TCU’s defensive line has a chance, in 2018, to be a few different things. First, it has a chance to be the strongest unit on either side of the ball for the Horned Frogs, who, just a few seasons ago, saw a critical need to get bigger along the line.
Second, and more impressively, this has a chance to be one of TCU’s best defensive lines, if not the best, of the Patterson era. To make a claim such as this, though, let’s first look at a few sets of defensive lines that were particularly stout.
2003 | Key Names: Bo Schobel, Robert Pollard, Chad Pugh, Ranorris Ray
This season included arguably the most impressive season ever by a TCU defensive end, as Bo Schobel recorded 27 tackles for loss and 17 sacks in a single season. His counterpart, Robert Pollard, didn’t have a bad season either, recording 14 TFL and 3 sacks, but the guy who made this defensive line tick was nose tackle Chad Pugh. Pugh was a force in the middle of the line for several seasons, but in 2003 he commanded so much attention that he kept Schobel and Pollard free on the edges, leading to a massive season for Schobel.
2005 | Key Names: Tommy Blake, Chase Ortiz, Zarnell Fitch, Ranorris Ray
This ‘05 DL squad was dominant because it had balance. With Blake and Ortiz firing off the edges (combining for 94 tackles, 27.5 TFL, and 16 sacks), and Fitch, Ray & Co. clogging up the middle, this defensive line freed up guys like Jason Phillips, Robert Henson, Marvin White, and Jeremy Modkins to wreak havoc in space.
2009 | Key Names: Jerry Hughes, Wayne Daniels, Cory Grant, Kelly Griffin
Jerry Hughes’ senior season (16.5 TFL, 11.5 sacks) made him a first round pick to the Indianapolis Colts, but he was far from the only talent on that ‘09 squad. Wayne Daniels flew around on the other side of the line, while Grant and Griffin were the precursor to duos like Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson, or Ross Blacklock and Corey Bethley.
2014 | Key Names: James McFarland, Chucky Hunter, Davion Pierson, Mike Tuaua, Josh Carraway
Maybe it’s because of TCU’s overall season success, but I view this as the best defensive line in the Patterson era. McFarland was a monster, racking up 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four passes defended and three forced fumbles, while big Chuck Hunter was in the backfield so often he had his mail forwarded there. Depth was a big strength of this line, too, with Tuaua and Carraway both making big differences on the end, and Pierson, Tevin Lawson, and Chris Bradley all making an impact on the interior.
But all this gets us to the 2018 version of the defensive line, which, if a few things break right, could top all these to be the best line Gary Patterson has had at TCU. So, let’s jump in.
While this group lacks depth, they have the same level of talent at the top end as all the other lines listed above. Ben Banogu very well could see his name listed with the likes of Schobel, Blake, and Hughes if he has the type of season folks are expecting him to have. Banogu brings back 16.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks, and several All-Big 12 honors, from a season ago, but it’s what TCU loses on the other end that has TCU fans asking questions.
Replacing Mat Boesen’s production will be a task for some combination of LJ Collier and Michael Epley, while Gary Overshown, Dennis Collins, Brandon Bowen, and freshman Ochaun Mathis provide more depth, even if it’s a relatively inexperienced group. There’s talent there, but if someone important like Banogu or Collier goes down it could be a massive hit to the position.
A unit within a unit, the DT’s look to be the straw that stirs the drink for the entire defense in 2018. With Ross Blacklock stepping back into his starting role, and it looking like Corey Bethley will replace Chris Bradley as the other starter, TCU gets two incredibly talented, experienced interior linemen to lead some high-quality depth.
Joe Broadnax has been passed up a bit as a starter, but he is still an excellent tackle capable of blowing up the plans of opposing offensive lines, while the hype around George Ellis III’s potential can’t be contained. Some folks believe that Ellis could be better than Blacklock or Bethley, and whether or not that’s true, it certainly bodes well for the type of production Frog fans can hope for from him in a reserve role this season.
Meanwhile, guys like Terrell Cooper and Ezra Tu’ua round out the depth chart, but have the talent to step in and excel. Just because they’re the third unit, doesn’t mean they won’t be needed, or lack importance, because the rotation at defensive tackle works to keep guys fresh, meaning Cooper and Tu’ua will be called upon frequently to step on the field and play at a high level.