The Defensive line has always been the key for Patterson's defenses. Back in TCU's old WAC and CUSA days before the 4-2-5 was tweaked for the spread TCU's defense was as famous for rotating in fresh linemen, opponents rushing totals in the low double digits and depressing long completions on third and long on the occasions the line didn't make it to the quarterback before the ball was out of his hands. Though the defense changed a bit after the 2004 season (the Tech game you'll all remember being the impetus) the line has still always been the key for good TCU defenses, and this year's unit should be a good one.
I sincerely wish Stansly Maponga all the best with the Atlanta Falcons and hope he will be happy with his decision for all the years to come... but damn if he were back this could have had the best defensive line in school history. As it is, TCU is stocked and deep with players who are both talented and with some playing experience (playing bunches of underclassmen tends to pay big dividends down the road) but with a question mark opposite Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. Jon Koontz, the rising senior who could never quite sneak past Maponga into the starting role, will be taking Maponga's place at left end, having started four games last year due to Maponga's injured extremities. While filling in for Maponga Koontz managed to snag an interception against SMU's Garrett Gilbert but otherwise didn't impress, collecting just 12 tackles and the dropoff in pressure from Maponga to Koontz was very noticeable. With Devonte Fields on the other end, Koontz will likely not see a double team all year, so it's vital that he improve his pass rush and make teams pay for doubling Fields. If Koontz can collect seven sacks and a few hurries this year this will make opposing quarterbacks hurry, and the secondary will make them pay.
Across from Koontz is the aforementioned Big 12 newcomer of the year, Big 12 defensive player of the year and Collegefootballnews.com's overall top defensive newcomer for 2012. I'm tempted to just post this video and leave the analysis of Fields at that.
Devonte Fields Destroys Case McCoy TCU Horned Frogs vs Texas 2012 (via MarqueeTcu)
This play shows all of the reasons why Fields is a terror defensively. He's fast, he has good balance, great power in his legs and he keeps his eyes on the ball at all times. Still there's room for improvement, as despite Fields' phenomenal work TCU didn't get enough pressure on the quarterback last year with Maponga out, and this year Fields is likely to be facing more double teams and running backs chipped out to his side to attempt to slow him and he'll have to raise his game to keep those superlatives and awards rolling in. Look for a slight drop in sacks, but a more consistent pressure presence from Fields this year, which could mean big things if the next position group pans out...
Early in the year in 2012 the DTs were a mess, often out of position as they let offensive linemen guide them out of the way in exchange for being able to take another step or two toward the ball carrier. As a result, teams were able to run the ball fairly successfully on TCU early on (Kansas stands out in my mind as being the worst case) but the duo of Chuck Hunter and Davion Pierson grew as the year went on, turning in to a fairly formidable pair and earning Hunter a spot on the second team All-Big 12 team. This year Pierson isn't a freshman and Hunter has a full year starting under his belt, and the offseason has been mercifully free of any drug developments to sap the TCU defense of talent. The best thing for Hunter and Pierson is Devonte Fields has picked up enough notice that teams will be looking to double team him, resulting in a much better numbers game than they faced much of last year I expect to see the two 305 pounders stonewall any attempt to run inside on them. The best thing about both of TCU's DTs is their desire to get after the QB, which was dangerous when they were making their first starts (again, Kansas) but now that they have some seasoning under their belts they're likely to be able to push the pocket back without getting out of position, and as a result I expect to see TCU's overall stats for quarterback hits, sacks and pressures increase markedly, even without Maponga. August can't get here soon enough.