TCU's defense seems primed for greatness next season

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Devonte Fields was sitting alone, one of four TCU players chosen to sit at a podium for the Horned Frogs' media day Thursday morning in a ballroom at the JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort and Spa.

Fields, The Associated Press's Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and the league's Defensive Freshman of the Year, was still trying to take in what has been a whirlwind year for the Arlington Martin graduate.

"This is crazy for me, too," said Fields, who earned the right to represent the Frogs along with quarterback Trevone Boykin, safety Sam Carter and cornerback Jason Verrett on raised podiums next to a ballroom wall. "I did interviews in high school, but it was nothing like this at all. I really don't think it compares. It really doesn't."

The rest of TCU's 22 starters, except for receiver Josh Boyce, who was back at the team hotel with a bad cold, sat at tables stretched across the room, waiting for reporters to come ask them a question.

No one, however, took as many questions as Fields, whose young face has come to represent TCU's Big 12-leading defense filled with underclassmen. The only senior starter, linebacker Kenny Cain, a veteran of three bowl games, is excited and sad about his impending final game. The Frogs play Michigan State (6-6) at 9:15 p.m. Saturday in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.

The sadness, in part, comes from leaving what he considers to be a defensive unit that could be even stronger in 2013.

"I'm sad that after this game I won't be able to go into the spring with these guys and get better and get to play more with some of these younger guys," said Cain, who leads TCU with 74 tackles.

Cain is going to miss a chemistry that took time to develop but by the end of the regular season had the Frogs' defense ranking 18th in the nation, despite playing in a league that boasts four teams in the top 12 nationally in total offense.

"It feels good to be with these guys," Fields said. "We have a good bond going, we're trying to keep the chemistry here. Hopefully, after we finish business here [in Arizona] we can get better and work on getting stronger and bigger."

Fields' counterpart, left defensive end Stansly Maponga, who missed several games because of an injury, was the lone Frog representing TCU on the All-Big 12 preseason team in August. But six Frogs defensive players made the postseason team, including first-teamers Maponga, Fields and Verrett. Two sophomores, defensive tackle Chucky Hunter and safety Sam Carter, joined Cain on the second team. The youth of the team gives Maponga reason to believe this defense can play even better next season.

"I see greatness, really," Maponga said. "We're so young, but how we just caught up to stuff and how we approached everything through this season and all the obstacles we had to overcome. I was surprised how we overcame everything and just stuck together. I'm proud of my team and we're going to be something else next year."

Maponga points to a meeting among defensive players during the off-season in which they made a pact to do what it took to succeed.

"We made a deal that we were going to be the best defense we could be and we were going to work hard at it," he said. "We achieved our goals that we had. [Being No. 1 in the Big 12]. That was one of them and being No. 1 in the nation, basically, that's still one of our goals and we're going to work hard to achieve that. Come this off-season we're going to work harder."

Maponga, Boyce and Verrett -- all with a year of eligibility remaining -- have filed the proper paperwork in case they decide to leave early to pursue the NFL. Maponga and Verrett said they were focused on Michigan State, but they also both sounded as though they were excited about rejoining what could be one of TCU's best defenses in years.

"I'm not thinking about that right now," Maponga said. "We'll see where it goes."

Carter offered another reason to be excited about the defense's future: the mostly untapped talents on the bench, such as Derrick Kindred, Geoff Hooker, and Jonathan Anderson in the secondary and James McFarland, Josh Carraway and Terrell Lathan on the defensive line. All of them are either freshmen or sophomores.

"It's exciting," Carter said. "But we're not trying to think about later because the focus is on Michigan State. But, man, the future is bright if everybody just stays tuned in listening to Coach P [Gary Patterson] and all the other coaches. You never know what could happen."

Besides the obvious talent, one explanation for the defense's success in 2012, despite its youth, is they're all reading from the same script. One after the other used the same key words, such as chemistry and work ethic and focus.

Hunter, who has started the last eight games, hit all of the major themes.

"If we keep working at it, like the coaches have us doing, I think we'll be a very strong group," he said. "It just depends on how our work ethic is, how our chemistry develops, and how everything falls into place."

For 2012, and especially for Fields, everything fell into place for a season that had to surprise even the staunchest of TCU supporters. "It went really fast," Fields said.

Even his fellow defensive lineman Davion Pierson, a redshirt freshman who started 10 games, was a little taken aback by Fields' dominance.

"We're young, but getting this playing time is going to help us in the future," Pierson said. "You mature as you go. Last year, the game was a little fast for me. This year, it slowed down some. Next year, I plan on it slowing down more so I can make more plays.

"By the time I'm a senior it will be going in slow motion."

Stefan Stevenson


Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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