Midseason grades: Defense

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    Halfway through the season, TCU football stands at 5-1 with six conference games left. 

    TCU 360 football beat writers Tori Cummings and J.D. Moore broke down the performances of the current starters for the team, both on offense and defense. Here are the report cards given to the defensive starters, as written by J.D. Moore:


    Defensive end Devonte Fields

    Fields has had a monster start to his freshman year. The Arlington, Texas, native is the only freshman to be found on Sports Illustrated’s Mid-Season All-American team. The defensive lineman leads the Big 12 in tackles for a loss (11.5) and sacks (6.5). He ranks in the top ten nationally in both statistics.

    His 28 tackles lead TCU’s defensive line and are the fourth-most on the TCU defense. Fields has had a sack in each game this season, the only Horned Frog to do so. 

    In the pre-season, Ross Forrest and Fields were competing for the defensive end spot. When Forrest was injured, coach Gary Patterson said Fields had the top spot in the depth chart — but not just because of injury. Fields has shown his mark as a starter, which is why he gets the top grade for the defense. 

    Grade: A+

    Defensive tackle Davion Pierson
    At 305 pounds, Pierson’s biggest asset has been his size. The redshirt freshman has been a force against the run, clogging up the line and stopping players at the line of scrimmage. His footwork helps him to be more agile than other men of his size.  Against the pass, Pierson is able to draw offensive linemen to him, allowing chances for defensive ends like Fields to get to the quarterback. With 16 tackles on the season, Pierson is proving why he was the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect from his native Oklahoma.

    Grade: B+

    Defensive tackle Chucky Hunter
    Hunter took over as the starter at defensive tackle against Iowa State, taking over the position from Jon Lewis. Hunter has played in all six games this season, totaling 16 tackles, with 2.5 tackles-for-loss. Like Pierson, Hunter benefits from his size. The 305-pound lineman pairs well with Pierson, as Pierson uses agility to stop the run and Hunter uses brunt and size.

    Grade: B+

    Defensive end Stansly Maponga
    Maponga started the year as the most experienced player on the team and was given high expectations. His 25 previous starts were by far the most starts of any player, almost double the starts than the next returning player (Kenny Cain, 13 previous starts).

    A pre-season All-American, Maponga came off a nine-sack, 72-tackle season. His numbers have been much lower this year, with 12 tackles and one sack headed into the Texas Tech game. Patterson has credited Maponga's lowered productivity to double-team coverage of Maponga from opponents. While production may be down for Maponga, his presence still gives enough problems to opposing offenses. As linemen double-team him, the bodies of Hunter and Pierson and the athleticism of Fields provide plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. 

    Grade: B

    Outside linebacker Kenny Cain
    Similar to Maponga, Cain was one of the few starters this year to see substantial starting time for the Horned Frogs. The Louisiana native saw 13 starts before the season began, second only to Maponga. The lone senior on the defense, Cain had the tall task of heading the team in leadership.

    So far, Cain has been fulfilling his expectations. He was a take-away machine against Virginia, intercepting two passes and recovering a fumble. He’s also tied for second-most tackles on the team with 30 on the season. He’s given credit to his fellow linebackers and praised the rest of the defense in every media appearance this season, best summed up with his quote after the Grambling State game.

    “People came in expecting the Kenny Cain show,” he said. “But instead, they got the whole linebackers show. I felt like I was slacking off when I would be on the bench.”

    Grade: A-

    Middle linebacker Joel Hasley
    Following the losses of Tank Carder, Tanner Brock and Deryck Gildon, depth at the linebacker position was a major question for the defense. Throughout the pre-season, sophomore Paul Dawson was listed to be the linebacker to play alongside the senior Kenny Cain. Instead, on opening day, Joel Hasley — who was a walk-on linebacker in 2010 — got the start and he has excelled since.

    He leads the defense with 45 tackles on the season and was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week following a 12-tackle, 2-sack performance against the Kansas Jayhawks. In six games, Hasley has gone from a walk-on backup to a defensive stud.

    Grade: A

    Cornerback Jason Verrett 
    As one of the most experienced players on the TCU secondary, Jason Verrett had high expectations coming into the season. So far, he’s met expectations. Verrett leads not just the Horned Frogs, but the Big 12, in passes defended (12) and interceptions (4). His coverage has given opposing offenses headaches and his experience brings leadership to a secondary with no seniors.

    Moreover, Verrett’s veteran experience has helped the safeties and cornerbacks in improving communication. In an interview Tuesday, Verrett said this year’s secondary has had the best communication he’s seen since coming to TCU. 

    Grade: A

    Cornerback Kevin White
    When playing with proper coverage, White makes plays. He’s broken up four passes and defended five, along with one interception. However, White has had a tendency to allow big plays after being beat in coverage. 

    Against Virginia, receiver Darrius Johnson broke away from White, only to have the pass bounce off his helmet. If the pass was completed, it could have easily been a 75-yard touchdown which would have shifted the momentum of the game. Against Iowa State, White got burned twice by ISU receiver Josh Lenz, allowing touchdowns of 51 and 74 yards. Baylor quarterback Nick Florence hooked up with Terrance Williams for a 77-yard score after Williams broke away from White on the deep left side. In a pass-friendly league like the Big 12, being burned in deep coverage is not an acceptable option.

    Grade: C

    Free safety Elisha Olabode
    Self-described as the “quarterback of the defense,” Olabode is the player given the calls on the defensive side of the ball. Olabode is the main defender to pick up on audibles and accordingly adjust the defense. 

    As a defender, he’s been effective at the safety position. His two interceptions, 27 tackles and six passes defended speak well for themselves. 

    Grade: B

    Wide safety Chris Hackett
    Hackett became known to TCU fans after making a jarring goal-line hit against Virginia receiver Darrius Jennings to prevent a score. The next week, the redshirt freshman had his first career start, taking over Jonathan Anderson’s position at wide safety. In an interview Tuesday, Jason Verrett said Hackett’s move to being a starter has improved the communication of the secondary.

    Although his two interceptions and two recovered fumbles bode well for his season statistics, Hackett’s inexperience to offensive adjustments is the sole reason he gets a lower midseason grade. Hackett didn’t pick up an audible call against Baylor early in the game, leading to a 74-yard touchdown catch by Terrence Williams. The freshman should get better as he is exposed to more defenses and more audible calls.

    Grade: B-

    Short safety Sam Carter
    Carter’s strength lies in being a threat to both receivers and quarterbacks, as the safety is versatile in both defending the deep pass and blitzing the quarterback. Carter is tied with Cain for the second-most tackles on the team, with a total of 30. He has three sacks, two interceptions and 3.5 tackles-for-loss.

    Against Baylor, Carter had a career day, totaling seven tackles, two sacks and an interception. The former high school quarterback, reveled and recruited for his speed and agility, has developed from a dual-threat quarterback into a legitimate dual-threat safety.

    Grade: A-