The 2019 Baylor defense will return several starters from the previous year. If the Bears have any hope of contending for a chance to play in Arlington, the defense must play better. Below are a few questions that I believe need to be answered in 2019 if the defense wants to start an upward trend.
On the defensive line the Bears will need to replace a lot of production from 2018 with Ira Lewis, BJ Thompson and Greg Roberts now gone. Lewis was a three starter for Baylor, BJ Thompson was a bigger loss than what fans realize, and Greg Roberts was an underrated guy (not everyone can sack the #1 pick in the NFL Draft twice) that always seemed to get a good push. They only combined for 9 sacks in 2018, but it was their pressure that forced QBs to get uncomfortable and move out of the pocket. And even though James Lynch, arguably Baylor’s best player is on the defensive line, the secret will be out on him. I expect most teams will be prepared to use tight end and running back help against Lynch. It poses the question, who on the defensive line will be able to help provide a consistent pass rush? Deonte Williams has shown flashes and James Lockhart is getting all the off-season hype; both seem like the most likely candidates to step up. Beyond that there is a lot of unknown. The defensive line sets the tone for the entire defense. If Baylor can develop another pass rusher to ease some pressure of Lynch the whole defense will benefit. I don’t think Baylor can make a living having to blitz a linebacker of safety on every passing down.
At linebacker, I think Baylor will primarily have to answer two questions in 2019. First, is Terrel Bernard gonna show enough to give the coaching staff confidence that he can be THE leader of the defense in 2020? Second, which young players will play well enough to get a head-start to be in the rotation in 2020 and beyond? If its not obvious, I’m much more concerned about the future of this position rather than the 2019 season. For this year, I think the position is what it is. We primarily have three true linebackers, all with a ton of playing experience. Clay Johnston is a steady hard-hitting player, while Jordan Williams and Terrel Bernard seem interchangeable (not in a bad way) in the fact they are both capable of playing well, while being inconsistent at times. I expect all three to play a ton of football. But I would like to see more depth this year. The last couple of years we have played with walk-ons as backups and they have done a commendable job. I think linebacker is a tough position to learn, especially in a complex defense. I remember even the great Bryce Hager struggling to get the position down early in 2012 when it was his first year starting. It would be nice to see two or three inexperienced players get enough in game experience and show enough flashes for them to be confident in 2020 and beyond.
The secondary seems to have the exact opposite problem as the defensive line. There aren’t a lot of inexperienced guys, but rather a ton of players who have made some nice plays in their careers. There’s probably around 10 players who I’m sure expect to play and even start in 2019. The question will be how well coach Snow and the defensive staff manage the rotation. Going off last year I think Raleigh Texada earned the right to be in the front running at cornerback. At safety the nod probably has to go to Chris Miller; he has the most experience and has earned a single digit number the past two years.
It’ll be exciting to see how this defense progresses. Luckily for fans there is only a couple of more months to wait.