Preview 2009 - Defense
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What you need to know:
The change to the 4-3 alignment from the 4-2-5 proved to be a
major positive, even if it didn’t seem that way on the stat
sheet. Considering how good the Big 12 offenses were last year,
especially in the South, finishing seventh in the league against
the run and sixth against the pass, even if the Bears were 103rd
in the nation in pass defense, showed how much things really did
change. This year there should be an even bigger jump in
production with nine starters returning including two of the Big
12’s best defensive players in LB Joe Pawelek and FS Jordan
Lake. Throw in the addition of Penn State transfer Phil Taylor
at tackle and the Bears are rock-solid up the middle. Even
though there are some major positives, especially at linebacker,
there are some big holes and huge concerns. There needs to be
more of a pass rush and more plays in the backfield, and the
cornerback play has to be far more consistent. However, even
with the issues, the defense should be better than it’s been in
Tackles: Joe Pawelek, 128
Sacks: Antonio Jones, Earl Patin, 3
Star of the defense:
Senior LB Joe Pawelek
Player who has to
step up and become a star: Junior CB
Unsung star on the rise:
Junior DT Phil Taylor
Top three all-star
candidates: 1) Pawelek, 2) FS Jordan Lake,
Strength of the defense:
Linebacker, Size on the line
Pass rush, Consistent corners
Ready to step in and play a huge role, literally, in the middle
of the line is Phil
Taylor, a 6-4, 355-pound junior who transferred from Penn
State to take over for Vincent Rhodes at defensive tackle.
Taylor had problems with a knee injury as a Nittany Lion, but he
made 20 tackles, three sacks, and 6.5 tackles for loss. Now he
has the potential to be the best defensive tackle the Bears have
had in a long, long time with size, quickness into the
backfield, and big-time strength.
Next to Taylor on the
nose will be Trey Bryant,
a 6-2, 310-pound veteran who started every game over the last
two years except for last year’s season finale at Texas Tech. A
smart player who came to Waco with a great high school résumé,
he’s been good, but not sensational. He made 24 tackles and 3.5
tackles for loss, but he should be at his best as a senior with
Taylor taking off more heat next to him.
Stepping in at
one end will be Tracy
Robertson, a 6-4, 260-pound sophomore who saw time as a true
freshman making five tackles with a quarterback hurry. He’s not
going to be a great pass rusher, but with his size he has
strength to be solid against the run and could be an ideal
hybrid lineman in a 3-4 formation. He had a great spring and
should get into the backfield on a regular basis on drive and
Zac Scotton is a
long, lean end who always goes 100 miles per hour and could be
one of the team’s top pass rushers thanks to his motor. He got
the started three times late last year and was a key backup the
rest of the time finishing with nine tackles and two broken up
passes. A former high school quarterback, he has grown into his
frame and could get even bigger.
Reserves: Able to play inside or out is
Jason Lamb, a 6-7,
270-pound senior who started the first ten games at end last
season before moving to tackle. A long-time veteran who came to
Baylor as a tight end and has 118 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and 14
tackles for loss over the last three seasons. He’s not a
particularly good pass rusher from the outside, but he could get
into the backfield on a regular basis on the inside.
230-pound junior Jameon
Hardeman has been a decent backup over the last few years
and will now work behind Zac Scotton. Hardeman made 12 tackles
with a sack with most of his production coming against
Northwestern State. Considered a top recruit, he originally
signed with Arizona State before switching over to Baylor. He
hasn’t lived up to his prep hype, but he’s experienced enough to
step in and produce if needed.
With good athleticism and speed, 6-1, 260-pound redshirt
freshman Fred Plesius
should add an interesting pass rushing option to the equation
behind Tracy Robertson. The former linebacker switched over to
end, and while he’s raw, he has excellent upside to potentially
grow into a specialist’s role.
Adding more size to the
interior is 6-1, 300-pound sophomore Nicolas Jean-Baptiste.
The walk-on isn’t going to be a star, but he can fill in on the
nose from time to time to clog things up. He made eight tackles
last year with a half a tackle for loss.
Watch Out For ... Taylor. All of
a sudden the line goes from mediocre to potentially great with a
star in the middle to work around. He has All-America talent it
he can get the motor running full-tilt for a full season.
Strength: Size. It hasn’t translated into a whole
bunch of production, but the line is huge across the board with
300-pounders on the inside and 260-pounders on the outside.
Weakness: A pass rusher. There isn’t one. The
bears were last in the Big 12 in tackles for loss and only
generated 21 sacks on the year. The pressure will have to come
from a variety of spots with no sure-thing sacker to count on.
Outlook: Considering the line loses three
starters, sort of, (with starting end Jason Lamb working in a
backup tackle role), the situation isn’t all that bad. The
addition of Phil Taylor makes the defensive line a possible
strength, while Trey Bryant is a serviceable nose guard who’ll
hold his own. There isn’t a pass rusher to count on and there
need to be more plays in the backfield, so the hope will be for
sophomores Tracy Robertson and Zac Scotton to surprise in new
Senior Joe Pawelek isn’t all that fast and he’s not all
that athletic, but he’s a tackling machine who eats up
everything that comes his way with 313 tackles in three years
including a 128-stop junior campaign. There was one major
difference in his play in the middle last year; he got better
against the pass. While he’s not going to stay with too many
backs in pass patterns, he knows where to be and he has the
instincts to sniff out plays before they happen, as evidenced by
his six interceptions. Extremely smart, he always takes the
right angles. At 6-2 and 240 pounds, he has no problems coming
up with the big hits and he holds up well against the run. While
he’s not going to be used much as a pass rusher, he can get into
the backfield when asked.
Back on the strongside is
Antonio Jones, a 6-2,
225-pound senior who bulked up a little bit over the last year.
An excellent athlete with nice range and pop, he finished fourth
on the team with 71 tackles to go along with three sacks and 5.5
tackles for loss. He took to the bigger role and the greater
responsibility last year, and now he’ll do even more to get to
Antonio Johnson plays
a combination of linebacker and a roving safety. Originally used
as a speedy defensive end option, he followed up a decent true
freshman season by finishing third on the team with 72 tackles,
a sack, and five tackles for loss. The junior isn’t the pass
rusher he was originally expected to be, but he has fantastic
range and is great getting in on almost every tackle.
Reserves: Seeing a little bit of time on the strongside
will be Chris Francis,
a 6-0, 235-pound junior who made 23 tackles as a good backup. He
can see time in the middle if needed but is far better on the
outside where he’s able to run and do more in space. Good enough
to start, he’ll add more size to the outside and will see more
While it’s hard to see too much action in the
middle with Joe Pawelek, but
Earl Patin will be
too good to keep off the field after making 52 tackles with
three sacks and four tackles for loss. A fantastic hitter, the
6-2, 225-pound junior has all-star potential if he turned into a
starter. He’s not Pawelek as a player, but he could have the
best skills of any of the BU linebackers.
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.
Elliot Coffey is more
of a safety than a linebacker, but the 6-0, 220-pounder has
beefed up and should be even more physical playing behind
Antonio Johnson. A good tackler with excellent speed, he could
be used more as a pass rusher, even though he didn’t do anything
to get to the quarterback. He made 14 tackles, but he has the
ability to do far more.
Watch Out For ...
Coffey. He isn’t going to get the big stats because of his role
on the team and his place in the pecking order, but when he’s on
the field he should be a game-changer. He’ll likely be starting
Strength: Experience and production.
The linebacking corps boasts three of the team’s top four
tacklers from last year with Pawelek, Johnson and Jones all
starting every game, with the exception of the two late season
games against Missouri and Texas when the Bears used a nickel
Weakness: Meaningful plays. The stats
are fantastic, but there are way too many stops made down the
field and there isn’t enough functional production against the
run. Don’t be misled by the stats; Baylor didn’t play a who’s
who of running teams and got ripped up, for example, by UConn’s
Outlook: The defense went from a
4-2-5 alignment to a 4-3 last year with tremendous results. Now,
the pieces are there for this to be among the Big 12’s best
linebacking corps with Antonio Jones and Antonio Johnson good
outside defenders working around Joe Pawelek in the middle.
There’s good depth with Earl Patin good enough to start
somewhere. There need to be more tackles for loss, but this
group will combine for well over 300 tackles.
Senior Jordan Lake is
a huge-hitting intimidating force who might be the Big 12’s best
safety. The 6-1, 210-pound free safety made 120 tackles in 2006
and 97 in 2008 with 18 broken up passes and five interceptions
over the last two years. He has the range and he has the
sure-thing tackling ability, but he has to make sure he doesn’t
knock himself out of the lineup. A shoulder problem didn’t turn
out to be a problem last year, but he suffered a broken
collarbone three years ago. While he’s not a speedster, he’s
always around the ball and doesn’t miss stops with a
team-leading 66 solo tackles.
Returning as the Hero, or the strong safety in this D, is
Jeremy Williams, a
5-11, 205-pound senior who made 54 tackles with a sack, 5.5
tackles for loss, and four broken up passes. He might not be the
fastest player on the team, but he’s not far off and is a strong
tackler who doesn’t miss many chances to provide a pop. More of
a run stopper than anything else, he has to do more when the
ball is in the air.
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.
The corner play has to be better, and the
hope is that a more experienced
Antareis Bryan will
be the answer. An athletic 6-2, 190-pound junior, Bryan made 33
tackles and broke up eight passes, but he only came up with one
interception. His biggest problem was his lack of strength; he
wasn’t physical. He also had problems with the speed receivers,
but he has the skills and the potential to be the team’s No. 1
6-1, 205-pound junior
Tim Atchison was fine
in his limited role, but he was hardly special making 31 tackles
and three broken up passes. While he started three games, he
missed time with a shoulder injury and struggled at times when
locked up one-on-one. While he’s more of a safety than a corner,
he’ll get the start on the left side.
Top Reserves: Former running back
Jeremy Sanders will see time as a Hero and as a nickel back, but
he’ll need time. The 6-2, 210-pound senior has good speed and
range isn’t a problem, but his instincts aren’t the best. The
former JUCO transfer is too good an all-around athlete to not
see time somewhere in the rotation.
The future at corner
is Trentson Hill, a
6-0, 185-pound sophomore who started five games last season
finishing with 30 tackles and two tackles for loss with an
interception as a true freshman. Extremely quick, he has the raw
skills to grow into a corner job, but he’ll have to battle to
get his starting job back after being passed over by Antareis
Bryan in spring ball.
Byron Landor was on
the top JUCO safety prospects in the nation after making 102
tackles for Blinn CC. The 6-1, 210-pounder is an instant impact
player who should battle hard for one of the safety spots. He’s
not going to push Jordan Lake out of any playing time, but he
could become a key nickel and dime back and should see time
somewhere in the rotation.
Watch Out For ...
the corners. This is the one area of the team that needed the
biggest improvement, and the coaching staff thinks it’s coming
with Bryan and Atchison extremely promising. They’re not going
to shut down the top receiving corps, but they’ll be better.
Strength: Jordan Lake. One of the Big 12’s special
defensive backs, he’s tough as nails and is a guided missile who
forces everyone to look elsewhere to pick on. He’s the star to
Weakness: Consistent corner play.
Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, and Missouri lit up everyone’s
secondary like a Christmas tree, so there’s no reason to get too
upset about giving up big yards to those passing juggernauts.
But there were too many third down plays converted (a ridiculous
49% as a team) against the pedestrian air attacks.
Outlook: This isn’t going to be the team’s strength, and
without a great pass rush it’ll get burned by the Big 12’s star
passing attacks, but it’ll be better. Jordan Lake is one of the
nation’s premier safeties, while Jeremy Williams is decent
running mate who isn’t bad against the run. The key will be for
the corners to come up with more big plays. When most teams
needed a first down through the air, they got one. However,
unlike last year when experience was an issue and there wasn’t
any depth, there are good backups this year.
The punting game was expected to be worse after losing one of
college football’s all-time greatest punters, Daniel Sepulveda,
after the 2006 season, but it was worse than expected finishing
116th in the nation. Junior
Derek Epperson turned
it around in a big way averaging 44.3 yards per kick with 14 put
inside the 20 and forcing 15 fair catches. The Bears finished
fourth in the nation in net punting.
The placekicking was an utter disaster two years ago, and it was
just average last season with sophomore
Ben Parks connecting on 6-of-9 attempts with one of them a chippy
within 19 yards. He doesn’t have a big leg and his range tops
out at around 45 yards, but he was more consistent in offseason
The punt return
game was the second-worst in the nation averaging just 2.08
yards per try, and now
Kris Buerck will try to add more pop. The kickoff return
game was solid with
Mikail Baker averaging 25.3 yards per try.
Watch Out For ... Parks to get more deep attempts. He
might not have an elite leg, but it’s just good enough to get a
few deep attempts early on to see if he can do it.
Strength: Epperson. He got a lot of help from his
coverage team, but he made a dramatic change in his hang time
and was far more consistent.
returns. Art Briles is good at making a negative a positive in a
big hurry, and it’s not going to take a lot of work to be far
better after a disastrous year.
Baylor special teams from top to bottom might have been the
worst in America two years ago, and they got a lot better with a
good punting game and excellent play from the coverage teams.
Ben Parks should be a little bit better on his midrange field
goals, while Derek Epperson will be among the Big 12’s top