The news nobody wanted to hear has now been confirmed by Jon Werner of the Waco Trib. Baylor senior DT Kaeron Johnson, a presumed starter and/or significant contributor alongside Nick Johnson, will undergo back surgery in the next few days and miss the entire 2012 season. Speculation ran rampant yesterday afternoon due to a series of tweets by Kaeron beginning with the statement "I worked way too hard for it to all end like this..". Kaeron also tweeted to Anthony Moore, who joined the Baylor coaching staff recently after his own injury troubles robbed him of the chance to return to the team, that they would be together on the PUP list (physically unable to perform). Just a few hours ago, Suleiman Masumbuko tweeted (and Kaeron retweeted) "One time for my boy. Sad it had to be you." Now we know for sure that they were talking about Kaeron after probably finding out later yesterday evening. He should be eligible for a medical redshirt, but I don't know if he would be interested in going that route.
Without blowing things out of proportion like the typical Chicken Little Baylor fan, this is a serious blow for our depth on the defensive line. DT, already a position of relative weakness, now looks to be primarily a rotation of one senior (Nick Johnson) and three redshirt freshmen (Trevor Clemons-Valdez, Beau Blackshear, and either Masumbuko or Donald Bryant). Losing Kaeron from that group hurts, but it is not a disaster. We have talent, size, and strength left in our rotation. If things go even more south, two true freshmen, one of whom is Zorell Ezell while the other, should he get his own eligibility questions sorted out, is recent addition Jason Osei, could get the call. Both have great size but are extremely limited in terms of experience. Hopefully neither has to play a major role this season.
UPDATE: Confirmed. I'll leave the rest of the post the same.
Baylor senior noseguard Kaeron Johnson will undergo back surgery and will be out for the year.— John Werner(@JohnWernerWTH) August 28, 2012
At this point, I don't know what Baylor's plan will be scheme-wise to overcome the loss of a huge contributor on the inside of the defensive line. The good news is that this injury did not occur suddenly; Baylor has practiced all summer and fall without Kaeron, allowing our younger guys to get valuable experience. Still, we probably expected him to be back at some point, so this does change things.
I'd expect that we will see more of a 3-man front, whether it is in the rumored 3-4 or possibly a 3-3-5 alignment, than we would have otherwise. I have been told that this change won't affect the overall scheme of the defense, but it may take some pressure off the line. I would also expect that Javonte Magee could move inside on passing downs in a 4-man front to take advantage of his size and speed. That assumes, of course, that we get to passing downs and teams don't just ground and pound up the middle on us. It may be that we see someone move from OL to DL (Jeramie Roberts is a possibility) just to take up space or provide relief. The best hope is probably that our redshirt freshmen take up the slack with stellar play of their own.
PS. I was thinking about it more over lunch, and this is basically the textbook demonstration of why player retention is almost as important as player acquisition. Three recruiting classes ago (2010), Baylor brought in two high-3* DTs named Sean Watson and Dominique Jones. Both would probably be redshirt sophomores this year and in line for big playing time. Neither is on the roster or even at Baylor anymore. Their departures created the hole we have been seniors and redshirt freshmen.