TCU’s unique defensive scheme relies on outstanding play from the safety positions, and that’s exactly what the Horned Frogs saw from their defensive backs this past season.
Despite losing starting strong safety Innis Gaines early in the season, TCU continued to lock down opponents in the secondary, finishing the season as the Big 12 Conference’s top-ranked passing defense. The Horned Frogs, who also ranked first in total defense, were the only team in the Big 12 to hold opposing offenses under 200 passing yards per game. Moreover, TCU limited opposing quarterbacks to a 55.3 completion percentage, the lowest mark in the conference.
Although the Horned Frogs will lose two starters from 2019 including Gaines and Vernon Scott, who the Green Bay Packers drafted in the seventh round this past month, TCU’s safety group still expects to be one of the elite bunches in college football. Headlining TCU’s returning safeties is Trevon Moehrig, who blossomed in his second season and emerged as one of the top-rated safeties in the country. The 2019 First-Team All-Big 12 standout finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated safety in the FBS. His sophomore campaign was also the third-most valuable in PFF college football history.
Few things can happen on a football field that are sweeter then a Safety making a booming hit to force a fumble. That’s exactly what Trevon Moehrig (@TheReal_Tre7) does here. He sniffs out the play and aims right for the football knocking it loose, really great play...#WNSFilm pic.twitter.com/HoBxTGalsr— Mark (@HeaneyNFLDraft) November 27, 2019
Moehrig put the clamps on opposing receivers in 2019, allowing only 2-of-17 contested targets to be caught. The junior free safety finished his sophomore season with two forced fumbles, four interceptions, 11 pass breakups and 62 tackles. When Moehrig returns this fall, he’ll likely be flanked by redshirt sophomore Ar’Darius Washington, who entered the starting lineup at weak safety after Gaines went down. Another player who surged onto the scene in 2019, Washington was the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, and his performance more than justified the conference honor.
Highest graded safeties in 2019:— PFF College (@PFF_College) March 25, 2020
1. Trevon Moehrig, TCU - 92.1
2. Ar'Darius Washington, TCU - 91.7 pic.twitter.com/O0tmps0BX4
While Moehrig was PFF’s highest-graded safety, Washington was right behind him as the second-highest graded safety, allowing only five catches out of 265 coverage snaps and missing only three tackles on 48 attempts according to PFF. The 5-foot-8, 179-pound dynamo from Louisiana picked off five passes in 2019, the most by any freshman in Gary Patterson’s 19 years as head coach of the Horned Frogs and the most by a TCU player since Chris Hackett totaled seven in 2014. Moehrig and Washington will return as not only two of the best safeties in college football, but two of the most talented overall defenders.
Highest graded returning defensive players in power-five football:— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 28, 2020
1. Chris Rumph II, Duke ED
2. Trevon Moehrig, TCU S
3. Derek Stingley Jr, LSU CB
5. Ar'Darius Washington, TCU S
5. Shaun Jolly, App St CB pic.twitter.com/AHLP08yt1m
With Moehrig and Washington virtually locked into starting roles for the 2020 season, the Horned Frogs will need one more safety to step up this fall. One player who could fill that role is sophomore Nook Bradford, who played in all 12 games last season and totaled 23 tackles. Bradford arrived on campus as the No. 1 prep school player in the country by 247Sports, and his talents could give the TCU secondary a significant boost. Bradford made his case with a tremendous defensive play against Oklahoma, stripping and recovering a fumble by former Sooner quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Another player to watch out for could be junior La’Kendrick Van Zandt, a versatile defender who earned starts at both safety and linebacker in 2019. While the majority of his snaps came beside Garret Wallow at linebacker, his final start of the season came at strong safety against Baylor. The 6-foot-1, 206-pound thumper recorded his first collegiate interception in that game, and although he missed five games due to injury, he finished the season with three passes defender and 12 total tackles.
Finally, former four-star recruit Atanza Vongor could be a breakout candidate for the Horned Frogs this fall. The redshirt sophomore appeared in 11 games this past season as a reserve weak safety, totaling two tackles. Vongor has quality size and athleticism for the safety position, standing 6 feet 1 inches and weighing 200 pounds. Vongor, who redshirted his first season due to injury, chose the Horned Frogs over big-time programs like Alabama, Clemson, Florida and Michigan.
With two premier playmakers in Moehrig and Washington leading the TCU safeties this fall, the Horned Frogs should once again be one of the best pass defending teams in the Big 12. Add Bradford, Van Zandt and Vongor into the equation and Patterson will have options to start and rotate players around as TCU prepares for the 2020 season. Hopefully, we’ll continue seeing more incredible plays like these in last year’s upset over Texas.