2009 Baylor Preview - Defense
Baylor LB Joe Pawelek
Baylor LB Joe Pawelek
Posted May 9, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Baylor Bear Defense

Baylor Bears

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Baylor Preview | 2009 Baylor Offense
- 2009 Baylor Defense | 2009 Baylor Depth Chart
- 2008 Baylor Preview | 2007 Baylor Preview | 2006 Baylor Preview 

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 years.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Joe Pawelek, 128
Sacks: Antonio Jones, Earl Patin, 3
Interceptions: Joe Pawelek, 6

Star of the defense: Senior LB Joe Pawelek
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Antareis Bryan
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT Phil Taylor
Best pro prospect: Taylor
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pawelek, 2) FS Jordan Lake, 3) Taylor
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Size on the line
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush, Consistent corners

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
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 strength.

6-7, 260-pound 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.

Projected Top 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.

6-1, 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 starting roles.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters
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 the quarterback.

6-0, 210-pound 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.
Projected Top 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 time.

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.

Sophomore 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 next year.
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 back.
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 Donald Brown.
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.
Rating: 8

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
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 corner.

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.

Projected 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.

Junior 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 work around.
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.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters
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 practices.

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 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.
Weakness: Punt 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.
Outlook: The 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 punters.
Rating: 7.5