Defensive questions Texas-based teams must answer in training camps

Questions abound for the Texas-based university football teams playing in Power 5 conferences on the defensive side of the ball. In short, the squads must address these concerns if they hope to contend for trophies.

For some teams, it’s a matter of finding the right athlete for a position. For others it’s a matter of finding multiple bodies for a front. The good news is each coach believes he has the personnel to fill the need.

Let’s examine the defensive questions.

Texas — The biggest concern are the defensive tackles. Junior Poona Food, senior Paul Boyette and sophomore Chris Nelson have the most experience but don’t have reliable backups. Coach Charlie Strong addressed that with the class of 2016 when he signed five defensive tackles. The Longhorns had struggled in signing that position with the last couple of classes. Sophomore linebackers Anthony Wheeler and Malik Jefferson and junior linebacker Naashon Hughes are expected to handle the spots behind the line, and the secondary is set with sophomore cornerbacks Holton Hill and Devante Davis and sophomore safety P.J. Locke and senior safety Dylan Haynes are expected to start with Kris Boyd working in as nickel back.

TCU — The Horned Frogs’ top defensive back from a year ago, safety Derrick Kindred, is now with the Browns. He ranked second on the team in total tackles. But other than him, TCU is in great shape. It returns senior safety Denzel Johnson, who finished fourth in tackles. Junior linebacker Sammy Douglas, senior safety Kenny Iloka and junior cornerback Ranthony Texada are expected to contribute. The Horned Frogs are set at pass rusher with senior defensive ends Josh Carraway and 2014 sacks leader James McFarland, who is returning from injury. Both were picked as preseason All-Big 12 Conference. True freshman Isaiah Chambers and junior college transfer Mat Boesen, two defensive ends, enrolled in the spring. The only question is finding a pass rusher and developing more cornerbacks.
Baylor — The Bears must address defensive line to allow coaches to play more three-man fronts, coach Jim Grobe said. Gone are Andrew Billings to the Cincinnati Bengals, Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer. Those three ranked seventh, eighth and 11th on the team in total tackles. Baylor returns junior nickel back Travon Blanchard, junior linebacker Taylor Young, and junior safety Chance Waz, who combined for 234 tackles last season. They ranked second, third and fourth on the squad. Senior safety Orion Stewart and senior linebacker Alavion Edwards also return.
Texas Tech — In short, the Red Raiders were bad on defense. Maybe a little better than Texas but not by much. The reason defensive coordinator David Gibbs was hired in 2015 was because he emphasizes takeaways. In 2014 his Houston Cougars had 73 to lead the nation. In addition Tech must get better play from the defensive linemen, even with the dismissal of Dakota Allen. Gone are three of the top four leaders in tackles. Jah’Shawn Johnson, a sophomore defensive back, ranked third, while junior defensive back Tevin Madison was fifth. Senior linebacker Malik Jenkins finished eighth in team tackles with 52. One positive was that Gibbs’ defense slowed opponents enough to allow Tech to post a winning record at 7-6.
Texas A&M — Linebacker is the biggest issue for the Aggies. They have elite pass rushers in defensive ends Miles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, a run stopper in sophomore defensive tackle Daylon Mack, and speed safeties Armani Watts, Justin Evans and Donovan Wilson. But in the Southeastern Conference, linebackers who can make plays at the line of scrimmage are invaluable. And while the defensive backs are able to cover a lot of field, the SEC prefers to run the football. If the Aggies can find the linebackers to help control the line of scrimmage, this team is poised to have a special year.

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