clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2023 TCU Football Preview: Defensive Line

The Frogs lost both starting defensive ends this offseason but brought in a couple of high-rated freshmen that will compete to contribute immediately.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 19 TCU at Baylor Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The defensive line for the Frogs was a position group that was quietly very good for the Frogs in 2022. The 3-3-5 scheme that defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie runs requires defensive linemen to take on less glamorous roles that don’t show up in the stat sheet as often but are incredibly important to the success of a defense. Eating up blocks to keep the linebackers free to make plays is chief among those responsibilities assigned to the defensive line, limiting the number of counting stats such as tackles and sacks that defensive linemen are able to rack up. The 2022 group excelled in this less flashy role and although the Frogs return some key players, there is a lot of turnover at the position meaning TCU will be relying on some less experienced players in 2023.

Key Losses

The biggest loss from the 2022 defensive line is without a doubt Dylan Horton who was picked by the Houston Texans in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Horton led the team with 10 sacks to go with one forced fumble and 48 total tackles. Horton also had a knack for showing up in big moments as he took over in the Fiesta Bowl against Michigan with 4 sacks and had a great game against Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship with 2 sacks. Horton had great size for a defensive end, which is very necessary in the 3-3-5 scheme, to go along with a very high motor and good athleticism. Horton was the best pass rusher on the 2022 roster and the Frogs have no obvious replacements for his production on the edge. He was also a phenomenal run defender as he routinely took on double teams to keep the second-level defenders clean if he wasn’t fighting through a double team to make the play.

The Frogs also lost Terrell Cooper who started at defensive end opposite Horton and had a solid season as a run-stopper and served well in his role on the defense. While Cooper only produced half of a sack and 22 tackles, he was a very good rotational piece that held his ground well in the run fit and was a key role player that the Frogs will have to find a replacement for this season.

Key Additions

The second highest-rated recruit in TCU’s 2023 recruiting class was Markis Deal who was rated as a four-star recruit and the number 75 ranked recruit in the country according to 247 sports. Deal has tremendous size that should enable him to contribute immediately for the Frogs as he stands at 6’5” and weighs in at 310 pounds. Deal played both interior defensive line and on the edge in high school and with the return of Damonic Williams at nose tackles for the Frogs, Deal’s most likely path to immediate playing time is on the edge. Deal projects to be a plus run defender very quickly, due to his size and strength. He also will have an instant impact on pass defense due to his height and arm length as he showed a knack for tipping and knocking down passes at the line.

With the departure of Dylan Horton along with Dee Winters, who rushed the passer often from his linebacker position, the Frogs have a lot of pass-rushing production to make up and Deal is a strong candidate to cover some of that loss. For a more in-depth look at Deal, check out Miles Perry’s freshman film room which takes a deep dive into Deal’s high school tape.

The Frogs signed another top 300 recruit on the defensive line in Avion Carter who was rated as a four star recruit and a top 50 recruit from Texas by 247 Sports composite rankings. Carter, like Deal, has very good size, standing at 6’4” and weighing in at 270 pounds. Carter played a lot of 3 technique in high school but showed the ability to play on the edge. With the need for bigger defensive ends in the 3-3-5 scheme, Carter projects to be an edge defender for the Frogs.

Perhaps Carter’s best trait is his explosiveness off the ball as he is consistently the first player on the field to move when the ball is snapped. He blends that explosiveness off the ball with some strong pass-rushing moves and pure strength that allow him to shed blocks and cause disruption in the backfield. Again, for a deeper look at Carter, Miles Perry did a great freshman film room article on him that is linked here:

Returning Production

The biggest freshman contributor last year for the Frogs was on the defensive line in Damonic Williams who took the starting nose guard job in camp and never looked back as he started the game against Colorado when he was still 17 years old. Williams produced solid counting stats while playing a position that generally does not show up in the stat sheet. Williams had 1.5 sacks on the year to go with 27 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. Williams is a tremendous athlete for his size of 6’2” and 320 pounds and only projects to get stronger with more time at the collegiate level. The starting nose tackle job being secured will provide some very necessary continuity at a position group that lost two of three starters this offseason.

The backup nose tackles are also secured with the return of Tymon Mitchell and Soni Misi. Misi originally had the backup spot locked up coming into the 2022 season but was sidelined with an injury for 11 games, allowing Mitchell to step up and show that he was a very capable rotation player as well. Mitchell had 3 sacks and 20 total tackles on the year which is exceptional for a rotational interior defensive lineman. The Georgia transfer showed he was very capable of giving Williams a breather and should excel in a similar, if not expanded, role in the 2023 season.

The defensive line will be a position group to watch in fall practices as the two defensive end jobs are up for grabs. The Frogs return veterans such as Caleb Fox that can serve as solid starters but expect the freshman in Deal and Carter to push for early playing time as they present a higher upside for pressure creation in a defense looking to replace a lot of production on that front. East Carolina transfer Rick D’Abreu and freshman Zachary Chapman should also factor in as the Horned Frogs approach the start of the 2023 season.