So, I took a day off from Position Previews yesterday, and that means we're another day behind. No delays from here on out!
Today, we're looking at the defensive end position, another place where Baylor has significantly upgraded its talent level in recent years. Unlike a year ago, we're replacing both starters, but I honestly don't consider that a bad thing. We may have our best pair of defensive ends in years.
Between DT and DE, Baylor has 18 scholarship players. That's over a fifth of our total allowed. Only one of the 18, DT Terell Brooks, is a senior.
|2||Shawn Oakman||JR||6-9/280||Defensive End|
|15||Brian Nance||RS-FR||6-3/235||Defensive End|
|56||K.J. Smith||RS-FR||6-2/255||Defensive End|
*Taken from the Post-Spring Depth Chart, since he's not currently on the roster.
When compared against 2013, there may not be a position on the team of greater overall upheaval. A total of six names from last year's list are gone: Chris McAllister and Terrance Lloyd (graduation); walk-ons Harrison Miner and Kolton Joines (walk-on stuff, I guess); Peni Tagive (medical issue); and Tanner Thrift (switched to OL). We also have five new names starting with Ehirim and going through all the freshmen from the 2014 recruiting class. That's a ton of change!
A big part of that change, and something quite a few people cite when talking about our defense, is the loss of both starters from 2013: McAllister and Lloyd. Normally, having to replace both in the same year would make me uneasy. Thankfully, our two starters, Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer both played extensively last season, to the point that Bennett has said he considered them basically starters by the end of the year. Backing them up will be Ukwuachu (not currently with the team but expected to return shortly), Nance, and Smith, all players capable of making an impact should they get the chance. Also in the mix could be sophomore Javonte Magee, who we talked about at length in the DT preview. This is a position with talent and experience, even if it doesn't fit the technical definition of having "returning starters."
Nelson Ehirim -- #51 -- SR -- 6-2, 260 pounds
I know almost nothing about our only senior DE save the fact that he used to play for Midwestern State University, and they are apparently the Indians. Since we've yet to see anything on him with regard to playing time, I'm going to assume he's a reserve at this point. He's definitely a member of Baylor's All-Name team, since his last name sounds like some kind of heavenly being.
Shawn Oakman -- #2 -- JR -- 6-9, 280 pounds
Going into what might be his last season at Baylor if things work out the way we expect (and he then leaves for the NFL Draft), Oakman is one guy that everyone will be watching when Baylor lines up on defense. Part of that is a result of the fact that he's 6-9 and thus very hard to see over.
In his first season playing post-transfer, Oakman dominated at times from a backup role behind Terrance Lloyd at right defensive end. He racked up 12.5 tackles for loss, .5 behind Eddie Lackey for #1 on the team. He was also arguably our best defensive player in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, providing a glimpse or two of his potential in a starting role.
A couple of Oakman gifs to wet your whistle:
Have fun with that, Big 12 LTs.
Jamal Palmer -- #92 -- JR -- 6-3, 240 pounds
Oakman's partner-in-crime across the defense is Jamal Palmer, a speed rusher for whom 2014 will be his third year playing for the Bears. Perhaps not as flashy as Oakman or as recognizable due to sheer size, he is no less important, and his stats for 2013 were arguably even better.
Unfortunately, I don't have any gifs of Palmer to show you at this point. I assume that will change very soon. Palmer will start at left defensive end for the Bears, placing him in the same role occupied by Chris McAllister a year ago. He seems to have a knack for forcing fumbles, with his most prominent one coming in the Fiesta Bowl.
Sam Ukwuachu -- #86 -- JR -- 6-4, 220 pounds
As I mentioned above, Ukwuachu is not currently with the team due to some kind of undisclosed personal matter. According to DC Phil Bennett today, they expect him to return soon.
When he does, I expect for Ukwuachu, who missed the spring due to a torn pectoral muscle, to reenter the rotation behind Palmer and compete for playing time. He was a dynamic player for Boise State two years ago as a redshirt freshman, and I see no reason he cannot be again.
Brian Nance -- #15 -- RS-FR -- 6-3, 235 pounds
Everyone's favorite LB-turned-DE didn't make the Post-Spring Depth Chart but has reportedly taken advantage of Ukwuachu's absence to earn playing time with the second team in camp. In the nearly 20 months he's been at Baylor, Nance has trimmed down considerably, shedding weight to regain speed and agility. The reports from camp of his skills as a pass rusher are good, and I expect him to play this year.
So that's where he is and what he's doing.
K.J. Smith -- #56 -- RS-FR -- 6-2, 255 pounds
Smith, listed alternatively as K.J. or Kevin depending on the source, redshirted last season and managed to show enough in the spring to be listed as the #2 right defensive end behind Oakman. He is currently rotating with the 2s, I believe, and is one of the players included when Bennett says he thinks we can go 9-deep on the defensive line. Whether he potentially loses time to DE-mode Javonte Magee, assuming such a thing exists when the season begins, remains to be seen. It wouldn't surprise me at all should we see Oakman, Magee, and Smith all play RE. It's also possible that Oakman and Magee play together in a 3-man front.
Greg Roberts -- #52 -- FR -- 6-5, 260 pounds
Originally a greyshirt candidate for January 2015, Roberts ended up part of the 2014 class, after all, when others failed to qualify and we had the scholarships available. He's already big, yet extremely raw, and will need a redshirt year perhaps more than any other DE on the roster.
Jamie Jacobs -- #43 -- FR -- 6-3, 225 pounds
Both a DE and OLB for Midway HS in Waco, Jacobs is a speed rusher in the mold of Jamal Palmer. He will also likely redshirt this season. He will need to bulk up to play DE in the Big 12.
Xavier Jones -- #94 -- FR -- 6-3, 235 pounds
Take everything I said for Jacobs and apply it to Jones, as well, except he didn't go to Midway. Jones is from Magnolia, Texas, where he played under former Baylor QB Shawn Bell.
Josh Malin -- #99 -- FR -- 6-5, 265 pounds
I wasn't entirely sure whether to include Malin with the DTs or DEs, and that may be something to watch in the future. For now, he's listed as a DE on the roster, so we'll keep him here. He's the fourth member of our 2014 freshman class at the position, and the fourth likely redshirt. Like Roberts, he has outstanding size, but will need a redshirt year.
As I mentioned above, another player who probably deserves to be mentioned on this list is sophomore Javonte Magee. He's supposedly been playing both DT and DE, and although I expect him to play mostly at DT this season, it's possible he shifts out in certain packages. If he doesn't beat Beau Blackshear for the DT job, it's also possible that they move him to DE to get the four best DL on the field.
Between the DT and DE previews, the strength of our defense should become pretty clear: the line. After years of hoping for mediocrity there, we've upgraded our talent enough that this group could actually change games positively for the defense. Over those years, we've seen repeatedly how much a subpar line can impact the other units: forcing LBs to shed more blockers in run support and DBs to cover through second after excruciating second. Last year we started to see the inverse: a line that makes things easier for the LBs to make plays and gives the secondary a chance to stick with their man. We should take another step forward in that regard this year.