Defensive breakdown: TCU

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    After dominating the Big 12 last season, the expectations will be high for a TCU defensive unit that returns over half its starters.

    The Frogs ranked No. 1 in the Big 12 in total defense (323.9 yards per game) and finished second behind Kansas State in scoring defense (22.6 points allowed). They did all this with only five defensive starters returning from a team that won the 2011 Mountain West crown.

    With eight of 11 players back from the Big 12's best overall defense, TCU is poised for an even better run in 2013.

    Senior cornerback Jason Verrett led the league with 22 passes defended and six interceptions. Verrett’s defensive instincts earned him All-Big 12 First Team and Associated Press All-America First Team honors.

    Entering the 2013 season, Sports Illustrated named Verrett to SI.com's Preseason All-America Team while ESPN named him the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and the conference’s best player.

    Junior safety Sam Carter will be another key returner. He had 63 tackles and grabbed four interceptions last season.

    On the defensive line, the Frogs return three of their four starters including Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, Devonte Fields. Junior defensive tackle Chucky Hunter and sophomore Davion Pierson also return as starters. Senior Jon Koontz will fill in the opening left by Stansly Maponga’s early exit to the NFL.

    Fields, the Big 12 leader in tackles for loss with 18.5, was suspended two games in May for violating team rules. However, he will suit up for the LSU game.

    The question was raised if Fields will play, and while Patterson didn't rule it out, he said "a betting man" probably knows what he would do regarding the decision.

    Junior Matt Anderson has taken snaps at right end in practice and should start against LSU. Fields' first game back will be the Big 12 opener at Texas Tech on Sept. 12.

    The biggest change for the defense will be the linebacker rotation. Linebacker Joel Hasley was No. 1 on the depth chart after spring practice, but he left the team in early August.

    Hasley’s departure means freshmen Sammy Douglass and Paul Whitmill will get the chance to make immediate impacts.

    Head coach Gary Patterson said he would use a four-man rotation with juniors Marcus Mallet, Jonathan Anderson and Paul Dawson taking the first three spots. Douglass and Whitmill will share the fourth spot.

    With the majority of the defense returning in 2013, the Frogs have the potential to continue their dominance even with a new linebacker rotation and the possible early absence of Fields.

    Notes:

    · Elisha Olabode (FS), Chris Hackett (S) and Kevin White (CB) also return for the Frogs.

    · Fields and Verrett appeared on the Bednarik Award and Bronko Nagurski Award watch lists. Both awards are given to the nation’s top defensive player.

    · Hunter and Fields were nominated for the Rotary Lombardi Award watch list. The award is given to the top lineman or linebacker in the nation.

    · Carter and Verrett named to the Jim Thorpe Award watch list which is given to the nation’s top defensive back. Verrett was also put on the Walter Camp Award watch list for the Player of the Year.

    Coming Thursday: Offensive breakdown