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Baylor Depth Chart Preview: Defense

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Baylor’s Defense has several new positions, and this is my attempt to figure out where everyone ends up.

NCAA Football: Texas at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Line: The new defensive line is comprised of four positions.

Rush-End: This is the do-it-all hybrid position played by Haason Reddick at Temple (now slated to be a late 1st-2nd round pick). The most important facet of this position is that he needs to be able to rush the passer. Next, he needs to be athletic enough to drop back in coverage, both in zone and man. Finally, he needs to be big and tough enough to to put his hand in the dirt and play as a traditional DE against bigger sets. Reddick played at 6’1 230 lbs. Reddick’s backup was 6-2 240 lbs.

Here are some examples of what a Rush-End needs to be able to do:

1. Brian Nance, Senior, 6-3 245 lbs.

Nance has shown that he is an adept pass rusher throughout his time at Baylor. He’s always struggled to put on weight, but this new system is perfect for him. I think he is by far the best option for Baylor.

2. Jamie Jacobs, Junior, 6-5 255 lbs.

Another guy I think the scheme change is perfect for. Jacobs basically played this position in high school, if I recall correctly. He struggled to beat out the bigger Greg Roberts and Xavier Jones last year, but this position change (if it happens, obviously) should really help him out.

3. Demarco Artis, Freshman, 6-2 220 lbs.

Artis is an adept pass rusher already. He’s the only incoming freshman listed as a Rush-End, and Rhule has stated he is likely to play early. I’ll get more into him when I get to him in the signing day wrap-up.

Defensive End: This position plays on the opposite side of the line from the Rush-End, and is more of a traditional DE. The focus is a guy who can be a consistent stalwart in the run game but rush the passer when necessary. Usually, there is only one of these guys on the field, but for passing situations, Rhule frequently likes to sub out the DT and bring in another DE. Temple’s starter in 2016 was 6’1 255 lbs.

1. K.J. Smith, Senior, 6-2 260 lbs.

I think Smith is set up to thrive in this position. In the past few years, Smith has frequently been put in the position where he is the best pass rusher on the field, which just don’t suit his strengths perfectly. Here, he’ll be able to have that pressure alleviated with the Rush-End opposite him. He’s great on run downs and good on passing downs. Look for a big year from K.J.

2. Xavier Jones, Junior, 6-3 245 lbs.

Jones has always played bigger than his listed weight. Coach Achuff used to describe him as a “bull in a china shop,” which is pretty accurate. He’s more of a straight line athlete, but he’s very explosive and great at playing run plays up. Baylor used him a lot last year as a “knifing” defensive end on run-downs whose job it was to blow stuff up with his quickness and strength. He might be a guy who gets subbed out on passing downs, but I think he’s a run game stalwart.

Defensive Tackle: This is that DE/DT hybrid position, that I’ve just decided to call DT. Basically, this guy primarily needs to be stalwart in the run game, taking on OTs and OGs without being swallowed up. Temple used several different guys here, ranging from 6-3 280 lbs to 6-1 310 lbs. As with any position, it’s not so much about size as ability to do the job. This is the position I think Baylor has the least depth with currently, which is why Rhule took so many guys who can play this position in his 2017 class.

1. Ty Hunt, Sophomore, 6-3 275 lbs.

I actually think Hunt is a perfect fit here. Most of us remember Ty from his phenomenal cactus bowl performance, and it was basically this position. He’s a great mix of length and size to stop the run, along with natural explosiveness and hand usage to get to the QB.

2. Greg Roberts, Junior, 6-6 260 lbs.

I struggled a lot with where to put Roberts (either here or DE). He might naturally be a better fit at DE, but with Baylor’s numbers, I’m not sure who else would play DT. He’s pretty good against the run because of his long arms which allow him to disengage blockers rather well. Furthermore, he’s like Hunt in that he has natural instincts that allow him to be a good pass rusher.

Nose Tackle: This isn’t a true nose (which lines up directly over the center), but it’s close enough. The NT in this scheme usually shades the center to side of the Defensive End. Like most Nose Tackles, his primary responsibility is to eat space being tough against double teams. Any added pass rushing ability is a bonus. Temple’s starter was 6-0 285 lbs.

1. Ira Lewis, Junior, 6-3 300 lbs.

With Baylor’s switch to a 3-4 last year, this is the position that Lewis played all last year. He was good, with his main strength being a “knifer” who was good at disrupting plays in the back field. He sometimes struggled with standing up against more powerful OLs, which is usually when we saw freshman Bravvion Roy being subbed in for him. I’m listing Lewis here because of his seniority, but I expect this to be a close battle between him and Roy.

2. Bravvion Roy, Sophomore, 6-2 320 lbs.

Roy is built more stockily and stout than Lewis, which is why he has more potential as a space eater. He’s not as good of a pass rush threat as Lewis, however. This will be a close battle to watch in camp.

Linebacker: Baylor will employ 3 different LB positions—the Will, Mike, and Sam.

Will (Weakside LB): The Will LB is basically what Baylor has used in the past. Usually, he lines up to the boundary (short side of the field). It depends on the formation, but more often than his counterpart (the Sam) he is is the box against spread sets defending the run. Furthermore, more so than the other LBs, the Will will have opportunities to make plays off the edge. Temple’s guy was 5-11 206 lbs.

1. Taylor Young, Senior, 5-10 225 lbs.

Don’t need to say much about Young. He’s been fantastic for years now. He’s surprisingly good against the run being so small, and is a threat off the edge as both a pass rusher and covering QB/RB on zone read.

2. Jordan Williams, Sophomore, 6-0 220 lbs.

This is a really a guess, but I think Williams skill set fits here. He’s more of an athletic type, who works well in space. Haven’t seen too much.

Mike (Middle LB): The Mike is generally a bigger guy who needs to be your best run-game diagnoser. Furthermore, Rhule likes to use him to drop into deep zones on passing downs. The Mike makes a lot of the defensive calls, and needs to be a stalwart that can be relied upon every down. Bryce Hager would be perfect for this position. Last year, Temple used a 6-1 239 lb. guy here.

1. Raaquan Davis, Senior, 6-2 230 lbs.

It seems like Davis has always been biding his time, with Hager, Edwards, Young, and Eddie Lackey in front of him. As a senior, this is his opportunity to take this position. Davis has always been very athletic for his size, the question is whether he has the “LB IQ” required to lead the defense. Davis has all of the athletic tools to be successful in this position.

2. Lenoy Jones Jr., Sophomore, 6-1 225 lbs.

I really liked the way Jones played last year. He’s more of a squatty guy (doubt he’s 6-1) but plays with great leverage and tenacity. He has the mindset of a Mike, a guy who wants to get gritty every play. I think it’ll be a good competition between him and Davis for the Mike spot.

Sam (Strong-Side LB): Most of the time, this LB is playing to the field (the wide side of the field) and thus is covering more space and needs to be more athletic than his Will and Mike counterparts. This is the “Nickelback” position that Baylor has employed in the past. The only question is whether Rhule will retain the use of a lighter, more athletic guy at the position or basically make it a 3rd LB position. At Temple, he leaned towards the latter, but the AAC faces a lot less spread offenses. I just can’t imagine playing against Texas Tech with 3 pure LBs on the field all the time. Thus, I think he’ll retain the use of Blanchard at this position, but your guess is really just as good as mine. Temple used a 5-11 224 lb. guy here.

1. Travon Blanchard, Senior, 6-2 205 lbs.

As said previously, I think this is where they’ll keep Blanchard. He’s played here for three years already, is probably the best player on the defense, and is really good at it. It’s entirely possible that he moves to SS, but we’ll see. One reason I don’t think that happens is because Baylor has a lot more depth at Safety than they do at LB.

2. Clay Johnston, Sophomore, 6-3, 220 lbs.

I struggle with where to put Johnston, because I think he could legitimately play anywhere. Rush-End or any LB position. He’s super athletic and tough. Ultimately, I think this is where he ends up. I really think that Rhule needs to find a way to get all three of him, Taylor Young, and Blanchard on the field at the same time. There are a lot of permutations for that, one of course being Johnston at SAM with Blanchard at SS. Or Johnston at MLB. We’ll see.

Defensive Backs: Baylor will have four defensive backs primarily. It looks like they play their CBs as boundary and field. Furthermore, they have a Strong and a Free Safety.

Boundary CB: The boundary CB typically needs to be tough and adept at press coverage. This is because the boundary is the short side of the field, thus the distance from the QB to the WR is shorter, which means you want to erase quick routes. You don’t necessarily need to be big, but it of course helps with press coverage.

1. Grayland Arnold, Sophomore, 5-10 185 lbs.

Future star. As a true freshman, this guy was amazing. He’s tenacious at the line of scrimmage, which allows him to play press coverage despite his relatively small stature. This is a no-brainer.

2. Loser of Verkedric Vaughns/Jameson Houston battle.

I think these two guys battle for the opposing CB spot, the loser of which probably moves to backup Arnold.

Field CB: While the boundary CB plays to the boundary, the Field CB plays to, you guessed it, the field. Generally here you want a guy who you can stick on an opposing WR and forget about him. Smaller guys can fit here as they don’t have to worry as much about the quick routes.

1a. Jameson Houston, Sophomore, 6-2 200 lbs.

This “a” positioning doesn’t mean too much. I think him and Vaughns are pretty even. They have noticeably different strengths. Houston is good in run support and on the shorter routes, but struggled with being just a step behind on the deep routes. However his length makes him good at attacking the ball in the air.

1b. Verkedric Vaughns, Junior, 5-10 195 lbs.

Vaughns has all the quicks and speed you need to play the position, but from what I recall, he usually got into trouble in run support and other missed assignments. I think whichever of these guys takes to the system better will be the starter (duh) while the other moves to the boundary.

2. Raleigh Texada, 5-10 165 lbs.

Raleigh’s older brother who plays for TCU is a terrific Field CB. Both are shorter, lighter guys who have terrific feet and speed. Furthermore, Texada’s HS film shows a guy who can really attack the ball in the air. Because of his slighter frame, however, he’s a guy who is likely relegated to playing Field CB. Because of this, I think he is the backup while the loser of the starting battle goes to the boundary.

Strong Safety: As I talked about in my schematic preview, this is a position that needs the ability to play man coverage against slot receivers when necessary. When Temple spins to a single high safety look, the SS is usually the guy who “spins down” to man coverage, while the Free Safety takes the deep zone. Temple used a 5-11 208 lb. guy here last year.

1a. Chance Waz, Senior, 6-0 185 lbs.

Waz has played Baylor’s “cover-safety” position for the past couple years, which entails a lot of man coverage. He doesn’t have great speed, but he’s pretty good at attacking the ball in the air and playing man coverage. This position entails a lot of run-support, which will be something to watch.

1b. Taion Sells, Senior, 5-10 190 lbs.

Sells returns this year after a significant leg injury. He’s had an interesting career, not redshirting but never starting for more than a few spot-starts. He’s been pretty good when he’s been in. His strengths have always been that he’s really quick, good at playing downhill in run support. If he can play well in man coverage, I think he has a good chance of starting here.

2. Rajah Preciado, Sophomore, 5-11 185 lbs.

I really like Preciado’s fit here. He’s like Sells in that he’s smaller, but really quick and tough. Furthermore, from his HS film he’s pretty adept at playing man coverage.

Free Safety: This position is like Strong Safety, but instead of a guy who can spin down and cover man to man, you want a guy who will spin to the center of the field and be a terrific zone defender. Here you want a guy who is long, fast, and can close on the ball in hurry.

1. Davion Hall, Senior, 6-2 205 lbs.

Davion has all of the athletic traits you need to succeed in this position. He’s long, has terrific acceleration, and great speed. He can be an enforcer on the back end. The only question here will be how quickly he can pick up the position.

2. Chris Miller, Sophomore, 6-0 185 lbs.

Miller is a terrific athlete who I think is a great fit for this position. He’s fast, long, and can really close on the ball.

Others: Jourdan Blake and Henry Black. I’m not sure where to put these guys. My guess is Blake at FS and Black at SS. Both played other positions in HS, and haven’t played much at Baylor, so it’s hard to project where they’ll end up in this scheme.

Thanks for reading, guys. Again, please comment with your opinions.