2009 TCU Preview - Defense
TCU DE Jerry Hughes
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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.
Star of the defense:
Senior DE Jerry Hughes
Tackles: Darryl Washington, 63
Sacks: Jerry Hughes, 15
Interceptions: Steven Coleman, 3
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior NT Kelly
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
Strength of the defense: Pass rush, corners
Weakness of the defense: Starting experience on the front six, DT
Wayne Daniels at 250 pounds
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
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.
Strength: 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
Weakness: 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.
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
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
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
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
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
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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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
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
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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.