Being a defensive back in Gary Patterson's 4-2-5 defense is a pretty tough task. As one of the three safeties, you're going to be counted on to help out against the run more than players in a traditional 2-safety scheme, and as a corner you're going to be left alone out on a island much of the time. It all worked well in '09, as the Frogs ranked 6th nationally in pass defense while giving up just 10 touchdowns through the air all season. You'll feel safe in knowing that all three starting safeties return from last year, but on the other hand- neither starting corner does.
Four seniors make of the core of the Horned Frogs safety corps. Tejay Johnson, who will start at free safety, is the "coach on the field" for the TCU defense, and was 2nd Team All-MWC a year ago after recording 59 tackles and 3 interceptions. Alex Ibiloye, Johnson's high school teammate from South Garland, returns to start at weak safety. Ibiloye was a backup corner until last year, but made the most of his first season as a safety, ranking 3rd on the team with 70 total tackles. Tyler Lutrell might be the least-likely starter on TCU's roster. Originally a walk-on quarterback out of Weatherford, Lutrell moved to wide receiver after his first season on campus and then to safety last year, just weeks before the season opener. He made a quick transition, though, as he claimed the starting job at strong safety and was solid all year- 35 tackles, 1 sack and 1 ridiculous circus-catch of an interception against San Diego State. Colin Jones, who was slated to start last year before a lingering hamstring issue continued to nag him throughout the season, will push Lutrell at strong safety but will also see time in the rotation at weak safety.
Two guys to keep an eye on this year because they will definitely be counted on in 2011 are junior Tekerrein Cuba and sophomore Jurell Thompson. Cuba, at 6'4", is the Frogs' tallest defensive back. He was considering a major recruiting coup and has made a few starts over the past two seasons. He'll push Colin Jones for playing time behind Thompson, one of the few true freshman to play on defense last year, reportedly had an extremely impressive spring and could contend with Lutrell for the starting job at strong safety.
Three more returners that will try to increase their profile in the safety rotation are junior Johnny Fobbs, sophomore Chris Scott and redshirt freshman Trenton Thomas. Fobbs and Scott both contributed on special teams last year, while Thomas redshirted in his first season on campus.
Four true freshmen are listed at safety, although three of them are also listed at another position. Jonathan Anderson, the heavy hitter out of Corpus Christi, is the only one that the coaches appear certain will remain at safety. Antonio Graves, out of Texarkana, is also listed at wide receiver and Matt Anderson is also a running back currently. Elisha Olabode, out of Cedar Hill, is listed at both safety and corner. Sam Carter, who is currently a quarterback, could eventually migrate over to safety.
Normally when you lose two four-year starters at cornerback, it's panic time. But the Frogs are in good hands at corner with projected starters Jason Teague, a senior, and junior Greg McCoy. Teague made two starts in place of Nick Sanders a year ago, and ended up with 2 interceptions and 3 passes broken up. McCoy, who is one of the fastest Frogs along with Sky Dawson, also made two starts a year ago and also recorded 2 interceptions. He also returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Wyoming.
Backing up both starting corners will be senior Malcolm Williams, who moves over from safety. Williams, who transferred to TCU from Trinity Valley CC, will look to fulfill his sky-high potential in his last year as a collegiate player after a legendary high school career at South Grand Prairie. Travaras Battle, a true freshman out of San Antonio, was an early high school graduate and participated in spring practice. That could give him a leg-up on earning playing time this fall.
Two walk-on corners saw playing time in 2009, sophomores Brian Alexis and Devin Johnson, and both return to try to build on their contributions to the team. They'll be joined in their attempt to break into the regular rotation, along with Battle and Olabode, by another true freshman- Kevin White. White comes to the Frogs from upstart program Round Rock Stony Point, and has apparently had an impressive summer of workouts. I would look for one or possibly two corners to earn playing time as true freshmen this fall.
Up Next: Special Teams.