Expectations have never been higher in Fort Worth as the TCU Horned Frogs prepare to get ready for a defining season. Coming in ranked number 2 in the Coaches Poll, TCU is out to prove people right this year. With Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin back at the helm and all the talent that surrounds him, the offense will be dominant again. However, for TCU to be able to live up to the hype, the defense will need to be right along with them. After losing so many key players from a defense that produced the Big 12 Defensive Player of the year in Paul Dawson, and the number one defensive unit in the Big 12, there are big shoes to fill. Here are my defensive breakout candidates who will keep the roots of TCU’s football program strong.
With the departure of Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet, arguably one of the best LB duos in school history, two new linebackers get their shot. One of those new linebackers that I believe will have a breakout season is junior Sammy Douglas. Coming out of Arlington High School as a 3 star recruit, the 6-3 215-pound Douglas, is an athletic sideline-to-sideline defender. Last season, his best game came against DFW rival SMU. Against the Mustangs Sammy Douglas finished the game with seven tackles and one sack. Now, I do not expect Douglas to put up the numbers Dawson did this past season with 136 tackles and a Big 12 record tying 20 tackles for loss. However, I do expect him to develop over the season as he produces towards a high level of consistent play.
The linebacker position is not the only unit that fans will see new faces. Gone in the secondary are players Sam Carter, Chris Hackett and Kevin White. These three players were special and important cogs that kept TCU’s defense playing sound coverage. With just returning two out of the five starters, Ranthony Texada and Derrick Kindred, there are holes to be filled. Senior safety Kenny Iloka is my breakout player in the secondary for TCU this season. Iloka comes in at 6-2 and weighs 209 pounds. Having played in all thirteen games last season, recording a season high seven tackles against SMU, Iloka brings game experience to the table. This is crucial seeing how much experience needs to be replaced in order for the defensive backs to work in cohesion. With the Big 12 being a heavy passing league, your DBs better be up to par. Look for Kenny Iloka to mirror the game changing and ball hawking skills that Chris Hackett brought to the safety position.
Now the last breakout player plays a position that can get lost in the shuffle. That position is defensive tackle and that player having to step up for the brick wall, that was Chucky Hunter, is junior Tevin Lawson. Saving his best game for last, Lawson racked up 3 tackles and a sack against Ole Miss in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. For the season Lawson finished with two sacks and 9 tackles. With an expanded role this season in a line that will be rotating players in and out, Tevin Lawson should continue to show the talent that made him a four star recruit. I would expect Tevin to make strides as the season goes on and really turn into a disruptive force in passing downs. The defense as a whole will need the defensive line to be one of the strengths of the team if TCU is going to be successful this year, and Tevin Lawson will certainly be up for the challenge.
In the end, TCU’s offense will be the bread and butter of this team this season, with highlight reels to boot. Still, only a solid defense and complete team will push TCU to the College Footall Playoff. Sammy Douglas, Kenny Iloka and Tevin Lawson are three breakout candidates to watch for on defense, as the climb begins on September 3rd at Minnesota.
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