comparison, looked tremendous. There's an overall upgrade in athleticism, even if there are several unknowns in the starting five. There will be times when this group gets lit up like a Christmas tree, but it'll have a better overall season than last year's secondary (if only because there'll be more of a pass rush to help the cause).
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Forget about replacing Daniel Sepulveda, one of the greatest punters in college football history. Junior Caleb Allen will give it a try, and he'll also have to replace Ryan Havens, who hit 11 of 14 field goals with two of his misses coming from inside 50 yards. The transfer from Air Force will try to handle all the duties.
Watch Out For ... Allen to be strong in placekicking, but have problems with his consistency as a punter. All he has to do is replace the 46.5-yard average of Sepulveda.
Strength: The return game. The top returners from last year might be gone, but Guy Morriss teams usually come up with good return men.
Weakness: Certainty in the kicking game. Baylor had the one of the best kicking games in America last year. Allen has a lot to live up to.
Outlook: Baylor isn't good enough to be mediocre on special teams. Allen might be the difference in at least two games, while the coverage units and punt return game has to be better. There are a lot of question marks.
Rating: 6


Related Stories
2007 Baylor Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 5, 2007
2007 Baylor Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 5, 2007
2007 Baylor Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 5, 2007

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