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2008 Baylor Preview - Defense
Baylor LB Joe Pawelek
Baylor LB Joe Pawelek
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 18, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Baylor Bear Defense

Baylor Bears

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Baylor Preview | 2008 Baylor Offense
- 2008 Baylor Defense | 2008 Baylor Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Baylor Preview | 2006 CFN Baylor Preview 

What you need to know:
The defense struggled to do much of anything having problems against the run, getting ripped apart by the pass, and giving up yards and points in chunks. Now there's hope for a big improvement with six good returning starters and a switch from a 4-2-5 alignment to a 4-3. The Bears should be strong up the middle with 300+ pounders Vincent Rhodes and Trey Bryant and tackle and all-star tacklers Joe Pawelek back at linebacker and Jordan Lake returning at free safety, but they all have to be better against the power running teams. Generating more pressure is vital to help out the secondary, and while ends Jason Lamb and Leon Freeman are good at getting to the quarterback, they have to do it on a more consistent basis.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jordan Lake, 120
Sacks: Jason Lamb, 5
Interceptions: Jordan Lake, 2

Star of the defense: Junior LB Joe Pawelek
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Kys Buerck
Unsung star on the rise: Senior DE Leon Freeman
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Vincent Rhodes
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pawelek, 2) Rhodes, 3) FS Jordan Lake
Strength of the defense: Size on the line, athleticism in the back seven
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense, interceptions

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
:
The key to the defense will be an improved pass rush, and that has to come from senior Leon Freeman and junior Jason Lamb on the outside.

The 6-6, 260-pound Lamb started all 12 games last year and has been a regular in the lineup for the last few years making 53 tackles with a team-leading five sacks and seven tackles for loss. The former tight end is a quick, smart defender who earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors and is the one player up front the pass rush can build around. With a little help from the rest of the line, he'll put up huge numbers.

Freeman is a former JUCO transfer who stepped in and made 38 tackles, three sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss in a good first season as a key reserve. He's not huge at 6-2 and 241 pounds, but the former linebacker is extremely quick and should do more now that he has a year of experience, and with all the attention paid to Lamb on the other side.

While Lamb is the flashy star of the front four, 6-2, 305-pound senior Vincent Rhodes will be the rock. Despite a strong 38 tackle season as the anchor of the defensive front, he didn't get any all-star attention; that will change. A good interior pass rusher with 3.5 sacks last season, he has the size, quickness, and durability to be dominant. The coaching staff is pushing him to get the motor running at full tilt all the time. When he's on, he's tremendous.

Also returning is 6-3, 321-pound junior Trey Bryant on the nose. He made 28 tackles and started every game, and while he has been productive, he hasn't done enough to hold the line against the run and has been pushed around a bit too much. He has the skills, the size, the high school résumé, and the talent to be great, and he just now could be reaching his potential.

Projected Top Reserves: Moving over from the offensive side to provide some help on the inside will be offensive lineman Sam Sledge, a 6-2, 266-pound junior who'll work behind Rhodes at tackle. He has seen a little bit of work over his first two seasons, mostly at guard, and he should flourish with a little time. 

Sophomore Jameon Hardeman originally signed with Arizona State before choosing BU. A 6-1, 238-pound pass rusher, he got a little work in nine games making four tackles and two tackles for loss. Now he'll work behind Freeman and will need to play a bigger role to generate more pressure into the backfield.

Adding more size to the mix is 6-2, 317-pound redshirt freshman Nicolas Jean-Baptiste. With little depth across the line, especially at tackle, he'll have to work in quickly on the nose and be ready to step in for Bryant here and there.
 
Watch Out For ... Rhodes to take his game to another level. He hasn't been bad by any stretch, but he needs to be better for the run defense to be more productive. The coaching staff is challenging him to be special.
Strength: Size. If nothing else, this is a Big 12 sized line with the size and the strength to hold up against the big, pounding lines. Now there has to be more production against the run.
Weakness: Depth. Needing to move over Sledge from the offensive side was a must to provide more live bodies at tackle, while Hardeman has to play up to his potential on the outside. Redshirt freshmen Jean-Baptiste on the inside and Zac Scotton on the end have to play beyond their youth.
Outlook: This should be a good line with three returning starters, good size, and decent promise in the pass rush with Lamb and Freeman likely to boost up the overall numbers. Staying healthy is a must early on, and getting to the quarterback on a more consistent basis is vital. The secondary needs all the help it can get.
Rating: 6.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters
:
Junior Joe Pawelek followed up a breakout 86 tackle first season with a tremendous 99-stop sophomore campaign with two sacks, eight tackles for loss, and two recovered fumbles. At 6-3 and 233 pounds, he's a big presence in the middle with great range and toughness. Despite not being an elite athlete, he always finds his way around the ball and he always comes up with the stop. Using his brain as much as his legs, he takes great angles and sniffs out plays well before they happen. Now he'll get more help around him in the new alignment as he lines up in the Backer, or middle spot.

Working on the strongside will be Antonio Jones, an undersized, safety-sized 6-2, 218-pound hitter who made 22 tackles in a limited role. An excellent athlete with nice range and pop, now he'll get his chance to shine with a bigger role and more responsibility.

At the Fritz, or weakside spot, will be 6-1, 206-pound sophomore Antonio Johnson, who'll play a combination of roving safety and outside linebacker. Originally used as a speedy defensive end option, he made 16 tackles as a true freshman but failed to provide the pass rush expected. He'll be a far better fit off the line a little bit and with more room to move. He'll have to prove he can handle himself against the pass.

Projected Top Reserves: 5-11, 225-pound sophomore Chris Francis had a nice first season as a good reserve making 19 tackles with an interceptions, and now he'll see time behind Pawelek in the middle. While he's better suited for the outside, he has the toughness and the nose for the ball to handle himself well on the inside.

6-2, 220-pound Earl Patin is a rising star on the outside after a strong spring and a 29 tackle, one sack true freshman season. A great hitter, he'll be a key backup in the strongside rotation with Jones and could start without a problem. Arguably the team's most talented linebacker, he'll find his way on the field early on.

With the move to a 4-3 defense, the linebacking corps needed more bodies. 6-0, 206-pound redshirt freshman Elliott Coffman is really a safety but will play on the weakside behind Johnson. A good tackler with excellent speed, he could be used as a situational player to generate a pass rush or as an extra defensive back.

Watch Out For ... good competition on the outside. Pawelek is a sure thing in the middle but Patin and Coffey will push hard for starting jobs. There might not be a lot of experience, but there's plenty of upside.
Strength: Quickness. Considering the past coaching staff recruited a specific type of hybrid safety and linebacker, there are several interesting options to play around with. There's plenty of speed and athleticism on the outside to use in a variety of ways.
Weakness: Size. Pawelek is a decent-sized middle linebacker, but he's hardly huge. The rest of the linebacking corps is full of big safeties. While athleticism isn't a problem, there could be an issue against the hard, power running teams.
Outlook: The change from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3 means there needed to be more linebacking options, and the coaching staff had to manufacture some. Pawelek is a star to work around while there's good promise and potential on the outside to get excited about. The key will be disruption. This group has to force turnovers, generate pressure, and make things happen.
Rating: 6


Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
:
6-2, 203-pound junior Jordan Lake led the team with 120 tackles with two interceptions and six broken up passes at the free safety spot, but he has to come back healthy after recovering from a shoulder problem. He had to do a little of everything as the last line of defense, and while he came through with a big year, it took its toll. Considering he suffered a broken collarbone two years ago, healthy will be an ongoing issue. Not a speedster for a free safety, he's simply a playmaker who finds ways to get to the ball and is a big hitter once he gets there.

Working at strong safety, or the Hero position, will be 5-10, 205-pound junior Jeremy Williams after making 38 tackles, a sack, and 5.5 tackles for loss as a key reserve. While he's not the fastest player on the team, he's not far off and is a strong tackler who doesn't make too many mistakes. Now he has to start making more plays when the ball is in the air.

Returning to his starting corner job is senior Dwain Crawford, a 6-0, 197-pound veteran with 103 tackles over the last two years. A former safety, he covers like one way too often failing to pick off a pass last year after coming away with three as a sophomore. A high school running back, he has good quickness and excellent speed. Now he has to combine it all with his experience to become a shut down corner.

Working on the other side will be sophomore Krys Buerck, a spot starter last season
at wide receiver catching 23 passes for 280 yards with two scores. His speed and 6-1, 174-pound size was needed more in the secondary, and while he shows promise as a corner, he'll get picked on early and often with everyone staying away from Crawford. He'll have to make a few big plays early on needing to make teams pay, but in time he should be solid. He has the skills.

Projected Top Reserves: Until Lake is healthy again after shoulder surgery, 6-0, 193-pound senior veteran Jake La Mar will play a key role in the safety rotation. The former walk-on has next level speed and good hitting ability making 67 stops with three sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. He'd be a starter in the old 4-2-5 scheme and will see plenty of action at both safety spots. He'll be moved around where needed.

6-2, 194-pound senior Marlon Price is a good veteran who made 18 tackles as a reserve free safety. Able to play either safety spot, he'll move around a bit and could step in from time to time at the Hero spot if Williams needs to work elsewhere in five DB sets. Price has decent speed and athleticism and is a good special teamer.

Sophomore Antareis Bryan is one of the team's up-and-coming corners after making 17 tackles and a pick in a decent first year. An athletic 6-1 and 180 pounds, he'll be the understudy behind Crawford at one spot, but he could end up starting on the other side if Buerck doesn't come through.

Also in the corner mix will be sophomores Cliff Odom and Dominique Criss, who each got their feet wet as freshmen. The 5-9, 186-pound Criss made ten tackles and broke up a pass, and now he'll battle with Bryan for time behind Crawford. The 5-11, 194-pound Odom made 12 tackles with two tackles for loss, and while he has the potential to grow as a safety, he'll play behind Buerck.
 
Watch Out For ... plenty of movement. After getting ripped apart last year, the pass defense will require some ongoing tinkering. There are plenty of good veterans to play around with, but the coaching staff might need half the season to find the right combination.
Strength: Veterans. Lake and Crawford are good defensive backs who have been around long enough to build around, while there are several decent options at all four spots. There might not be a ton of talent, but there's potential and promise.
Weakness: Interceptions. Crawford didn't come up with a pick last year and Buerck is a former wide receivers; they needs to make some big plays early on. The Bears came up with a mere ten interceptions with linebackers accounting for a few of them. Forcing turnovers will be vital.
Outlook: With so many good Big 12 quarterbacks to deal with, the secondary has to be stronger. It would help to get more of a pass rush, but the DBs can't blame the line for the problems. Any and all suggestions are being welcomed to try to fix the problem, and it could take a while before there's a major improvement. Everyone will hit, but they'll have to cover better.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
:
Sophomore PK Shea Brewster was a disaster last season hitting just three of eight field goal attempts, but he was better this off-season showing more consistency and better range. He'll be fine, but he has a long way to go to be special.

There wasn't any question the punting game was going to be worse after losing one of college football's all-time greatest punters, Daniel Sepulveda, but it fell completely off the map finishing last in the Big 12 and 116th in the nation averaging under 31 yards per kick. Sophomore Derek Epperson has a decent leg, and he put 12 inside the 20, but he needs to hang it up higher and he needs more help from his coverage team.

The return game needs work after averaging a mere 8.5 yards per punt return and 18.9 yards per kickoff return. However, the numbers are a bit misleading as David Gettis was excellent on kickoffs averaging 22.4 yards per pop.
 
Watch Out For ... more from Brewster. After so many issues last season, Brewster will hit more kicks and will be more consistent. He might not be an all-star, but he'll be better.
Strength: Gettis. The Bears can use all the pop they can get, and Gettis provides it with his excellent speed and cutting ability.
Weakness: Proven production just about everywhere. Nothing worked last season and it all has to be scrapped. The new coaching staff is starting from scratch.
Outlook: The Baylor special teams from top to bottom might have been the worst in America. The kicking was abysmal, the coverage teams were non-existent, and the punt returning was awful. There's nowhere to go but up, and while Brewster has improved a bit, there's still a lot of work to be done.
Rating: 4.5