Colleges: fresh faces 2012
More fresh faces:
Will Smith, LB: Smith's about to become the fresh prince of Texas Tech's defensive backfield. The juco transfer walked into the spring and before it was even over, had already secured a starting spot at middle linebacker. The 6-foot-3, 224-pounder showed up in West Texas via California and racked up 13 tackles for loss during his undefeated season in junior college last year. You never know how guys will handle the transition, but expect Smith to do well and fit in as a major piece that Tech's defense needed badly.
Delvon Simmons, DT: Simmons' growth is paramount to Texas Tech's improvement on defense. He didn't start last year, but made an impact with 13 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in the rotation. It's easy to see why the 6-foot-5, 290-pounder was a super recruit who signed with North Carolina, but later decided he wanted out. Butch Davis' loss was Tommy Tuberville's gain. After a solid freshman year, it's time for Simmons to move into a starring role. He'll start at nose tackle for Art Kaufman's new 4-3 defense, but the Pennsylvania native should inspire plenty of excitement around Lubbock.
Le'Raven Clark, OG: The former high school All-American redshirted last season but will be the team's starting guard to start the season, despite no playing experience. Texas Tech's offensive line is pretty underrated and has big talents in tackle LaAdrian Waddle and center Deveric Gallington, both seniors. They ought to help the young guys along, but the biggest task for everybody on the line is staying healthy.
More fresh faces:
Brandon Carter, WR: Carter -- a one-time Oklahoma commit and native of Euless, Texas -- made an impact at receiver last season, grabbing 23 catches for 352 yards and three touchdowns. No day showcased what Carter could do more than TCU's season-defining upset at Boise State. He had just four catches, but they went for two touchdowns and 120 yards, including a 75-yard score. He scored again from 25 yards out with just over a minute to play. The sophomore will spend plenty more time in the end zone this year.
Ross Forrest, DE: Forrest, unlike Carter, was anything but a superstar recruit. The former walk-on emerged to grab a starting spot midway through last season and made six tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and 32 total tackles. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Odessa, Texas, native won't wow anybody with his physical attributes, but he's relentless and a great foil to the Frogs' star power on the opposite side of the line in Stansly Maponga. He recovered a fumble to set up TCU's game-winning drive at Boise State last season, and don't be surprised if he makes plenty more memorable plays this year.
Chuck Hunter, DT: Last year, Hunter was the first true freshman to start for TCU since 2007, and you know any guy who can do something like that so soon has plenty of potential. Hunter is no exception, and may benefit from having fantastic, experienced ends on either side of him along the defensive line. The 6-1, 305-pounder made 18 tackles last year and just 2.5 for loss, but the West Monroe, La., native should bring a much-needed nastiness to the front of the defensive line. With the experience he earned last year, he should be a much bigger force in 2012.
More fresh faces:
Donald Hawkins, OT: Hawkins and another guy on this list were the first juco transfers to sign with Texas since 2002, and both look like they'll have huge impacts in their first seasons on campus. Texas' offensive line is pretty stout, but Hawkins has already earned a starting spot after a spring and fall camp, trotting out as the starting left tackle ahead of freshman Kennedy Estelle. The 6-foot-5, 310-pounder came to Texas via Mississippi, and OL coach Stacy Searels will help mold him. You never know, of course, but don't be surprised if you see Hawkins' name on the All-Big 12 offensive line at season's end.
Chris Whaley and Brandon Moore, DTs: Texas is crazy deep at defensive tackle, but these two players have the oddest roads to where they are today. Whaley came to Texas as one of the nation's top running backs all the way back in 2009, but he's earned a starting spot as a 292-pound defensive tackle. He made five tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and fumble recovery last year, but made just one start. Moore, meanwhile, was the second juco transfer to sign with the 2012 class, despite Texas' aversion to the practice for the past decade. The 6-5, 320-pounder already wowed teammates in the spring, and with the kind of depth Texas has to help spell Moore, he's going to be scary when he's on the field.
Steve Edmond, LB: Edmond came to Texas as the nation's No. 4 linebacker, and he's going to be literally and figuratively a huge presence at middle linebacker for the Horns. The 6-3, 255-pounder offers some size in the middle of the defense that few Big 12 teams can duplicate. We'll see how well Edmond can cover, but Texas' scheme is unlikely to leave Edmond on islands with pass-catchers. He had two tackles for loss last year, 16 tackles and a forced fumble.
More fresh faces:
Bronson Irwin, OG: Those high-profile injuries along the offensive line? Get to know the guys stepping in to help. Guard Gabe Ikard slid over to center to replace the retired Ben Habern, but Irwin will be the man who replaces Tyler Evans, out for the season with a knee injury. Irwin won't be a slouch. He was already pushing for playing time in camp, and now he's earned it, even though the circumstances are far from ideal. Irwin, a 6-foot-5, 307-pound lifelong Sooner fan, played in every game last year and had 14 knockdowns in just 127 total snaps.
Geneo Grissom, TE: Oklahoma suffered big-time attrition at tight end over the offseason when two players left the team and two more graduated. The Sooners were likely to depend on juco transfers and freshmen, but Grissom's come out of nowhere to have a shot at earning the starting spot. His progress at defensive end had been slowed by injuries, and the Kansas native was stuck at third on the depth chart at the position, making just five career tackles. Then, he saw opportunity. He's making the most of it now, and even if he doesn't start, you have to figure the 6-foot-4, 247-pounder will find a way to make an impact at his new position.
Chuka Ndulue, DE: Ndulue's emerged this offseason as a major player on the defensive line, but like Irwin, his opportunity has come from poor circumstances. Oklahoma hasn't released its preseason depth chart yet, but Ndulue figures to be a big part of it if not a starter at defensive end. Starting tackle Stacy McGee is suspended, forcing end David King to move inside, and allowing Ndulue to move up the depth chart. The Dallas native hasn't played much, making just three tackles in seven games last year, but we'll see that the 6-foot-3, 256-pounder is made of in his first real action this season as a third-year sophomore. His name, by the way, is pronounced "N-duel-E."
Jordan Najvar, TE: Baylor's got lots of big-name talent at the skill positions, but Najvar gets no pub, despite landing on the league's preseason team at the tight end spot. The 6-foot-6, 260-pounder is a solid target, and caught 15 balls for 146 yards and two touchdowns. His old quarterback, Robert Griffin III, had a penchant for the deep ball and Najvar's not really going to stretch the field. New QB Nick Florence may be looking underneath a big more, and Najvar should reap some benefits.
Spencer Drango, LT: Drango didn't play in any games last year, but he broke out in spring camp to win the starting left tackle job and start making his impact as a high-profile recruit. What's his secret? How's this: He signed with Baylor as a 265-pound tackle, the nation's No. 14 prospect at the position. Today, he checks in at 310 pounds. That's quite the transformation. Baylor's better off for it.
Gary Mason Jr., DE: The Bears are missing most of their defensive line this year. Tackles Tracy Robertson and Nicolas Jean-Baptiste graduated and end Tevin Elliott is still suspended while the legal process surrounding a sexual assault charge plays out. Enter Mason. Baylor needs him to be big, and he may deliver in his third year as a starter. He made eight tackles for loss and had 2.5 sacks last season, but keep an eye on him in 2012.
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