Soooo... with everything else going on, I really let this year's Position Preview series get away from me. We'll have to make up time by combining positions a la the offensive line this past weekend. Next up: the defensive line.
I think I'll do things in basically the same way here as the OL, focusing on the first and second teams before going to the reserves. For you, that means we get to start with what is definitely the best part of Baylor's defense...
There's not a lot to say about the individuals in this group that hasn't been said a hundred times before. Led by Billings, the junior freak of nature, and Blackshear, the 4-year contributing stalwart, in the middle and Oakman on the right flank, Baylor's starting defensive line is simultaneously more talented and experienced than any during the Briles era. In fact, this starting unit should be as good as any in the conference, if not the country, this coming season.
The only real question I had going into this was whether I would include K.J. Smith in this chart or the next, but ultimately, I decided that I think Palmer ends up getting the lion's share of the starting reps at LE coming off his injury last season. Word is that he's bulked up a bit this offseason and looks just as explosive as ever. He'll get plenty of opportunities considering how much opposing offenses are going to have to do to keep Billings and Oakman out of their backfields.
There's little doubt that this group will be the strength of Baylor's defense this year, and if they can continue the vast improvements in stopping the run and rushing the passer from last season, the defense as a whole could be really special.
One thing worth mentioning is that if Baylor goes with 3-downs like we did extensively last season, I'd expect to see Palmer-Billings-Oakman as those three. It's not quite as sexy as the Magee-Billings-Oakman trio I wasted so many words on the last two years, but it's pretty stinking good.
*THERE HE IS!
This group probably looks a little different than you expected since Suleiman Masumbuko and Trevor Clemons-Valdez both decided to leave for greener pastures this summer. In their place, we're now looking at a pair of redshirt freshmen that reportedly wowed Phil Bennett through this year's camp: Andrew Morris and Ira Lewis. Their continued development will be big for Baylor both in backing up Billings and Blackshear and going into 2016 potentially losing both. In addition, we already know for sure we're losing Palmer and Oakman, making the improvement of Nance and Smith, as well as anyone else that might try to supplant them, a big priority.
Baylor substitutes liberally on the defensive line, so expect to see a lot of these guys this year, particularly early against lesser competition before Big 12 play. That goes double for Smith, who I almost included in the chart above, and Nance. Both have tremendous potential as speed rushers but need to work on not getting washed out by bigger tackles and pulling guards.
The big story from this group will be who manages to make The Leap into legitimate starter heading into next year. As I mentioned, the coaches apparently rave about the Morris and Lewis, two underrecruited guys that have big opportunities ahead of them. If either or both can actually make good on those opportunities, the 2016 version of this post could be a lot better than expected.
To be honest, my biggest thought about this group is how long it didn't take me to make the chart, which is not a thing. Baylor needs defensive linemen in the 2016 class, and it needs them badly. There's a lot of potential here with guys like Roberts, Malin, Jones, and Jacobs, but not much else. None of them have seen the field yet due to either just getting here or redshirting last season, and I'm not sure any will in great quantity. Instead, it's another year learning how to play Big 12 football in practice and on the sidelines.
The one name you might not have expected to see here, aside from the two walk-ons, is that of Arp DE Tyrone Hunt. Hunt was a late addition to Baylor's 2015 recruiting class that many expected to greyshirt this season. Other departures from the program gave him the chance to enroll this summer, and he took advantage of it. He's a talented player, but he's also exceedingly raw. He's also the only DL we took in the entire 2015 class and definitely going to redshirt.
There wasn't a lot of mystery in how this post would work out with four (actually five) established returning starters from last season and mostly depth behind them. As I said above, Baylor's starting quartet is as good as it gets in this conference and state. With our secondary still gaining experience and a couple of new starters at LB/NB, Baylor will lean on that group to anchor the entire defense. Thankfully, there's a lot of them to lean on.