2009 TCU Preview - Defense
TCU DE Jerry Hughes
TCU DE Jerry Hughes
Posted Jul 23, 2009

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TCU Horned Frogs

Preview 2009 - Defense

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

What you need to know:
Gone from the nation’s No. 1 defense, No. 1 run defense, No 2 in sacks and No. 2 scoring defense are the two first-team All-Mountain West linebackers in the 4-2-5 scheme, two of the three starting safeties, both of them all-stars, and three starters off the line including two first-team All-Mountain West tackles. So why doesn’t there appear to be even the slightest bit of panic? Maybe it’s because the defense will be even faster. Daryl Washington is about to become a superstar at linebacker, there’s tremendous quickness all across the line to help out All-America DE Jerry Hughes, and there are lightning fast defensive backs in bunches to rotate in the open spots. The corner tandem of Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders should be among the best in the nation. There’s even more of a chip on the defense’s shoulder with all the new starters, and while it might not be as good as it was last year, it should still be a killer.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Darryl Washington, 63
Sacks: Jerry Hughes, 15
Interceptions: Steven Coleman, 3

Star of the defense:
Senior DE Jerry Hughes
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior NT Kelly Griffin
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Sir Demarco Bledsoe
Best pro prospect: Hughes
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hughes, 2) Priest, 3) LB Daryl Washington
Strength of the defense: Pass rush, corners
Weakness of the defense: Starting experience on the front six, DT Wayne Daniels at 250 pounds

Defensive Linemen

Projected Starters: The defense and the team will be paced by the play of the defensive line, most specifically Jerry Hughes, the breakout star of the 2008 season. The 6-3, 257-pound senior came to TCU as a star high school running back who was moved to the defensive line right away and spent a few years learning. He was good two years ago making 29 tackles and a sack, and then KABOOM. He worked his tail off to harness his speed and athleticism into a dynamo of a pass rusher making 15 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions to go along with 52 tackles. He was in the midst of an All-America season after a good first half of the year, and then he had his national breakout game with four sacks and several other hurries in the domination of BYU. Even when he was held in check, like he was for the most part against Boise State, when the defense needed a big play late, Hughes blew into the backfield and came up with a sack. Way too fast for almost every college offensive tackle, he’ll require double and triple teaming that’ll open things up for everyone else.

Certain to benefit on the other side will be Ross Forrest, a good walk-on who had a saw time as a true freshman. He’s a pass rusher who might be a bit limited, but with 6-4, 242-pound size and a good burst, he’ll be part of a rotation that should come up with big numbers.

Replacing Cody Moore on the nose will be Kelly Griffin, a 6-1, 295-pound junior who started as a true freshman, making 14 tackles, but didn’t do much last year making six tackles and a tackle for loss. Extremely strong, he needs to prove he can be a consistent rock against the run. However, he’s not going to be Moore when it comes to getting into the backfield.

6-2, 250-pound junior Wayne Daniels is an undersized tackle with tremendous quickness and good potential as an interior pass rusher. The former end made 11 tackles with a sack, and now he’ll be part of a rotation on the inside. Can he hold up against the run? For stretches, yes, but it’s his job to get into the backfield.

Projected Top Reserves: Pushing hard for the starting right end job will be Braylon Broughton, a 6-6, 248-pound sophomore who was projected to be an instant superstar last year. It didn’t happen as he made one tackle in three games of work, but it’s all there for him to become special. One of the team’s top recruits of 2007, he has a burst, speed, and strength. Eventually, he’ll be the team’s pass rushing star.

Adding some bulk on the inside will be Jeremy Coleman, who at 6-2 and 285 pounds is 35 pounds bigger than Wayne Daniels. The redshirt freshman is a quick, strong prospect who can be moved to the nose if needed. A one-time star recruit, he had offers from several Big 12 schools and now he should eventually emerge as a top interior pass rusher.

Junior Cory Grant was supposed to be part of a backup rotation last year and will combine with Henry Niutei to back up Kelly Griffin on the nose this season. Grant is a 6-2, 303-pound rock who only saw time in three games and didn’t build on the promise of a decent redshirt freshman season. A star powerlifter in high school, he doesn’t won’t get moved around against the run. Meanwhile, Niutei, a 6-4, 300-pound junior, was a star scout teamer who has good pass rushing potential.
Watch Out For ... the line to be more than fine even with all the new replacements. It’ll be tempting to think one of the nation’s most productive lines will struggle a bit with three starters lost. Forget about it. The line will be almost as good.
Pass rush from all four spots. Few programs develop pass rushers like TCU. With Hughes the main man who’ll require full-time attention, the other three spots have the quickness to continue take advantage.
Sure things other than Hughes. Last year the one main concern was that the line didn’t have a sure-thing, go-to pass rusher … oops. Hughes changed that in a hurry, and Cody Moore turned out to be dominant in the interior. There isn’t too much of a concern that the overall experience isn’t there, but the bar is set ridiculously high after what happened last year.
Outlook: Second in the nation in sacks, eighth in tackles for loss, and first against the run. The defensive front spearheaded a special season, and now three starters are gone. Don’t look for Jerry Hughes to have as good a season now that everyone will throw the kitchen sink out there to stop him, but the other three linemen should flourish. This will be an ultra-quick group that’ll form a good rotation as the season goes on.
Rating: 8


Projected Starters: It’ll be next to impossible to readily replace the production of tackling-machine Jason Phillips, last year’s leading tackler, but there’s a new superstar about to emerge. 6-3, 228-pound senior Daryl Washington made the most of his time on the field finishing fourth on the team with 63 tackles with three sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss and four broken up passes. The speedster is a phenomenal athlete who’ll be all over the field and will be used in a variety of ways. Phillips played in the middle and Washington will take over on the strongside for Robert Henson, but he’ll likely lead the team in tackles, or else come close, and will be a near-lock for all-star honors.

Taking over the job in the middle will be Tank Carder, a 6-2, 232-pound sophomore who stepped in early on when Phillips got hurt, but he only finished the year with nine tackles. He beefed up over the last year and now isn’t just a good athlete thrown into the linebacking corps; he’s a real, live linebacker who should come up with a big season.

Projected Top Reserves: Working behind Tank Carder in the middle will be Tanner Brock, a top recruit who’s being expected to shine right away. While he’s not big for the spot at only 6-3 and 217 pounds, the true freshman is a tremendous tackler making 155 stops in his senior season of high school and should be a terror once he bulks up a little bit.

Redshirt freshman Greg Burks was the star recruit of last year and was supposed to step in and play right away. But he redshirted and now will push for time on the strongside. A phenomenal athlete, the 6-1, 205-pounder is a former wide receiver who still needs seasoning, but he has all the tools to be special.

Kris Gardner is a 6-1, 235-pound sophomore who spent most of last year on special teams. He made seven tackles and now will be the main backup behind Washington on the strongside. The former tight end can move and has tremendous upside.

Watch Out For ... Washington. It was hard for him to get too much attention with Jason Phillips and Robert Henson the two stars, but he was great in his own right. He’s about to blow up and be a statistical monster.
Speed. There will be a rotation of several players who can all fly. The linebackers will be all over the field, will get into the backfield, and will put up huge numbers.
Starting experience. Washington will be great and Carder will be strong, but it’s still asking a lot to immediately replace Phillips, a perennial all-star who came up with 84 tackles and 13 tackles for loss, and Henson, who made 73 stops and nine tackles for loss. Those two were a big part of why the D was such a killer.
Outlook: Lose one all-star tackling machine, replace him with another. Even with the loss of Jason Phillips and Robert Henson, the linebackers might even be more athletic and even more disruptive. Daryl Washington could be the best athlete to ever play linebacker at TCU, or at least be in the picture, while there are four other good, highly-rated prospects ready to see time.
Rating: 7.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: There might be several starters gone off the defense, but the corners are set led by second-team all-star Rafael Priest. The 5-10, 181-pound senior has started every game over the last three years and came up with his finest season yet making 26 tackles and an interception along with ten broken up passes. Extremely fast, no one can run past him and he doesn’t miss an open field tackle despite his lack of size. With 29 career broken up passes, he’s terrific when the ball is in the air and now gets avoided whenever possible.

With teams staying away from Priest, that means more opportunities for Nick Sanders, a 5-10, 174-pound senior who, like Priest, has started every game over the last three seasons. While he’s not nearly as fast as Priest, he’s a better hitter and provides a bit more pop making 45 tackles with two interceptions and 12 broken up passes. He can even be sent into the backfield from time to time.

Junior Tejay Johnson is the only returning starter among the three safeties and he’s getting moved. A Texas high school track star, he has the speed to make plays all over the field and could play corner, but he emerged last season as a weak safety making 47 tackles with a sack, four tackles for loss, an interception and ten broken up passes. At 6-1 and 212 pounds, he has the size to be a huge intimidating force when the ball is in the air. Now he’ll move to free safety to take over for Steven Coleman.

Moving into Johnson’s weak safety job will be Corderra Hunter, a 6-2, 220-pound senior who came up with nine tackles as a reserve. With his size he’ll be used like a third linebacker and should put up nice numbers. He’s a good athlete, but he’s not quite fast enough to be a regular free safety. He’s in the right spot.

6-2, 195-pound sophomore Sir Demarco Bledsoe showed off good potential as a freshman making seven tackles with a game-saving sack against Colorado State. The former wide receiver has the speed and he has the range, even after suffering a bad knee injury two years ago, but he’ll have to prove he can be consistent against the run. He’s a form tackler for his size and should be a disruptive force.

Projected Top Reserves: Bringing tremendous speed to one corner spot will be Greg McCoy, a 5-10, 181-pound speedster with 4.32 speed and good potential. While the sophomore isn’t going to push Rafael Priest out of a spot, he’ll be groomed to take the job next year and should see time in a variety of ways after making eight tackles with a pick against Wyoming.

The most intriguing new player in the mix is Marcus Jackson, the former quarterback who completed 1,126 yards and eight touchdowns and ran for 624 yards and six scores over the last three years. At 6-1 and 216 pounds he has good size and he should have decent range at weak safety playing behind Corderra Hunter. If desperately needed, he could move back to quarterback after leading the way to wins late last year.

Former star high school running back Colin Jones made ten tackles and a sack as a key backup safety. Now he’ll work more at safety playing behind Sir Demarco Bledsoe and he could see time at the other safety spots. He’s very quick, has decent 6-0 and 205 pound size, and is tough.

Watch Out For ... Johnson. The only returning starter at safety, he was good last season at weak safety and now should be stellar as a free safety. He’s too good against the pass to have to focus so much energy against the run.
Cornerback. There are few tandems in the Mountain West better than Sanders and Priest. That’s what was written here last year and it applies again this year. The two have been rocks over the last three years and are as reliable as they come. McCoy needs to see time at some point to get his speed on the field.
Finding the right safety combination. The corners are set and there are several good prospects to play in and out at the safety spots, but the coaching staff will likely be tinkering with the positions for most of the year. Overall continuity could be a problem.
Outlook: Helped by one of the nation’s best pass rushes, the secondary came through with a big season allowing few big plays deep and picking off 15 passes. How good was this group? Oklahoma threw for 411 yards and four touchdowns in its win over the Horned Frogs. TCU allowed just four touchdown passes to everyone else, gave up two scoring passes over the last eight games, and didn’t give up a 300-yard day to anyone other than Sam Bradford. The corner combination of Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders returns intact, and Tejay Johnson is the lone returning starter among the three safety spots. The other two spots are fine, there are exciting backups, and another year of a pass rush to help the cause.
Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Sophomore Ross Evans had a nice first year as the starting placekicker hitting 16-of-20 shots including a 50-yarder. A semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, he has a big leg, he’s consistent, and he should be better now that he’s experienced. With Drew Combs gone, Evans will now handle the kickoffs, too.

Sophomore Anson Kelton had a good first year averaging 41.3 yards per boot putting a whopping 30 inside the 20. A 6-4, 260-pounder with a big leg, he earned honorable mention All-Mountain West honors and should once again be a weapon.

Receiver Jeremy Kerley was a special punt returner averaging 13.9 yards per try, while RB Ryan Christian will take over as the main kick returner who averaged 22.3 yards on his six attempts.

Watch Out For ... the special teams to be the best in the Mountain West. Everyone is back from a rock-solid group that got better as the year went on.
The return game. Kerley was fantastic as the Horned Frogs finished 26th in the nation in punt returns, while there wasn’t a dud of a kickoff return finishing fourth in the nation.
Net punting average. It’s not a fair statistic considering Kelton put so many kicks inside the 20 that the overall net went down. Even so, TCU netted 33.62 yards per try.
Outlook: There was supposed to be a drop-off after several big replacements, and the special teams turned out to be better. TCU has always had terrific special teams under Gary Patterson, and this year won’t be any different.
Rating: 10