Tuesday, we identified the three defenses who need the most improvement in 2010. Wednesday, we'll see who will have the easiest time doing it.
Roads to recovery
1. Texas A&M
The Aggies have by far the most talent returning of the three teams, but they'll have to make it work in new coordinator Tim DeRuyter's 3-4 scheme to get better. Von Miller has to be the key to the pass rush once again, nose tackle Lucas Patterson will have to muck up opponents' running games and Trent Hunter will have to be everywhere in the secondary for the Aggies to see real success. No amount of offense will offset the defense if it struggles like it did last season. If Texas A&M can find some more solid players around those three, it should get better. Look for defensive back Lionel Smith to make an impact early.
We've talked about Baylor's competition in the secondary this spring that will only intensify in the fall, but it still has to replace linebackers Antonio Jones and Joe Pawelek, along with defensive lineman Jason Lamb. I probably would have pointed to Baylor as the most "talented" of these three teams in 2009, but it lost most of that talent. Four of its top five tacklers from last year's team graduated. Bouncing back will prove difficult, and if the Bears do it well enough to claw into a bowl game, Art Briles' legend in the Lone Star State will only grow.
Senior defensive lineman Jake Laptad is probably the only Jayhawk defender with a chance to make a preseason All-Big 12 team. Kansas' linebackers will probably be one of the team's quiet strengths, and perhaps its deepest position. Defensive coordinator Carl Torbush said his backers wowed him in spring practice, even without the team's leading tackler, Drew Dudley. Justin Springer, Huldon Tharp and Steven Johnson are among a handful that will battle in two-a-days for playing time in Turner Gill's first season in Lawrence. But like Baylor, Kansas lost talent like Darrell Stuckey and Justin Thornton from a defense that still struggled last season.