I love talking about linemen. Not only do they consistently not receive the praise that they deserve, but they are the engine that make the offense and defense go. A defensive line that can get pressure in the passing game and plug up holes in the running game fundamentally ruins the offensive's plan for almost any given play.
TCU recorded an eye-popping 26 interceptions in 2014. That is 11 more than the next best Big 12 teams, K-State and Texas, who each had 15. TCU's ability to be able to get pressure rushing only four down linemen opened up a lot of options for Gary Patterson to play around within coverage, which led to putting the right DBs in the right place at the right time. Likewise, the fact that both of our starting linebackers finished the 2014 season with 100+ tackles shows how good TCU's line was at plugging up running lanes and spilling plays to the second level.
These guys don't just make it easier for the linebackers and secondary to generate turnovers either, they have a nose for the football themselves. Last year the defensive line consistently disrupted opponents' backfields helping TCU to finish the year second in total sacks with 39, only one behind Texas. With the exception of one big game in October (aaaannnd I'm sad), the defense always played its best in the biggest games. When we faced excellent opposing defenses like Texas and Ole Miss, they helped out the offense by putting points on the board. In those two games alone the TCU defensive line accounted for three scores, each by a different player, all of whom will return this year.
The only starter not returning on the defensive line is 2014 preseason All-Big 12 pick Chucky Hunter. Fortunately, this position also returns the only 2015 preseason All-Big 12 pick on TCU's defense, Davion Pierson. Pierson and Hunter were excellent partners in crime at the tackle position last year, disrupting opposing offenses all season long. This year, Pierson will be joined by sophmore Chris Bradley. Bradley comes in a 6'2", 255 lbs and played in all 13 games as a freshman, recording 12 total tackles, including two for loss and 1 1/2 sacks. With a year of playing time under his belt, expect Bradley to step in and be a major factor in 2014.
Pierson and Bradley won't be alone either though. They are backed up by Tevin Lawson and Aaron Curry respectively, both of whom are juniors. Lawson also saw action in 13 games last year, in which he managed 12 total tackles, including 1 1/2 for loss and 1 1/2 sacks. Aaron Curry sat out last year after transferring to TCU from Nebraska. He saw action in all 13 games for Nebraska as a sophomore though and he finished with 24 tackles, including three for loss and two sacks. He has decent size at 6'2", 280 lbs, so it will be exciting to see what he brings to the rotation this year. As added depth, Casey McDermott may get some playing time coming off of his redshirt year. Casey comes to TCU all the way from Raytown, Missouri and should provide some speed up the middle with a 4.62 40-yard dash time and a year in the program to build his strength.
Last year Frog fans were a tad worried heading into the season after the surprise departure of Devonte Fields, but it turned out that TCU was holding aces when it came to DE. If there was a breakout star last year, you'd have to say that was senior James McFarland, or Mike Tuaua's hair. McFarland had an excellent end to the season last year when he was named the defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl after intercepting a pass in the end zone for a pick-six that put TCU up 28-0 at halftime. When the spring depth chart was released, Josh Carraway was listed as a co-starter along with McFarland. Carraway also had a pretty big pick-six last year against Texas to put TCU up 48-10 late in the fourth quarter.
On the other side of the line, seniors Terrell Lathan and Mike Tuaua are listed as co-starters as well. Lathan made 8 starts last year and was third on the team with 5 1/2 sacks and 10 tackels for loss. He also had the last of the three TDs I mentioned earlier when he got a scoop-n-score against Texas on Thanksgiving. Lathan is a guy who split time between DT and DE regularly last season and will most likely be expected to do so again. Tuaua stands out among the ends because of his curly locks, but there's more to this kid than his killer flow. He made 5 starts and was fourth on the team with five sacks and 8 1/2 tackles for loss. Patterson likes to rotate the defensive ends regularly, so expect to see significant playing time out of both of these guys. Sophomore Bryson Henderson and redshirt freshman L.J. Collier will also provide depth at this position.
Carrying a roster stacked with upperclassmen, this defensive line group should be able to make things easy on the younger players growing into roles as defensive backs and linebackers. The depth at defensive end is really exciting because all of these guys have already proved themselves to be playmakers. All that is left now is to sit back and see if we can get some definitive starters in place heading into the season. Either way, this isn't a position that I'm too concerned about.