In a weird twist of fate, we're kicking off things on the defensive side of the ball today, exactly one year from the date we did it in 2013. I think that means good things, but I am no master of the omens.
When I did this last season, I tried to represent the starters/backups through the fancy formatting of text (capitalization, anyone?). I'm not sure I will this year. Part of my reluctance comes from the fact that we're not, at this point, exactly sure who the starters are. Baylor seems to be embracing a true rotation so far in practice, and we just don't know that much about who is playing when at the top of the depth chart. Where possible, though, I'll note how things stood as of the last time we were officially told.
*Magee didn't redshirt in 2012, so for eligibility purposes, his absence last year is basically like a redshirt season.
That ... that's a stout chart there. I'm really excited about that chart going forward. We've got size, talent, and youth just about everywhere you'd want to see it. None of the five players we suspect to be in the primary rotation are seniors, which is good for future defenses, and three are actually just sophomores. Those guys (Bonds, Billings, and Magee) will be the building blocks for Bennett's defenses now and in the future, and that's exciting as all get out.
One thing you might notice straightaway, if you've a keen eye, is that although we didn't have a single senior DT on the roster last year, we lost a man. Zorell Ezell, who would have otherwise been in his sophomore year at Baylor, has apparently sought greener pastures elsewhere and left the team. His decision is entirely understandable given the players around him here, and we wish him well.
As for the rotation I mentioned, the latest depth chart we have from the spring lists as nominal starters: at DT (which in our defense means a 3-technique alignment on the strong side more often than not), Blackshear and Magee listed disjunctively, and at NT (lined up in the A gap at either a 1 or a 2i), Billings. Masumbuko is listed as Billings' backup, and I suspect that both he and Bonds will play significantly this season.
Terell Brooks -- #88 -- SR -- 6-4, 295 pounds
Every now and then, I hear someone ask why Terell Brooks barely played last season and/or why he's probably not going to play much this season. From a qualitative standpoint, I have no idea. We brought him in with the 2013 class when it looked like we would need the warm bodies at DT (this was before Billings committed), and I suppose, in that, he's fulfilled his role. Otherwise, his inability to contribute (as drawn from our staff's decision not to play him) made him the biggest loser when it turned out that both of our freshman DTs played and did so extremely well. He wasn't listed on the 2-deep depth charts released at the end of spring practice, nor have I heard much about him since. It seems his chance to contribute (as always, barring injury) has probably passed him by, and we won't see much of Mr. Brooks.
Suleiman Masumbuko -- #93 -- JR -- 6-2, 300 pounds
There's going to be a recurring theme for the trio of Masumbuko, TCV, and Blackshear: I can't believe they're juniors! It was two full years ago that the three of them were redshirt freshmen thrust by injuries and ineffectiveness into positions for which they probably weren't ready, and that's incredible. Since that time, our depth at this position at this position has come so far that a guy like Masumbuko who seemed like a lock to start a lot of games for us at NT is now second behind Billings and will probably remain so. Even still, one of the things you can't teach is size, and having Masumbuko around for this year and next will be huge for our depth. He started two games last season (ULM and WVU) before missing the ISU game with an injury, contributing directly to the rise of Bonds and Billings down the stretch. He was credited with 15 tackles last season, 8 solo and 7 assisted.
Trevor Clemons-Valdez -- #98 -- JR -- 290 pounds
TCV started the first two games of last season, then the fifth, bringing his total number of starts as a Bear to 7 in two years. That's 7 more than most people thought he'd have. He's not listed as such on the depth chart (which only has starters and backups), but my guess is that he's third string behind Billings and Masumbuko at NT right now, which makes Baylor pretty fortunate. Not everybody has a guy with a half-dozen starts under his belt running with the 3s. TCV was credited with 5 tackles last season (2/3).
Beau Blackshear -- #95 -- JR -- 6-4, 300 pounds
Of the three junior DTs on the roster, Blackshear should play the most this coming season by far. One of Baylor's few returning starters on defense, Blackshear started 12 games last season at nose tackle before moving outside a bit, it seems, to defensive tackle for 2014. He's listed as being in competition for that spot with Magee, the next player on our list. Baylor will retain the benefit of Blackshear's presence into next season, as well, meaning that we should have experience in spades for the 2015 defense.
Though he had 33 tackles (13/20, 6 for loss) last season from the NT spot, Blackshear isn't what I'd call a flashy player by any means. What is he is is solid, and he's gotten better every single year he's been here. My dream for him has been that he'd get the opportunity to play DT rather than NT because I think it fits his skills/size better, and that seems to have come true. Whether he starts or not, he should play quite a bit this coming season.
Javonte Magee -- #90 -- SO -- 6-5, 280 pounds
It says something about a guy's talent and potential when he can miss an entire season of training and experience, return for spring workouts and practice out of shape, and emerge afterward in competition for a starting spot on the defensive line. In coming back from personal/family issues that kept him out the entire fall semester and nearly cost him his football career, that's what Magee, a former 5* recruit, has managed to do. Now Baylor has, at the very least, a very intriguing part of its rotation back at defensive line and possibly an impact player.
Early in camp, I read a couple of reports that the absence of Boise State transfer Samuel Ukwuachu from this year's fall camp, possibly in connection with Magee's slightly smaller stature (down 10 pounds from a year ago), may have prompted the coaches to look at him again at DE. I even read once that we did it in a 3-man front with Oakman and Billings. Without having seen it myself or read anything more about it than rumor since, I don't really have much to say. Considering how effusive our coaches have been in their praise of him, my guess is that they're just trying to get the best four (or three) on the field at all times, and they think he's one of those guys. I should note that Magee is listed as a DE on the roster itself, but who knows if that means anything. We'll find out more in the coming days, I'm sure, and I'll make whatever changes are necessary when we do.
Andrew Billings -- #75 -- SO -- 6-2, 300 pounds
In all of these so far, I've managed to avoid posting a .gif directly to tell you how I feel about a player. That ends now.
He's a sophomore. He's probably starting at NT. He can squat a dumptruck.* And he did the above as a true freshman playing in the Big 12. I'm not sure what else needs to be said.
*A little ODB trivia for you: for a long time, the post about Billings breaking the HS powerlifting record was #2 in page views all-time on the blog. It's since dropped to #3. But that's still pretty awesome.
Byron Bonds -- #96 -- SO -- 6-2, 280 pounds
I'm going to level with you for a minute: when you write a couple thousand words a day on your favorite sports team, you're going to be wrong. Sometimes, you know immediately and can correct it. Other times, your shame takes a lot longer to come to bear. A year ago, I gave Bonds basically no chance to contribute as a freshman due to his recruiting rankings and others I thought would play ahead of him. Had I done Recruit Impact Rankings for 2013, he probably would have been about 15th, at best, in a class of over 20. Had you asked me, I would have said that we'd be lucky for him to contribute as a redshirt sophomore three years down the road.
He started 7 games last year as a true freshman. That's 5 more even than Billings.
The thing about Bonds that I didn't totally expect was his lateral quickness. He's not likely very fast in straight-line speed, but time again we saw him extend plays to the sideline or draw a play out where I thought he had no chance. He was legitimately excellent at several points last season, something I never saw coming. Now he's listed as a backup at DT to Blackshear and Magee, but I bet you'll see him play quite a bit.
Andrew Morris -- #91 -- FR -- 6-1, 290 pounds
One of Baylor's two (possibly three, if you count Josh Malin, who is listed as a DE on the roster) freshman DTs from the 2014 class. At the risk of making another Bondsian mistake, Morris probably redshirts this season. Despite the fact that we just saw two different guys do it, it's still relatively rare to see a true freshman DT force his way into playing time in our conference. Plus, with the aforementioned two guys now just sophomores, plus everybody else we have, we don't need him to play immediately. He played HS ball at Mesquite Horn HS in Mesquite, Texas.
Ira Lewis -- #97 -- FR -- 6-3, 280 pounds
Everything I said about Morris is also true for Lewis except, obviously, his high school-- he went to Lamar HS in Houston, Texas. Plus, Lewis is currently injured with a displaced knee cap, something that sounds just horrific to have to deal with.
Aside from DE, where Baylor has a potential star in Shawn Oakman waiting to dominate, I can't think of a position on the defense that has come as far in such a short period of time as defensive tackle. Two years ago, we were pressing into duty redshirt freshmen in Masumbuko, TCV, and Blackshear that probably weren't ready and filling gaps with converted DEs like Gary Mason, Jr. Now, we've got 4/5* talents in a rotation that could go 5 deep. The best part: everybody is still relatively young, and we should lose nothing going into 2015.