TCU's defense has been dominant in the Big 12, despite the offense's best efforts to sabotage their efforts, and there have been two big reasons why. The first season in the Big 12 TCU had one of the best 1-4 defensive lines in the school's history- Returning 1st team All conference and future Atlanta Falcon draft pick Stansly Maponga (Who did things like this), Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields (who did things like this), future All-conference tackles Chucky Hunter (who did things like this) and Davion Pierson (who did things like this). Devouring runs and generating consistent pressure to take the pressure off of an uncertain linebacker corps. In 2013 the run stuffing middle held up, but there was no consistent pass rush, which put a lot of pressure on the TCU secondary to both hang in coverage forever as well as contain runs to the outside- which they did admirably. This year with the spectacular flameout of Devonte Fields, TCU returns neither of its former Big 12 defensive player of the year winners, but lurking in the secondary is my pick to bring the award home for the Frogs for the third year in a row. Let's meet your safeties for 2014.
Free Safety: I felt horrible for free safety Elisha Olabode last year, as despite a sterling showing in 2012, the Frog's center field playing safety was just never able to stay healthy last year. Olabode was one of my favorite frogs of all time, as he was the sort of player that you could just forget about unless he was doing something spectacular- he simply wasn't going to be beaten deep, which let the rest of the defense play more aggressively. However, there was a silver lining to Olabode's injury issues, as current-junior Derrick Kindred got to see a lot of the field and perform well enough to keep me from worrying too much with him back there. Kindred started the last three games for the Frogs and picked up two interceptions and 48 tackles in a season of sparse play. With an offseason to grow into his role as the unquestioned starter, the Frogs shouldn't be too far off Olabode's excellent 2012 performance at the position.
Weak Safety: A second team All Big 12 selection last season, Chris Hackett had a heck of a sophomore season and should again put together a stellar performance in both pass and run support. Hackett forced three fumbles to go along with three interceptions, but the second half of the season didn't net Hackett a single interception, which is sure to rankle him. Without the ultimate predator Jason Verrett on the outside, Hackett is going to have to play with more aggression to keep the turnovers coming, and given his history of improvement over his first two seasons there's no reason to expect less than another all-conference nod for Hackett this season.
Strong Safety: Welcome to HawkeyedFrog's ridiculous homerism section, as right here and now I'm predicting senior strong safety Sam Carter to be the Big 12's defensive player of the year this year. Now we all know that my enthusiasm gets the best of me from time to time as football season draws near, but hear me out- Carter not only is a two time All-Big 12 safety, but he plays the key position in Gary Patterson's 4-2-5 defense that will consistently put him in the best position to rack up big numbers. As the "Robber" in Patterson's beloved Cover 2 Robber call, Carter's duty is to ride underneath the crossing routes that opposing offenses run at us and break up the passes or collect interceptions- which he did, leading the team with 5 last year, but also as the strong safety Carter is counted on for run support and to be a frequent blitzer- which again, he's thrived at- collecting 4 sacks last season and 7 1/2 tackles for a loss mixed into his 49 tackles. Carter has the range, speed, experience and hard hitting attitude to play the strong safety position like no one has played it before at TCU, and I think if he stays healthy he could lead the Big 12 in takeaways while also collecting sacks and tackles for a loss- which are the money stats for awards voters. So there's your bold prediction of the day, TCU will make it three in a row for defensive player of the year awards.
The Wildcard: The practices so far have been awash with praise for newcomer Kenny Iloka, so it seems like a crime not to at least mention him, but with the stacked safety depth for the Frogs it seems like it will be difficult for the newcomer to grab a starting spot, That doesn't mean that he won't see the field a lot for the Frogs, as in cases of relief or injury I expect Iloka will be the first man off the bench to play any of the safety positions. He was the Rivals #1 rated safety coming out of junior college and shrugged off strong interest (no pun intended) from the Longhorns to play for the frogs, and all reports so far indicate that he's the real deal and them some. If TCU has any injury issues at safety this year there's no need to fear, as Kenny Iloka is likely as good as any of them bar Carter.
Another year of not having to worry about the safeties? In some ways, TCU fans really are some of the luckiest in the nation. Thank goodness for no Jarrett Anderson-coordinated offense on the other side to screw things up this time around.