2010 Baylor Preview - Defense
Baylor DT Phil Taylor
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Baylor Bear Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Defensive coordinator Brian Norwood has done a decent job so far considering the talent he has had to work with and with the high-octane Big 12 offenses to deal with, but this year could be a step back to take a major leap forward. Six players with major starting experience return, but there are some big losses in production with LB Joe Pawelek, FS Jordan Lake, and OLB Antonio Jones all gone. On the plus side, this is a deeper, more athletic defense than in the past after years of decent recruiting. The tackles, led by massive Phil Taylor, are big and strong and the linebackers can move, but the entire front seven has to be far better against the run after getting ripped up way too often. The secondary has a few phenomenal freshmen coming in, but they have to boost a group that got picked apart by almost anyone who wanted to throw. This D isn't going to stop anyone cold, but it'll be more active.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Antonio Johnson
Tackles: Antonio Johnson, 77
Sacks: Tracy Robertson, 3
Interceptions: Chance Casey, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior S Byron Landor
Unsung star on the rise: Senior LB Chris Francis
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Phil Taylor
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Taylor, 2) Johnson, 3) CB Chance Casey
Strength of the defense: Tackles, Freshmen Defensive Backs
Weakness of the defense: Run Defense, Pass Rush
Projected Starters: Former Penn State Nittany Lion Phil Taylor played a big role, literally, in his first year with the Bears making 25 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss, five broken up passes, and a surprising interception even though he had a lingering toe problem. At 6-4 and 355 pounds, he's a massive player on the nose with phenomenal strength. He was good, but now he has to be great with the size, smarts, talent, and upside to be a next-level performer. He has to be an anchor for a far better run defense.
Junior Tracy Robertson made 22 tackles with three sacks and five tackles for loss as a defensive end starting seven times, and now he'll move inside. At 6-4 and 270 pounds, he has decent size and is tremendously quick on the interior. An ideal 3-4 defensive end, he should get a free reign with Phil Taylor swallowing everything up on the nose. He can also move outside at times if needed to make the line bigger.
Sophomore Gary Mason has the talent and the potential to be a fantastic pass rusher, and now the coaching staff is trying to get him to play with a 100 mile per hour motor. At 6-4 and 265 pounds he has great size and saw a little bit of time last year making three tackles in his limited work. He'll become a major factor as he gets more work.
6-6, 275-pound junior Zac Scotton is a long, lean end who needs to develop into a better pass rusher. An Academic All-American, he's smart and quick on the outside making 22 tackles but with just one sack. The former high school quarterback is growing into his frame and needs to use his bulk and his athleticism to be more disruptive.
Projected Top Reserves: The hope is for veteran Nicholas Jean-Baptiste to become more of a factor on the inside. The 6-2, 325-pound bowling ball doesn't have all the talent in the world, but the former walk-on is tough and showed improvement this offseason. A junior, he has been a part of the rotation for the last two seasons, making 18 stops last year with two tackles for loss, and now he'll work in a rotation with Phil Taylor on the nose.
Bringing more speed to the end will be redshirt freshman Tevin Elliott , a 6-2, 235-pound former linebacker who was all over the place as a high school outside defender and needs to bring his speed to the line. He'll move into a spot behind Gary Mason and he'll need to find a role as a specialist and a regular in the backfield. Watch out for him to be a disruptive force.
Coming aboard as a possible difference-making defensive tackle is Sean Watson , a 6-3, 280-pound athlete from Florida who's always going full-tilt and could become a dangerous interior pass rusher. Very quick and very tough, he has all the tools to grow into a rock on the inside and he could be part of the rotation right away.
Watch Out For … Robertson. He was nice on the outside, but he was hardly a speed rusher. Moving to tackle, he might not be a top-shelf force against the run, but he could be dangerous at getting into the backfield with Taylor being the main man to occupy two or three blockers.
Strength: Size. This is a massive line with huge bodies on the nose, good-sized players at tackle, and big, tackle-sized ends. While the production hasn't been there against the run, the size is there to keep from getting pushed around.
Weakness: Pass rush. The Bears weren't great against the run, finishing last in the Big 12, and they were worse at getting into the backfield generating just 18 sacks and a pathetic 50 tackles for loss. The line has to do far, far more to be disruptive.
Outlook: The size is there, the experience is in place, and the depth is better than it has been in years. Now the production has to follow. Taylor has to be an even bigger factor inside, and everyone has to do more to work around him on the outside. Generating a pass rush is a must, but holding up against the run on a regular basis would be nice, too.
Unit Rating: 6
Projected Starters: Goodbye tackling machine Joe Pawelek in the middle, and welcome senior Chris Francis , the 6-0, 235-pound son of former BU star, James Francis. He played a key role as a backup over his first three years with 87 career tackles and 45 last year, and while he might not be the pure hitter that Pawelek was, he'll have more range. With sideline to sideline ability, he should be one of the team's leading tacklers.
The star on the outside, and likely the defense, will be senior Antonio Johnson , a smallish defender who finished fourth on the team making 77 tackles with two sacks, six tackles for loss, and a picked off pass he took 54 yards against Texas Tech. The leader of the back seven, he's very active and very fast with tremendous tackling ability. He needs to use his athleticism and talent to be more disruptive in the backfield, and it would be nice if he did more against the pass, but he's a fringe all-star candidate who'll get more of the limelight.
Starting on the strongside in place of Antonio Jones will be Elliot Coffey , a nice backup who made 35 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss. More of a safety than a linebacker, he made 35 tackles while waiting his turn at bat, and now he's ready. Speedy and tough, he can more than handle himself in space and he has the potential to be turned loose into the backfield from time to time.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-1, 235-pound senior Earl Patin made 38 tackles and forced two fumbles as a reserve, and now he'll push for time on the strongside with Elliott Coffey. A great hitter, he has been fine, but he hasn't lived up to his potential since earning Freshman All-Big 12 honors. With his experience and his size, he'll be used in a variety of positions.
Redshirt freshman Chris McAllister was a good recruit and a big-time high school tackler, and he'll be the future in the middle. At 6-2 and 240 pounds he has terrific size and toughness having seen high school time on the defensive end before moving back a bit. A big-time athlete to go along with his size, he'll be a factor very, very soon.
6-1, 215-pound redshirt freshman LeQuince McCall is a huge hitter with terrific range, and while he won't push Antonio Johnson for the Field Linebacker job, he'll see time somewhere in the corps. He'll look like a safety, but he'll hit like a linebacker.
Watch Out For … Francis. Pawelek was a very, very productive player who did a lot of big things for the Bear defense, but Francis is a better athlete and has the potential to be more effective. Pawelek was great at coming up with the tackle, but Francis could make more plays at the line.
Strength: Quickness. The young linebacking corps can move. There are some nice veteran talented ready to step up their play and produce, like Francis and Patin, while new players like McCall and McAllister have a world of upside.
Weakness: Run defense. This has been a problem for years. Yeah, the stats have been great, but there haven't been enough meaningful plays to come up with big stats. Teams that can run the ball effectively don't have too many problems against this group.
Outlook: The linebacking corps will make a ton of tackles and will be extremely active, but this year's corps will be more about a strong rotation than about a tough starting threesome. There's good size, plenty of athletes, and good hope for the near future with some good young prospects. If nothing else, this might be the deepest linebacking corps the program has had in a while.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Projected Starters: Gone is Jordan Lake, a long time playmaker for the secondary and the second-leading tackler last season. In an attempt to replace him, corner Tim Atchison will move over to free safety where he started off his career. He hasn't been a rock on the outside and is a far better fit at safety where he can be a ball-hawk and use his tackling ability a bit more. He came up with 42 stops with an interception and five tackles for loss, but he can do far more with his experience, his 6-1, 200-pound size, and his range.
With Atchison moving over, sophomore Chance Casey will go from the right side to the left after making 36 tackles with two picks and four broken up passes. The 5-11, 180-pounder took over a starting job over the second half of his true freshman season and was terrific at times. While he still needs polish, he has the wheels and the upside to be the team's top cover corner. A Texas state champion hurdler, he also runs for the BU track team.
Senior Clifton Odom started for a stretch over the first half of last year, but he ended up being replaced by Casey and spent the rest of the season as a reserve. The 5-11, 170-pouder is tall and thin, and he can move with 4.39 speed. However, he struggled with his consistency and finished the year with 33 tackles with an interception and six broken up passes. Now he'll get a chance to be the main man once again.
Senior Byron Landor saw plenty of action at the Hero, or strong safety spot, getting the start against Connecticut and Texas A&M. One of the nation's top JUCO safety prospects, he came in and contributed right away making 46 tackles with a forced fumble and a sack. At 6-0 and 210 pounds he's build like a BU outside linebacker, and he hits like one too. Now he needs to show he can be more of a factor when the ball is in the air.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Romie Blaylock had a good offseason and showed he's ready for a much larger role. The 5-9, 180-pound veteran backup was mostly a special teamer after starting out his career as a receiver, and he made six tackles last season and now he'll work behind Chance Casey at left corner while also seeing time as a nickel and dime defender.
Sophomore Mike Hicks came in as a true freshman and saw plenty of safety time in his true freshman season making 29 tackles with two broken up passes. The 5-10, 190-pounder took a step up in his play this offseason showing more consistency at free safety. Good enough to see starting time, he might force Tim Atchison to move back to corner.
As the team's top recruit, safety Ahmad Dixon was a major coup for the program. The 6-1, 190-pounder was considered among the top safety prospects in the country and could've gone anywhere, but he chose to stay home to be the cornerstone of the secondary. He's big, fast, and ready to take over a starting job from Day One. He moves like a corner and hits like a linebacker, and now he has to show that all the hype was warranted.
One of the nation's fastest corner prospect, true freshman Tyler Stephenson adds warp wheels to the corner. At the AAU National Meet, he tore off a 37.67 in the 300-meter hurdles and ran the 110-meter hurdles in 14.04. Only 5-11 and 150 pounds, he's not going to be physical and he won't tackle anyone, but he'll be dangerous in coverage.
Watch Out For … the true freshmen. Dixon is the BU's most talented defensive back and Stephenson could be the fastest player on a team full of track stars. Throw in quick corner T.C. Robinson and safety Prince Kent, a 6-3, 200-pound Hero who came to school early, and the Bear secondary could undergo a major youth movement.
Strength: Speed. That was upgraded by Stephenson, but Odom and Casey can fly on the outside, too. Staying with the faster receiving corps won't be a problem.
Weakness: Pass defense. There wasn't much of a pass rush to help the cause, but the secondary didn't exactly do its part, either. Those teams that needed to throw did so without much of a problem, and while the secondary only allowed 16 scores, 11 came in the final six games. The defensive backs didn't get any better.
Outlook: The future is bright, and if the front seven could generate any sort of a pass rush, the present would look pretty solid, too. The Bears brought in a great haul of young talent, but it's going to be a little while before everyone knows what they're doing. For now, the move of Atchison to safety should bring more speed to the outside with the hope of consistency to follow.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Projected Starters: Trying to upgrade the kicking game is redshirt freshman Aaron Jones, who'll likely take over for Ben Parks , who hit 4-of-8 field goal attempts and missed from short range. Parks doesn't have a big leg, but the kicking game needs more of a weapon and that appears to be Jones, who connected on field goal attempts from 43 and 53 yards in the spring game.
Senior Derek Epperson came up with two fantastic years in a row averaging 44.1 yards per punt in 2008 and cranking out 42.4 yards per punt last year with 13 put inside the 20 and with 14 blasts over 50 yards. A two-time All-Big 12 selection, he's in the mix for All-America honors as one of the nation's most consistent kickers and a threat to win the Ray Guy Award. He's big, has a huge leg, and is one of the team's top weapons.
WR Terrance Williams had a strong first year as the team's top kickoff returner averaging 24.1 yards per try on 31 attempts and averaged 14.4 yards per punt return, while Mikail Baker was even more dangerous on his nine tries averaging 25.2 yards per attempt. These two give Baylor a big advantage, while lightning fast receiver Krys Buerck needs to do more for the punt return game averaging 6.5 yards per try.
Watch Out For … a battle for the placekicking duties. Baylor will likely need clutch placekicking to have any chance at a winning season, and Jones and Parks will each get their chances to take the job. It's not a stretch to call this one of the team's most important position battles.
Strength: Epperson. The return game has plenty of speedsters and will be among the Big 12's best, but Epperson and the punting game will be one of the team's biggest strengths. While the coverage team needs to be better and Epperson has to help with that, he's still one of the best in America.
Weakness: Coverage teams. Beyond the placekicking, the bigger problem could be the coverage teams that allowed 22.1 yards per kickoff return and 12.6 yards per punt return. The BU defense needs as much help as it can get.
Outlook: If the placekicking gets settled and Jones (or Parks) is consistent, the special teams will be among the strongest in the Big 12. The coaching staff is making the special teams a priority, and they need to be to have a shot at a winning season.
Unit Rating: 7
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2010 Baylor Defense |
Baylor Depth Chart
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