This comes as a surprise to no one: Houston’s defense struggled last year. From a new scheme to guys playing out of position, there were many factors leading to those struggles. Dana Holgorsen and his staff got right to work addressing those concerns, and you’ll see that with the amount of uncertainty behind some starters. Depth is a necessity for this group, and they’ll get it, but who those players will be remains the biggest question. In the few years I’ve covered this team, this was the toughest depth chart to project, but here goes nothing.
Turner was reliable at end last year, and he brings great size (6’6”, 288) to the position. His technique improved immensely last year as well, and that should make for a more polished player in 2020. We’ve been waiting for Ceasar to make an impact, and this could be the year. He might be better suited to play Bandit at his size, but the previous regime’s players are finding they’re going to be moved into positions they haven’t played in the past.
Jamykal Neal/Atlias Bell
Neal provided some stability at the position with Olivier Charles-Pierre, and should either win the job or share it with Bell. It could be more of a rotation with Neal sliding over to nose guard too. Hall packed on plenty of weight and at times played really well at tackle instead of end. Maybe he slides out to end with Payton Turner, but he can play on the inside too.
Sedrick Williams (if healthy)
Charles-Pierre should have been the starter last year. He was the best interior defender the Coogs had, and now he gets a chance to prove that. At 345 pounds, he knows how to use his size to his advantage well, but also has some quickness to go with it. Neal should be the backup when he needs a break. Williams is currently battling a heart condition due to COVID-19, but he’d be a great option to throw into the rotation if necessary. Maybe he’ll never play football again, but I think he’s got the talent to make an impact if he’s healthy.
Jones can also slide over to defensive end, but Bandit is where he should play if they want Turner and him on the field at the same time. Anenih and Parish did the best they could at the position, but stopping the run was a struggle at times. Both have the experience in Joe Cauthen’s system that Jones doesn’t, so they could be the go-to guys early. The first of many positions where there’s tons of uncertainty.
Edgeston and Mutin started the 2019 season as the starters, but injuries for Edgeston quickly thrust Kirven into the spotlight. All three are back to compete for the two spots, and they’ll have other competition as well. Grant Stuard’s making the transition from defensive back to linebacker, a position that should fit his skillset better. Same with Nunnery. Carmouche and Robinson are natural linebackers and will also compete for the starting spot.
Stewart comes from West Virginia to play a position that wasn’t good last year overall. With Stuard moving to linebacker, his presence helps. Moore showed quickness at the position and returns to provide some depth. Gooden flips from linebacker, but brings a hard hitter to the group that could make an impact. The question will be if he has the speed to keep up with slot receivers.
I’ve been singing Damarion Williams’ praises for a while now, and it’s time for him to get some help. Jones, Clemmons, Samuel, and Green all enter as new faces to the program, so good luck determining who’s the best of those four. Smith’s back after recovering from an ACL injury, and brings good size (6’3”) to the position. If there’s a group that absolutely must improve, it’s cornerback, and the improvement of the defense as a whole depends on it.
When initially watching the season, I thought Deontay Anderson was a disappointment. After watching it again, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Anderson was asked to do many things from assignments to where he lined up. Cauthen and the staff put him everywhere, including in the box. Now if he’s asked to do the same things, it won’t be as a last resort. Owens can play aggressive at times, but also showed his tenative side early last year. He’ll be challenged by Vaughn and Sprewell as well as the two transfers in Hypolite (Colorado) and Mwaniki (Oklahoma State) for the other starting spot.