The Baylor defense was atrocious at times last year, especially in the beginning of conference play. However, by the end of the year, they were playing pretty respectable and then in the Holiday Bowl they were dominant. The Bears lost 8 players on the offensive two-deep, including 5 guys who were starting at the end of the year. On defense, there are only 5 seniors lost, four of which were starters.
DT Nick Johnson (starter)
DT Gary Mason Jr. (starter)
CB Chance Casey (part-time starter)
S Mike Hicks (starter)
The Bears losses are really felt at two position, defensive tackle and safety. Casey was a converted safety and was starting primarily due to injury. His ability to play multiple positions will be missed next year, but we should have more talented guys in the lineup going forward. The "CS" safety position also lost two players, but the primary backup at times, Terrell Burt, returns and might also have some competition for the job.
The big hole will be at defensive tackle, where the Bears struggled terribly at times last year, until the moved defensive end Gary Mason Jr. down to the inside of the line. While undersized at 265 lbs for the position, he brought more quickness and some good strength to the interior line. Along-side him was our only consistent tackle last year, Nick Johnson. While those two will be missed, there is a bevy of returning sophomores and newcomers waiting to take their place. Again, I am only going to list the freshman that I think could possibly not redshirt. Everyone not listed, I am pretty confident will not be playing next year.
The Bears sure have some interesting options on the ends of the front line, don't they? With both starters returning in McAllister and Lloyd and primary backup Javonte Magee coming back for his sophomore campaign, there is good depth and some great potential at the defensive end spots. I do think Magee will beat out Lloyd for the strong side, which will allow the Bears to have much better size at the position, as both McAllister and Lloyd are undersized at 255 and 235 pounds each.
Oakman might be the most talented though, as the transfer from Penn State gets ready for his big debut. The 6-8 former 4-star recruit has as much upside as any defensive player on the Bears, and could be a real threat on passing downs, as a threat to rush the passer or just get his long arms in the way of a few of those quick outs or curl passes that have hurt the Bears the past few years.
Palmer burned his redshirt late last year and played well, though in limited bursts. I expect him to continue to get minimal time, and maybe even redshirt this year with McAllister and Lloyd both being seniors.
Starters – Terrell Brooks, Beau Blackshear
It is tough to ask a true freshman to start on the line from day one, but the Bears could make that decision with Andrew Billings. He is possibly already the strongest player on the defensive front as an 18 year old still in high school, and could bring in immediate production. However I think he starts off as a backup, primarily due to Terrell Brooks coming in. The junior college transfer is as slotted into a lineup spot as any juco player the past few years for the Bears. Baylor has a major need at the defensive tackle position, and Brooks should at least be solid there for Coach Bennett.
Beau Blackshear struggled early in the year, and especially when we got into conference play, but by the end of his first year, he started to turn the corner. He was disrupting more plays and starting to learn some of the tricks of the trade inside. I expect him and Clemons-Valdez to battle pretty hard for the spot opposite Brooks, and I prefer Blackshear in that battle.
Behind the starters and Valdez/Billings, the Bears have some good depth options from younger players. Masumbuko has not lived up to his lofty recruiting rankings yet, but going into his sophomore year, he still has time. Bryant is coming off of his redshirt year, and could move up if he put on some more weight.
The big project though on the line is Jason Osei, a 25 year old freshman last year, who came over from London to learn to play football. He is already a man, and with his rugby experience, could make a big impact eventually for the Bears. Personally, if he can just continue to learn the game and show up on special teams this year, I would consider that a success.
Weakside Line Backer
Starter – Eddie Lackey
Lackey was arguably the best defensive player for the Bears by the end of the year. The undersized linebacker was huge in pass coverage and made big plays all over the field in the Bears season ending winning streak. He will be on the field a lot barring injury. Behind him are two very intriguing freshman, one of which could play inside as well. Nance is a 4-star stud, who after committing to the Bears in the 2012 class, spent last year in a prep school.
He again signed with the Bears and will be here in the spring. He could also move inside, but with his speed and ability to cover, I love him as the weakside linebacker. Behind him is one of those classic late-signee kids that Coach Briles loves to get in Chatman. Physically, he has everything you would want in an outside linebacker and has incredible speed. Trahan is a senior and might be a guy that calls it a career as he already has his degree, but he is a major contributor on special teams.
Middle Line Backer
Starter – Bryce Hager
Backups – Kendall Ehrlich
Hager had an up and down season last year in his first year as the starting guy in the middle. He was a tackling machine, but really struggled in pass coverage and was benched for senior Rodney Chadwick for a few weeks. After Chadwick had a season ending injury, Hager was called upon again, and played much better in his second chance. Coach Bennett used him less in coverage and more as a blitzer, which worked perfectly for the Bears defense, starting in the Kansas State upset win.
Ehrlich is a very intriguing player coming off of his redshirt year. He is incredibly strong, and just has that middle linebacker look. He was a highly coveted recruit, and one that will add great depth and talent to special teams at least. Brian Nance could also get a look here, but outside of those three, I don't see much depth.
Starter – Sam Holl
The Bears have an interesting problem at the nickel back position, which was manned by their most talented player last year in Ahmad Dixon, who has returned for his senior year. Dixon was great for the most part last year, but with the Bears struggles with the pass last year, they might want more speed in at the safety position. Holl, the starting safety last year, played quite a bit more in the box, especially when coach Bennett called for a 3-4 look. I think Holl played much better closer to the line, as he still struggled with his depth at the safety position, and was susceptible to getting beat deep.
A switch to the nickel back position appears to be a logical move for the coaching staff to make, as it will maximize what Holl does well, and cover up some of his weaknesses. Behind him will be the primary backup last year in Prince Kent and a redshirt freshman in Devante Davis.
Both of these guys started for the Bears last year at corner back, with Goodson winning the battle over Williams in the fall, becoming the starter to start the year. However, for the second year in a row, a serious injury ended Goodson's season early. He has reportedly earned a medical redshirt and will be back at Baylor next year. Once Goodson's season ended, Williams was put back into the starting lineup (after being a starter for most of 2011) and struggled quite a bit. However, by the end of the year, he was playing much better and had some huge plays in the Texas Tech and UCLA games.
Behind them is a good mix of youth and experience. The only player that seems to be more injury riddled than Goodson is Senior Tyler Stephenson, a starter his freshman year that showed great promise, has battled injuries ever since. Darius Jones, a converted wide receiver, will be in his second year on the defensive side of the ball and started to show some flashes of getting it late last year. He has great physical abilities for the position, but he just needs to learn the basics of the position.
Free Safety "CS"
Starter – K. J. Morton
Backups – Terrell Burt, Terrance Singleton, Austin Jupe (redshirt?)
I see another position switch here, as the Bears replace departed senior Mike Hicks with corner back KJ Morton. Funny enough, Morton has been listed as a safety on the official roster ever since he got here, though he has pretty much played exclusively at corner. I think safety is a better fit for Morton, and his ball-hawking ways. At times, the Bears have missed having a true play-maker in the deep-middle of the field. Morton can be that guy.
Burt played as the primary backup last year but got most of his time on special teams. He is small for a safety, and could struggle in the run game, but has tremendous speed. Singelton is a converted quarterback who started to impress on the scout team late last year as he switched to defensive back. Austin Jupe is one of the Bears top recruits in the 2012 class and with a great fall, could be in line to skip his redshirt year and play immediately. He could be a contributor at either safety spot or as a corner back as well.
Strong Safety "DS"
Starter– Ahmad Dixon
With Holl being moved up closer to the line of scrimmage, this allows Ahmad Dixon to be moved to possibly a better fit for his skills, and especially a better fit for his position in the NFL. I hate focusing on that too much, but it is in the Bears best interest to have Dixon be a high draft pick. As a hybrid linebacker/safety there are questions about his ability to cover deep and run with receivers. He will have his chance to answer those questions this year.
Behind him is one of the players I was most excited about in the 2012 recruiting class, Aiavion Edwards, a 4-star recruit with great size/speed for the position. He is another guy that could fit into the NB spot behind Holl, but I would like to see him at safety first. Another guy that could provide depth is JeMarcus Johnson, who is coming off of his first active year with the Bears. The soon to be 3rd year sophomore was the backup for the Holiday Bowl to Sam Holl, and I like his speed and coverage ability.
Behind the three guys is a long list of freshman in this current incoming class that will be chomping at the bit in the fall, including Alfred Pullom. There is a lot of young talent behind Dixon that needs time to develop.