TCU football preview: Horned Frogs seeking answers on the defensive line

For all the questions about how the offense will look, the position group that is the biggest unknown for TCU is the defensive line.
The unit had its moments throughout the year in the first season of the 3-3-5 defense. Damonic Williams was impressive early as an 18-year old freshman while Dylan Horton put together his best year with a flurry of sacks in the back end of the season.
Now, Horton and fellow starter Terrell Cooper are gone, leaving TCU with the task of finding defensive ends to pair with Williams. The Horned Frogs could turn to a number of younger players or one of the transfer additions that arrived over the summer.
In order for the defense as a whole to improve, the defensive line will need to be better in 2023. The Star-Telegram continues its TCU preview with a look at the defensive line:
Players listed on the roster: Keviyan Henderson, Zachary Chapman, Rick D’Abreu, Damonic Williams, Blake Jones, Trenton Dickey, Tico Brown, Caleb Fox, Tymon Mitchell, Luke Dodds, Micheal Ibukun-Okeyode, Markis Deal, Connor Lingren, Paul Oyewale, Avion Carter, Soni Misi
Production from 2022: Voted a freshman All-American by multiple outlets, Williams had 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks while starting 15 games in the middle of the 3-3-5 defense. Mitchell had three sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. A’Breu had 1.5 sacks in nine games at East Carolina.
Brown started seven games at Missouri State and piled up 26 tackles with half a sack. Fox played in 15 games and had four quarterback hurries with 2.5 tackles for loss. Misi played in four games and picked up a pair of tackles in the College Football Playoff games. Oyewale and Lingren saw limited actions in their redshirt seasons.
Projected starters: Damonic Williams, Tymon Mitchell, Paul Oyewale
Next up: Caleb Fox, Markis Deal, Rick D’Abreu
Breakdown: The defensive line will have a lot of youth in 2023. Williams is the leader of the unit, but is only a true sophomore. A bit undersized to play defensive tackle, TCU experimented with moving Williams around in spring practice. Finding a way to maximize his impact on defense will be a key for TCU.
Mitchell, a transfer from Georgia, was fourth on the team with sacks and picked up a few against Texas and Oklahoma. In a traditional defense Mitchell would likely be a defensive tackle or nose tackle, but with the 3-3-5 designed for linemen to take on blocks a big body like Mitchell (6-foot-3, 315 pounds) could play at end or switch with Williams and play in the middle.
Oyewale is a redshirt freshman that appeared in three games last season. Based on the spring it seems like Oyewale will get the first crack at replacing Horton, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be the starter. Oyewale looks the part, but now must have a strong camp to maintain his position in the rotation.
Fox was one of the unit’s top reserves a season ago and was top five in quarterback hurries. Fox is a name to watch that could push Oyewale at one of the end spots. Misi was originally a starter to begin fall camp last season, but eventually fell in the rotation to Williams before an injury limited him most of the year. Healthier and motivated, Misi could be provide depth.
D’Abreu and Brown are two more players to watch. The portal additions bring various levels of starting experience from East Carolina and Missouri State. At worst, the seniors will bring experience to the line. At best they could be two of the top contributors up front.
The biggest group that will determine the upside of the unit is the incoming freshmen led by Deal and Avion Carter. Both were four-star recruits and had interest from some of the top programs nationally. At 6’5, 310 Deal is already massive and how quickly he gets on the field will be determined by how much he embraced strength and conditioning in the off-season.
Chapman and Huddleston are two more freshmen edge rushers from the 2023 class that could also be factors depending on how fall camp plays out. The defensive line is deeper this year with more scholarship players, but the rotation still needs to be sorted out.
Storyline to watch at fall camp: Will any of the transfers or freshmen break into the two-deep?
Biggest question: Who will the Horned Frogs rely on as their top pass rusher?
Best case scenario: Damonic Williams has another strong season while the improved depth allows TCU be more effective getting after the passer. Younger players like Oyewale, Deal and Carter play significant roles setting up a bright future for the defensive line.
Worst case scenario: Without an elite pass rusher like Horton, TCU’s defensive line takes a step back and the defense as a whole only shows modest improvement in the second year of the 3-3-5 defense.

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