The TCU Horned Frogs won five of their last six games in 2020 and had a chance to win a sixth out of seven before their Texas Bowl matchup with Arkansas was canceled. Head coach Gary Patterson returns, of course, and the Horned Frogs are out to build on last year’s finish and get back in contention in the Big 12 Conference this fall. As we take a closer look at the defense, here are three things that will define the unit during the 2021 season.
1. Dominance at corner?
The secondary, specifically cornerback, may be the position with the least amount of intrigue entering the fall. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson blossomed into a top corner in the Big 12, as he earned First-Team All-Big 12 honors, along with Pro Football Focus and AP All-America honors. Hodges-Tomlinson had the chance to blossom because of a season-ending injury to Noah Daniels last season. Daniels was already playing at an elite level before the injury. So if Daniels returns at that same level, pairing him with Hodges-Tomlinson could mean curtains for Big 12 pass defenses.
But the corner position has depth, too. C.J. Ceasar II was pressed into service after Daniels’ injury, and Ceasar had three interceptions late in the season. Another young player, Kee’yon Stewart, should be back after his own season-ending injury last season. That doesn’t include Donavann Collins, who is listed as a safety on TCU’s 2021 roster, and four-star recruit Keontae Jenkins. The Horned Frogs are loaded on the edges and sorting out a rotation that takes advantage of that talent will be key.
2. Does Coleman Take The Next Step?
Defensive end Khari Coleman is poised to be the next big pass rusher in this TCU defense. In 2020, he was one of the nation’s best freshmen, earning Freshman All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America, The Athletic and ESPN.com. He was also the Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year. By season’s end he led TCU in tackles for loss (15.0), a stat that was tops among freshmen nationally, second in the Big 12 and seventh overall nationally. He only had three sacks, but he had 33 tackles. In many defenses, at 224 pounds, he would be undersized. For TCU’s defense, he’s perfect to patrol the edge and he could take a huge jump in 2021. If he does, TCU’s defense will be much better for it.
3. Finding Garret Wallow’s replacement
Every year, TCU cranks out a linebacker that it will sorely miss the following year. In 2021, that player is Garret Wallow, who basically ran the Horned Frog defense a year ago.
So who replaces him? The strong-side position that Wallow played is key to making TCU’s defense go. Could TCU move Dee Winters into the role after 65 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and two sacks last season? That would rob the Horned Frogs of their best middle linebacker. The loss of Ben Wilson hurt, too. He might have been Wallow’s replacement. But he transferred to Washington State. The competition could boil down to Wyatt Harris, who returns after 26 tackles last season, and Jaomi Hodge, who redshirted last season after an injury. Whoever wins the job takes on a huge role.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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