Football faces challenge of replacing key defensive ends

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L.J. Collier was one of the best defensive lineman in the Big 12 this season. Photo by Cristian ArguetaSoto

When TCU football has a poor season, head coach Gary Patterson seems to always find a way to reverse their fortunes.

In 2001, Patterson’s first season in Fort Worth, he finished with a 6-6 record. The Horned Frogs followed up with a 10-2 season in 2002. Patterson followed up a 5-6 season in 2004 with an 11-1 season in 2005 and turned a 4-8 team in 2013 to a 12-1 team in 2014.

Most recently, the Horned Frogs jumped from 6-7 in 2016 to 11-3 in 2017.

“We’re not good losers,” Patterson said after the team’s second spring practice Sunday. “It’s a little bit tougher and a little more attention to detail. You don’t have to coach as hard when you’re not having a good season because everybody is more worried about everybody saying we’re not any good.”

With last season’s 7-6 finish, the Horned Frogs seem bound for another bounce-back season. However, the typical Patterson turn-around will be challenging without some of last season’s top contributors on the defensive side of the ball.

Defensive ends Ben Banogu and L.J. Collier, as well as linebacker Ty Summers, are all headed to the NFL, creating a large hole in the defense for the Frogs to fill.

All three participated at the NFL combine last week, and Banogu set a record for all defensive linemen with a broad jump of 11 feet two inches.

Ben Banogu had a career-high 10 tackles against Baylor. Photo by Jack Wallace

Patterson said the current situation with the defensive ends has potential but knows there is work to be done in the spring because he does not feel good about the group he has right now.

“I’ll get there,” he said. “You don’t have one guy that’s played there. Brandon Bowen has played a tiny bit, Ochaun [Mathis] played four games, but he redshirted, then you have two new guys, and we’re going to have three more plus a grad transfer coming in.”

Mathis played in four games last season without a sack. He totaled four tackles, three of which were assisted on. In Bowen’s 10 games played, he has recorded only two solo tackles and one tackle for loss.

“I think Ochaun Mathis has the chance to be a great player if he can stay healthy and keeps improving … because of the way he can run,” Patterson said. “Brandon Bowen, it’s his time.”

Patterson continues to rave about Adam Plant Jr., who will have the ability to contribute early with the losses of Banogu and Collier. Plant was rated as the No. 42 defensive end in the 2018 high school class and stands at 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 245 pounds. Patterson said the team has never had a guy at Plant’s size who can move like he does.

“I’m excited for the possibilities down the road,” Patterson said about the defensive end position. “That position is going to keep improving, improving and improving.”