TCU football had a simple goal after a season of abysmal run defense in 2016: get bigger.
The Horned Frogs yielded 2,535 rushing yards last season, the most in a single season since Patterson took over as coach. After years with players like 300-pounders Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson plugging the middle, TCU’s undersized front struggled against the running attacks of Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Georgia.
Patterson’s defense is built on taking away an opponent’s run game and creating tackles for loss. Adding size up front will help the Frogs get back to doing that this season.
“It’s hard to play in this league and play consistent when your best players on the inside are 260, 270 pounds. So we went out and got four guys that are in the 300-pound range,” Patterson said at Big 12 Media Days. “Now we’ll find out – as I always tell people, they’re paper tigers. Can they play at this level?”
The Frogs signed 315-pound JUCO defensive tackle Ezra Tu’ua in February. They also added 3-star defensive tackles Corey Bethley (listed at 302 pounds) and George Ellis III (298 pounds). And then there’s the biggest defensive lineman on the roster, redshirt freshman Ross Blacklock, listed at 6-foot-4 and 326 pounds.
Blacklock was listed as a starter after spring practice, and Tu’ua is expected to compete for the other starting spot during fall camp. Add in those big freshmen, as well as 308-pound junior Joseph Broadnax Jr., and the running lanes shouldn’t be as wide this season.
That’s good news for TCU’s linebackers. Travin Howard and Ty Summers led the Big 12 in tackles last season with 130 and 121, respectively. However, those numbers were partially due to the fact that so many ball carriers were getting to the second level of the defense.
“By having guys that can plug up the middle, [that] makes my job at linebacker a lot easier and reduces the amount of run yards they can get,” Summers said.
The Frogs have more players who can plug the middle than they had in either of the last two seasons. And if they can deliver on that potential, TCU might get back to playing the kind of run defense Patterson wants.