By Tyler Alley
Baylor’s defense has some holes to fill with a number of key seniors gone from the previous season.
Defensive tackle Phil Taylor entered the NFL Draft. Taylor anchored the Bears’ defensive line in 2010 and was a key part of the pass rush. Baylor’s top five tacklers from 2010 graduated, including safety Byron Landor and linebackers Chris Francis and Antonio Johnson. New defensive coordinator Phil Bennett now must build a defense around some younger players.
“Hopefully, we’re going to continue to get better,” Bennett said. “We’re not where we need to be, I’m not going to sit there and say that, but we’re making a climb to get to where we’re trying to be. Before you can be good, people have to respect you. This defense has to earn some respect.”
Bennett comes to Baylor after serving three previous seasons as the University of Pittsburgh’s defensive coordinator. In 2010 Pittsburgh had a record of 8-5 and ranked eighth nationally in total defense. Bennett brings experience and a proven record to a Baylor squad that ranked 104th in total defense last year.
Senior Nicolas Jean-Baptiste takes over at the nose guard position with Phil Taylor gone. Jean-Baptiste totaled 31 tackles and 0.5 sacks his previous season playing alongside Taylor, but now he must lead the Bears’ defensive line in plugging holes in the opponent’s running game.
Taking over Jean Baptiste’s former position is senior Tracy Robertson at defensive tackle. Robertson has moved in from defensive end where he totaled 17 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, in the 2010 season.
Starting at the defensive end positions is sophomore Terrance Lloyd and junior Gary Mason Jr. Lloyd missed six games due to injury in his previous year, though he did manage to earn 13 tackles, two for loss, with one sack and a fumble recovery in six games played. Hopefully a full season for Lloyd will yield even better results.
“[Terrance is] a guy that just has maintained quite a bit of consistency throughout his career,” Briles said. “The thing that he’s fighting a little bit is a weight issue. He’s got to make sure he keeps his weight up so his strength will stay high. He’s been real steady all the way through, and we really appreciate that.”
Mason Jr. totaled 21 tackles, three for loss, one sack and a fumble recovery in the 2010 season.
Chris McAllister has moved over from linebacker to defensive end. McAllister finished the 2010 season as one of Baylor’s top 10 tacklers with 42 tackles, along with a sack and forced fumble.
As of spring practice’s end, McAllister is behind sophomore Tevin Elliott on the depth chart at defensive end.
One of the biggest changes to Baylor’s defense is the move of sophomore Brody Trahan from quarterback to linebacker.
Trahan made the move during the spring and earned the starting slot at weak side linebacker. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Dickinson native may be smaller than some of the other linebackers, but he’s already proving himself and impressing teammates.
“He’s transitioning well,” middle linebacker Elliot Coffey said. “I mean that’s really hard to make that move from a really not physical position on offense to the most physical position maybe second to that D-line, on defense. So it’s been good to see him progress but at the same time it’s a difficult move so I’m excited to see what he does.”
Senior Elliot Coffey returns his starting position at middle linebacker. With 61 tackles in his previous season, Coffey is the top returning tackler on the squad. Surrounded by young talent, Coffey appears to be the leader on defense.
“I think when you’re a senior, you’re a leader by association,” Coffey said. “I think once you’ve been around as long as I’ve had you have no option but to help lead these guys because you’ve been through the ropes.”
Sophomore Prince Kent, the Bears’ leader in interception with two in 2010, currently holds the backup position to Trahan, with junior Rodney Chadwick playing third-string weakside linebacker.
Redshirt freshman Bryce Hager will backup Coffey at middle linebacker.
Sophomores Ahmad Dixon and LeQuince McCall both look to take over the nickelback position, which is a hybrid position of defensive back and linebacker. Dixon totaled 16 total tackles and a forced fumble his freshman year playing reserve safety and special teams. McCall had 22 total tackles and a sack in his first full season. While Dixon has been scrimmaging with the first team, Briles said that the battle for the spot was one of the toughest in fall camp.
“Both those guys are getting after it, playing hard and competing hard,” Briles said. “They’re two really good football players. That’s the good part. Bad part is you can’t put them both on the field at the same time same position. So if they stay at the same position, then one of them’s gonna play a little bit more than the other one.”
The Bears’ secondary has some room for improvement in 2011; Baylor ranked 10th in the Big 12 for pass defense last season.
The squad lost some key seniors, including Byron Landor and Tim Atchinson, the two leading tacklers in 2010. Junior Chance Casey currently holds the starting position at cornerback. The Crosby native returns second-most tackles from the 2010 squad with 48. He also forced a fumble and snagged an interception.
“Chance has been a tremendous player for us for the last couple years,” Briles said. “And we’re fighting hard to find another guy over there. That’s what fall camp is for, solidifying positions and getting people ready to play. I think that will be a continuing aspect of our practices for the next couple weeks without a doubt.”
Starting opposite him at the moment is Lancaster sophomore Tyler Stephenson. In his freshman year, Stephenson played in 10 of 13 games, including four starts. He totaled 21 tackles and three pass breakups. The young cornerbacks have a tough job ahead of them trying to cover the toughest receivers in the Big 12.
Redshirt freshman Tuswani Copeland looked to be competing with Stephenson for the position before he went down with an ACL injury during fall practice. Senior Ronnie Blaylock will backup Casey this year.
Also getting looks is senior Isaac Williams, sophomore Joe Williams and sophomore Terrance Nathan.
Sophomore Sam Holl and junior Mike Hicks currently hold the starting safety positions. Holl, from Katy, played mostly on special teams his freshman year, and only had two tackles. The inexperienced safety will be tasked with filling the shoes left behind by Landor. China Spring native Hicks totaled 28 tackles and an interception playing reserve safety and special teams. He too has some pressure on him, taking over for Atchinson.
“Mike could have started any of the years that he’s been here if it wasn’t for the fact that we had Byron and Tim back there last year,” Coffey said. “He definitely would have been there. So it’s exciting to see him back there. Chance Casey has been playing incredible all fall, really been a shutdown corner all fall.”
Junior Josh Wilson will back up Holl, and sophomore K.J. Morton will backup Hicks.
By season’s end, Baylor football fans will know how much respect Bennett’s new-look defense earned.