Defensive line looking to make a bigger impact in 2019

WACO, TX - NOVEMBER 3: Taylor Cornelius #14 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys is sacked by Ira Lewis #9, Blake Lynch #21 and Zeke Brown #35 of the Baylor Bears defense during the first half of an NCAA football game at McLane Stadium on November 3, 2018 in Waco, Texas. Getty Images

By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer

After head coach Matt Rhule’s arrival to Baylor football in 2017, the Bears have been focused on growth and improvement. As spring practice rolls on, this may become evident on the defensive side of the ball.

To become one percent better everyday has been the Bears’ motto going into practice and the season. What many find unique about the program is that not only are the players held to that standard, but the coaches are as well. Defensive line and assistant coach Frank Okam described how he’s grown alongside his team.

“The biggest thing for me is understanding and trusting the process as a coach,” Okam said. “When you coach, you know, you have these goals that you want to accomplish and try to move everything forward at a certain pace. You have to realize that pace is determined by you and your players, so being able to work go hand-in-hand with those guys and being sure that the product that we’re pushing out there consistently is moving and driving our defense forward.”

From their 1-11 season in 2017 to an above .500 season and winning a bowl game, the team’s defensive development has been crucial to the overall Bears’ success. Nearly doubling their amount of interceptions from three to seven and slowly improving from 23 sacks to 25, the defense has shown promise.

Turnovers are something that’s been stressed by Okam and defensive ends coach Joey McGuire.

“The two things we have to get better at whenever you look at the first two years defense is that we have to sack the quarterback,” McGuire said. “I mean, anytime you can hit the quarterback, it’s a good thing, and then we got to create turnovers. That’s been a huge emphasis this year. One thing we’re doing really well – we’re intercepting the ball.”

Okam agreed, saying throughout the first seven spring practices, the team also has to improve on defensive line play.

“The most important thing for us is, as I watch tape from last year, I think we have to do a better job of blocking out the offensive line and controlling the line of scrimmage,” Okam said. “Then being able to take the next step and make a play that may not necessarily be their gap. That’s something I’ve really been trying to stress.”

The defense still has room for improvement, the team totaled only 761 tackles compared to 877 from their opponents. In other categories, including pass breakups, blocks, forced fumbles, tackles for a loss, interceptions and quarterback hurries, the Bears were outplayed by opponents.

For fifth-year senior James Lockhart, improvement for the team begins with himself.

“For me personally, I work on trying to be a more consistent pass-rusher or just play lower or just use my hands more or things like that,” Lockhart said. “Everyday in practice, everyone individually, they come in and try to focus on one thing. If everyone does that consistently, then the whole team will make that next jump.”

According to his coaches, Lockhart has become a leader for the defense and pushing one another’s improvement. As the defense continues to develop, Okam emphasized Lockhart’s role in mental growth and leadership.

“He’s done a really great job of like understanding who he is as a player, that’s been the biggest dynamic in mental evolution for him to understand who he is as a player and try to make it work to get a little bit better every day,” Okam said. “He’s coming out and starting to become more vocal as a leader and that’s translated through our defensive line now helping pull everyone into the next step.”