Gary Patterson has never recruited the biggest guys as his midline defenders, preferring instead to go after heady players with high football IQs and speed to burn. Some of his best linebackers have been converted wide receivers (Paul Dawson), quarterbacks (Ty Summers), or safeties (Garret Wallow). In a conference that plays wide open offense with extra wide receivers on the field, the philosophy makes a ton of sense.
Heading into 2019, the Frogs are a very inexperienced group in the middle of the field. Gone are Ty Summers and Jawuan Johnson, and one of TCU’s top recruits at the position, Dylan Jordan, will go the juco route instead. That leaves a lot of question marks and little experience for Gary Patterson’s 2 of the 4-2-5.
TCU LB Depth Chart
If we are going to see an impact true-freshman on defense, it very likely will come in the linebacking corps. The Frogs don’t have a lot of depth in this unit, with just five scholarship players that aren’t in their first year on campus on the roster.
Garret Wallow is the clear alpha; the junior was slated to start at LB in 2018 before a slate of injuries pushed him back to safety, where he starred in high school. Wallow has put back on the weight he dropped to drop a level defensively, clocking in at 6’2”, 212. With an insanely high motor and a relentlessness that reminds folks of Jason Phillips, Wallow is a genuine star in the making for the Horned Frogs, the kind of guy that can do a lot of what some of the guys the preceded him did well, and possibly more. He’s super fast, super instinctual, and a little reckless - heading into last year, Patterson talked about how they had to slow him down just a little bit and teach him to make the play as opposed to trying to destroy everything in his path.
That’s exactly what you want out of a LB.
Wallow was plagued by missed tackles because of his desire to hit anything and everything as hard as possible initially, but the human hit-stick showed what he was capable of once the game slowed down a bit for him. Though it’s hard to fully judge his stats from 2018 because he played two positions, Wallow finished the year having played all 13 games, recording 46 tackles and three sacks. He will be one of the linchpins and leaders of the defense in 2019 - in fact, Patterson is bringing him to Media Days next week as a vote of confidence in the young player. Wallow is an early candidate for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and could be an all-league performer, and his ability to be a full-timer at LB could be a big determiner of just how good the TCU defense is this fall.
Expected to line up next to Wallow week one is Montrel Wilson, the lone senior in the unit. Wilson’s time at TCU has been a struggle; the 6’3”, 228 pounder out of Keller is the biggest player that the Frogs can throw out in the middle, and has shown flashes of brilliance in his three seasons (four years) on campus.
But, he has played in double-digit games just once in his career, as a true freshman, and has made it onto the field just ten times since. In 2017, he played in seven games and had 30 tackles, half of what he did as a freshman in 2015. Wilson was a tackling machine as a safety at Fossil Ridge, and was heavily recruited as one of the best athletes in the area. He just hasn’t been able to stay healthy, and thus, prove himself on the field. Patterson and company are rooting for him in 2019 - not just because they like the kid (which they do), but also because they need him. Wilson’s experience and size can be a difference maker for the Frogs, and if he stays healthy, the defense will be better for it.
But, just because they are rooting for him, doesn’t mean they are going to hand him the job. Pushing him will be the lightning fast redshirt freshman DeMauryon Holmes, yet another converted safety who the Frogs found very late in the recruiting cycle (he committed on May 12th last year!) but who may end up being one of GP’s greatest finds.
Holmes made waves in camp last fall, but the Frogs elected to redshirt him, playing him in just four games to maintain his eligibility. He is certainly raw as a prospect, but he has great instincts and his speed and quickness is next-level stuff. DeMauryon is going to get on the field this season, and he’s probably going to make things happen when he does. He might not take Wilson’s starting spot, but it’s going to be really hard to keep him on the sideline. Patterson said as much during spring ball: “I really like (Demauryon) Holmes at Mike linebacker. He was an anchor in the 4x100 and playing linebacker.”
Two other young players are expected to be a part of the rotation - sophomore Ben Wilson and redshirt freshman Jacoby Simpson. The plan was to redshirt both players, but due to injuries, Wilson found himself on the field early and often in his first season in Fort Worth. The Washington native with the flowing blonde locks certainly looked the part; though he played primarily on special teams, Wilson showed why he was such a highly-rated recruit with his steadiness in all 12 games he suited out for. At 6’2” and 220 pounds, he might remind folks a little of Ty Summers, and that’s not a bad thing. Against power teams, he will likely have a crucial role.
Simpson is another bigger guy at 6’, 225, and the Houston product comes with an impressive resume (116 tackles, including19 for loss, with eight sacks and two interceptions as a senior). One of the few true LBs on the team, there is less of a learning curve, but he is probably still a year away from being a key contributor, barring injury. He will still see snaps as a crucial member of the rotation, though.
The Frogs also have two intriguing and talented true freshmen on the roster - Wyatt Harris of Aledo, and Zach Marcheselli, a top 50 linebacker recruit in the country hailing from Oklahoma. Harris was hurt his senior year, but came back to help lead the Bearcats to the state semifinals, and as one of the most productive defensive players in that dominant program, has the pedigree to be an early contributor if necessary. He certainly looks the part at 6’3” and 218 pounds, but I am sure GP is hoping to redshirt the talented young player in 2019.
Marcheselli was a double threat in high school, winning state titles in football and wrestling. With over 200 tackles in his two year varsity career, the three star recruit was incredibly productive and thus in high demand. Strong and disciplined, Marcheselli has a chance to be a good player for the Horned Frogs - but is likely to redshirt in 2019.
The talent is there for the Frogs at the linebacker position in 2019, but the depth, or lack of, is concerning. TCU can’t afford to suffer any significant injuries to their top five players, and will need the whole unit to stay healthy to be at their defensive best. Wallow is absolutely a star in the waiting, but he will need Wilson or Holmes to be great alongside him. That’s certainly possible, but with so few snaps at LB between them, we will have to wait and see.