Ever since Gary Patterson took the helm of the TCU football program ten years ago, the team has been known for its defense.
Four different seasons--2000, 2002, 2008, and 2009-- Patterson's defense has led the nation in yards allowed. Last season, the group led TCU to a 12-0 regular season record and No. 6 ranking at seasons' end.
This season, seven players return. The defense may lose their two-year hold on their No. 1 national ranking-- but they won't fall far.
TCU will have the biggest hole to fill at the defensive end position, where they lost Jerry Hughes to the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the NFL draft. His ability to rush the quarterback was exactly what Patterson's defense needs. With four down linemen and just two linebackers, pressure from the defensive ends is crucial.
You can't talk about the TCU defensive line without talking about mentioning the gap that Hughes has left, but the reality of the situation is that the defensive line is still a strength of the team.
Filling in for Hughes will be senior Wayne Daniels. Daniels had a great season last year at left end, but was overshadowed by the hype that Hughes generated. This year, he'll be expected to emerge from that shadow and be the leader of the defense. He was second on the team to Hughes in sacks last season with 5.5 (Hughes had 11.5).
Redshirt freshman Stansly Maponga has earned the starting spot at left end opposite Daniels, but Braylon Broughton and Ross Forrest wait in the wings. In the middle, tackle Cory Grant and nose tackle Kelly Griffin return. Griffin was the first player in the Gary Paterson era at TCU to start as a freshman, and he's now a senior leader on the line.
Junior middle linebacker Tank Carder has probably one of the most interesting stories you will find on any NCAA team this season. Check this out, from Mountain West Connection:
Raised in Sweeny, Texas, Ricky Carder Jr. was such an enormous baby that he was dubbed "Tank" by his parents, Ricky and Marti. At the age of 2 Tank Carder began riding BMX, and to call him a phenom would be an understatement, a BMX world champion at the age of 9 Carder had the potential to be one of the best ever, but the BMX life proved to be too much for a kid from a small-town in Texas and he quit shortly after.
In the seventh grade Carder suffered a horrific injury during a car accident in which a rod broke in the vehicle he was riding in, causing it to flip three times. He was flung from the car and into a tree, breaking his back in two places, and puncturing his lungs and diaphragm, the doctors did not know if he would ever be able to walk again. But due to great perseverance Carder did walk again, and when he entered high school he had a desire to play football. However the doctors wouldn't clear him to play so he found a loop hole, he could be a kicker on the team if his parents signed a waiver and agreed that Carder would be required to run towards the sideline after every kick to ensure he avoided contact. He became the teams starting kicker and punter as a freshman but it was clear he yearned for more when in his sophomore year he picked up a fumbled extra-point snap and ran it in for a touchdown, much to the dismay of his coaches.
His junior year he was finally cleared for contact and he quickly became a star that was able to play anywhere on the field including linebacker, quarterback, running back, and tight end. Carder was given only 2-stars by Rivals and had a few colleges show mild interest in him, but no offers came until two weeks before signing day when TCU Head Coach Gary Patterson decided to take a chance on him. "It was just one of those things where I watched his highlight film and really liked him," Patterson said.
So there you have it. Carder has done nothing but dominate at the college level. He's been voted the Mountain West Conference's Pre-Season Defensive Player of the Year, although he is coming back from shoulder surgery in the spring.
Tanner Brock will line up next to Carder at strong side linebacker-- the dude is fearless.
In the secondary, all three safeties return. And although both cornerbacks are inexperienced, they're being touted as more athletic versions of their predecessors. Corner Jason Teague (6-2, 197) is bigger than departed starters Nick Sanders and Rafael Priest, and Greg McCoy (5-10, 181) is one of the fastest athletes in the Mountain West Conference.
Tejay Johnson, Tyler Luttrell, and Alex Ibiloye return to play with each other as safties. TCU only allowed 159.5 passing yards per game last season, the best ever for a Gary Patterson-coached defense. And you have to account that a fair portion of those yards came late in blowout games, when TCU's reserves were in the game.
After previewing both the offense and the defense, it's easy to see that this team lacks a weakness. If quarterback Andy Dalton can stay healthy, TCU has all the tools to make another run at the BCS. But can Ryan Katz and the Oregon State offense get to this experienced group?
--Jake | (firstname.lastname@example.org)