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2021 TCU Football Depth Chart Preview: Defense & Special Teams

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The Horned Frogs will lose some of their top-tier talent, but several starters and a few newcomers are ready to step up.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Texas Christian Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

TCU linebacker Garret Wallow and safety Tre’von Moehrig have been staples of the Horned Frog defense over the last three seasons. Both players will look to take their talents to the next level, with Wallow and Moehrig both declaring for the 2021 NFL Draft. Wallow was recently invited to compete in the Reese’s Senior Bowl, while Moehrig, who brought home the Jim Thorpe Award, projects as a late first-round pick at the moment.

The Horned Frogs will also lose redshirt sophomore Ar’Darius Washington, one of the nation’s best safeties during the 2019 season, after he also opted to leave the program to pursue his professional dreams in the NFL. Although TCU’s defense will look much different without three of its top-tier playmakers in 2021, there are still several impact players who can help the Horned Frogs remain one of the top defensive teams in the Big 12.

Secondary

Noah Daniels was elite at the beginning of the fall, with PFF rating him as one of the top cornerbacks in the country before suffering a season-ending knee injury. In his absence, sophomore Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson blossomed in the No. 1 corner role, securing First-Team All-Big 12 recognition as well as PFF All-American and AP All-American honors. THT led the Big 12 with 13 pass breakups and started all 10 games for TCU in 2020.

A healthy Daniels should return to the starting lineup opposite Hodges-Tomlinson for the 2021 season. Sophomore C.J. Ceasar II will compete for reps after taking over for Daniels over the second half of this season, struggling initially before ending the year with three interceptions including a pick-six. Sophomore Kee’yon Stewart, who saw the field plenty during the 2019 season, will also return after a season-ending injury this fall. Four-star freshman Keontae Jenkins will be the player to watch at cornerback.

Moehrig and Washington’s departures leave two open spots in the TCU secondary. Look for sophomore Josh Foster and four-star freshman Bud Clark to battle for reps at the weak safety position. Foster filled in for Washington on a few occasions this season, totaling 14 tackles and one interception. The Horned Frogs don’t have much experience behind Moehrig, so if the team doesn’t look for a transfer, then it’ll be redshirt freshmen Deshawn McCuin and Donavann Collins, who combined for nine total tackles in 2020.

La’Kendrick Van Zandt started at strong safety before being supplanted by sophomore Nook Bradford, who closed the season as the starter. If head coach Gary Patterson keeps Van Zandt in the secondary, look for he and Bradford to compete for starting reps in 2021.

Linebackers

Sophomore Dee Winters will return after a very underrated 2020 campaign where he racked up 65 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and one defensive touchdown. Winters will line up at the MLB position in TCU’s 4-2-5 scheme, but who will supplant Wallow at SLB? Ben Wilson recently left the program to continue his career at Washington State, making sophomore Wyatt Harris the default favorite to enter the lineup. Harris started six games in 2019, collecting 26 total tackles with one sack and one interception.

While they didn’t see much action this fall, JUCO transfer Jamoi Hodge and LSU transfer Marcel Brooks could play a larger role in 2021. Brooks was a former five-star prospect who only saw special teams reps with TCU this season.

Defensive Line

The most notable addition to the trenches will be UCF transfer Kenny Turnier, who was extremely productive over three seasons with the Knights, compiling 61 total tackles and 9.5 sacks. Turnier will compete for starting reps at defensive tackle along with returners Terrell Cooper and Corey Bethley, who lost most of his senior season to a knee injury. Look for redshirt freshman Earl Barquet as well as four-star freshmen Patrick Jenkins and Jaquaze Sorrells to have a greater impact in 2021.

Ochaun Mathis and Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year Khari Coleman are ready to continue getting after opposing quarterbacks from the defensive end slots next season. Mathis enjoyed his best season as a Horned Frog, finishing tied for fifth nationally with nine sacks. Potential reinfornces returning include senior Parker Workman, New Mexico transfer Dylan Horton and sophomore Colt Ellison.

Special Teams

Sophomores Jordy Sandy and Griffin Kell are the presumptive starting punter and kicker when TCU returns for the 2021 season. Kell converted 12-of-17 field-goal attempts in 2020 with a long of 49 yards. Interestingly, Kell had four attempts blocked this fall after not having a single kick blocked in 2019. Sandy finished with eight punts over 50 yards and 24 punts inside the 20-yard line this season, one that saw the Australian average 41 yards per punt on 57 attempts. Junior Antonio Ortiz has now logged 32 games as TCU’s long snapper.

Derius Davis brought two punt returns to the house in 2020, and the speedy wide receiver figures to be the team’s starting punt returner next season. Four-star freshman Savion Williams saw most of his action returning kicks, averaging 22.3 yards per return.