The 5 biggest Big 12 depth chart revelations

Ian Boyd

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
21,876
67,322
0
Ypsilanti, MI
Stragglers Iowa State and Oklahoma finally released their week one depth charts, safely after opponents will have done most of their game planning and install for the week, so we now have a fair idea of who the main starters for across the Big 12.

A lot of what every thing is held up for can tend to be pretty inconsequential. If a secondary has a lockdown corner and returning starters at two other defensive back spots then the question of whether the JUCO transfer or up and coming redshirt freshman is going to win another starting spot probably isn't going to be the biggest factor for the season.

But there were a few major announcements on the Big 12 depth charts that are likely to have a big impact on the season.

5. Kansas State's Jahron McPherson moves to free safety

The former walk-on was the starting nickel for the 2019 Wildcats and played pretty well, despite being a bigger safety at 6-1, 199 that likes to hit rather than a tight, man-matching cover guy. The Wildcats didn't quite have the quality depth they needed at cornerback in year one so they slid 5-9 nickel Walter Neil, Jr out to cornerback and played McPherson in the nickel.

But now their cornerback situation is significantly improved with young Lance Robinson coming along and Minnesota grad transfer Kiondre Thomas joining the roster. The situation at nickel is also better with some rising players like the apparent new starter, Will Jones, a 5-9/183 pound redshirt freshman from DFW. All that allowed the Wildcats to move McPherson to free safety, which is their field safety position, to replace Denzel Goolsby.

From there, they've also noted that this will allow him to do some work in the box more often and run the alley some as a tackler. Given his new placement there and the utilization of a smaller, coverage-oriented nickel, here's what I suspect Kansas State has in store for opponents in 2020.

K-State C3 buzz vs tight RPO.jpg

That's cover 3 buzz, drawn up against the standard Big 12 RPO play. The nickel and corners match up against the receivers, the linebackers key the running back, the strong safety plays the post in the deep middle, and the free safety is matching the tight end.

Since the tight end (A here for ancillary) is typically blocking on these RPOs, he's taking the free safety to the ball. A two-high defense could be conflicted with the safety trying to balance fitting against the run or pass after the throw, but in Kansas State's cover 3 scheme his assignment isn't conflicted. If that tight end does run a route he'll match it, but if he's blocking then he's racing down to help fill a gap.

Kansas State, and Chris Klieman, had been using the strong safety pretty often as the late box help but they got into big trouble doing that in 2019. Texas and other teams would burn them throwing the glance route if the strong safety dropped down, or slants if the nickel joined the run fit. With this new cover 3 they'll be able to let their most experienced safety McPherson make plays in the middle of the field without compromising themselves against the pass options outside.

The Wildcats run a diverse playbook, but this is likely to be a big part of their strategy in 2020.

4. Oklahoma State names converted safety Jarrick Bernard a starting cornerback

I can think of two "safety to corner" conversions off the top of my head that took place in the 2010s and the modern Big 12. One was in 2012 when Mike Stoops moved strong safety Aaron Colvin back to cornerback, which went very well. The other was in 2014 when Mike Stoops moved nickel Julian Wilson outside to cornerback, which went very poorly.

Generally corner to safety is the transition that portends a good future. Safety is more complicated from a scheme perspective so it's not a place for an athlete to get on the field faster. Sometimes you'll see a promising athlete who can't quite hold up at cornerback move to safety and there be a plus athlete, but this isn't that. Bernard was the nickel or wide safety for Oklahoma State in 2019, he hung out on the far hash and typically played eight yards or more off the ball.

He was a positionally good deep defender, he knew how to stay in position on routes to avoid seeing guys blow by him. He did give up some space when Baylor was throwing dig-post combinations at him as a nickel and yielded a big play. If I'm Jim Knowles, I take a page from West Virginia's 2019 playbook and I play him in the boundary and always bracket the boundary receiver.

Big 12 teams make a living taking vertical shots on the boundary with RPOs and play-action from savvy but sometimes limited (in terms of throwing power) quarterbacks. If you always bracket that player with the corner deep and weakside linebacker underneath (like in cover 3) OR traditional cover 2, then you can force quarterbacks to throw to the field. Bernard could be valuable in that role, but if he's asked to play man coverage 1-on-1 on a regular basis I don't think that's going to go terribly well. Let the more experienced Ro Williams do that and let him do it to the far side of the field. Leave the trick of playing man coverage on the boundary to free up the safety to teams that have 4.4 sprinters at cornerback.

3. Iowa State makes Sean Foster the starting left tackle

After an offseason of murmurs about the promise of 2019 backup left tackle Joey Ramos and the surprising emergence of redshirt freshman Grant Treiber, the Cyclones will open 2020 with redshirt senior Sean Foster at left tackle.

Foster played left tackle in 2018 before ultimately losing his job when they slid their best athlete, Julian Good-Jones, over from center to guard pump fake Purdy's blindside. He was decent in pass protection, at 6-8, 320 his job is made simpler by his sheer reach and size, but his overall mobility wasn't amazing and it's hard to get low and move people in the run game at that height. The word from Campbell is that the senior took his senior chance to heart and committed to improving his strength and technique in the offseason.

Presumably if it doesn't work out then Treiber and Ramos are both waiting in the wings to replace him as they get more reps and experience. Foster is the classic example of the sort of Big 12 left tackle I've often described. The guy who has power, size, and reach who spends all five years at school mastering the technique and study to be solid and reliable. Such guys are often not up for the challenge of handling an elite edge rusher 1-on-1, and there are a few good ones in the Big 12, so how Iowa State handles matchups up front will be very interesting to observe.

2. Baylor makes Ashton Logan the starting jack linebacker

Who? Oh, Ashton Logan was a high school safety from Temple that had iffy measurables for sticking on the back end (220 out of HS, 4.76 40, 30" vertical) and was an obvious inside linebacker project. He's now a redshirt junior and the Bears decided to move him to jack linebacker in the spring to have someone with a little more thunder and pop to create versatility in the pass-rush.

Evidently he's starting there, even ahead of grad transfer William Bradley-King who had 8.5 sacks last year at Arkansas State. What does that mean?

There's three conclusions you could draw from this, all of which could simultaneously contain some degree of truth.

1. William Bradley-King wasn't very good
2. Ashton Logan was a natural at the position and is quite good
3. The Bears actually intend to play both and revitalize Dave Aranda's "peso package" this season.

The "peso" is an alternative nickel package, still utilizing five defensive backs but instead of playing a 4-2-5 or 3-3-5 the defense runs a 2-4-5. The differences between that and a 4-2-5 can be fairly minimal, but the main difference is that they have two outside linebackers standing up where a 4-2-5 would have a pair of defensive ends and perhaps both of them putting their hands in the dirt.

Baylor peso 1.jpg

The advantage of the peso package is that either outside backer can drop, which lends greater versatility to the blitz package. The downside is that if you want to keep both on the edge against a team with a tight end, you've created an extra gap inside that will need to be filled by two-gapping someone and/or involving a safety in the run fit. Involving a safety in the run fit means that your corners are more isolated outside.

Baylor's game with La Tech was postponed, potentially cancelled, so it'll be a while before we see what exactly Aranda has in store. The concern for Baylor fans has to be that between this depth chart announcement, and the defensive line being stocked with wide bodied youngsters virtually no one has seen yet, is that Aranda intends to run his basic 3-3-5 schemes from LSU that were awfully talent-dependent and blitz heavy. That's simply not a good approach for the Big 12, not with this 2020 roster.

1. Oklahoma names Anton Harrison the starting left tackle

Oklahoma wasn't backed into a corner with true freshman, Anton Harrison. They could have slid Adrian Ealy over from right tackle, bumped out Tyrese Robinson to right tackle, and found another guard. They still might, particularly if UCLA transfer Chris Murray gets a waiver, but they had other options. Trey Walker has come along at guard and those are generally easier to find than tackles.

The Sooners also could have played talented redshirt freshman Stacey Wilkins at left or right tackle. Or turned back to Erik Swenson, assuming he's been healthy and practicing. For Missouri State at least, they didn't do any of those things. Instead they handed the most important position on the line to a true freshman who wasn't even an early enrollee.

By all accounts, line coach Bill Bedenbaugh believes that Harrison is the most talented offensive lineman on campus and already too good to sit on the bench. It's quite rare for a true freshman to start immediately and succeed at left tackle, but it can happen when a great athlete also has great coordination and an opening. If that's happening this season at Oklahoma it's a fascinating development.

Overall, the Sooners are also embracing a youth movement across their roster. This is one of the younger Sooner teams we've seen with Spencer Rattler and a new wave of rising defensive recruits starting to fight for places across the depth chart. Obviously Oklahoma will have 2021 in mind for playoff breakthrough given how many key figures will return and how many key figures such as Rattler, Theo Wease, Harrison, Austin Stogner, and now Marvin Mims will be spending 2020 getting their feet wet.

All that's not to say that Oklahoma won't contend for the Big 12 championship, but they are certainly letting talent play early in 2020.
 

bHero

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Jan 19, 2012
48,815
86,175
0
Keller
barkingcarnival.fantake.com
That PESO package is interesting.

LHN had the 2009 Texas vs TAMU game on yesterday and I listened to it while working. My ears perked up when they started talking Texas' defensive scheme and noted that Sergio Kindle was the Jack LB for Muschamp's defense that year. I started watching and in that game, he was more a hybrid 3-4 backer, generally w/his hand in the dirt like a D-Ware type and busting up the RTs. He was also every bit of 240+.

Also worth noting, is that in that game Colt was running zone read w/a GT counter to Tre Newton /Fozzy. TAMU had terrible gap integrity and was blown up several times.

.... And also also worth noting, Jerrod Johnson was running 5 wide sets and throwing slot fades to Swope, Fuller and Tannehill.

I was having a Solomon moment and thinking there's nothing new under the sun.
 

Ian Boyd

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
21,876
67,322
0
Ypsilanti, MI
That PESO package is interesting.

LHN had the 2009 Texas vs TAMU game on yesterday and I listened to it while working. My ears perked up when they started talking Texas' defensive scheme and noted that Sergio Kindle was the Jack LB for Muschamp's defense that year. I started watching and in that game, he was more a hybrid 3-4 backer, generally w/his hand in the dirt like a D-Ware type and busting up the RTs. He was also every bit of 240+.

Also worth noting, is that in that game Colt was running zone read w/a GT counter to Tre Newton /Fozzy. TAMU had terrible gap integrity and was blown up several times.

.... And also also worth noting, Jerrod Johnson was running 5 wide sets and throwing slot fades to Swope, Fuller and Tannehill.

I was having a Solomon moment and thinking there's nothing new under the sun.
Will Muschamp is the best D-coordinator we’ve seen at Texas. We’ll see how Ash does, and it’s nice to have his protege Hutzler, but Muschamp is the king.
 

sherf1

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Dec 8, 2018
8,268
25,254
0
That PESO package is interesting.

LHN had the 2009 Texas vs TAMU game on yesterday and I listened to it while working. My ears perked up when they started talking Texas' defensive scheme and noted that Sergio Kindle was the Jack LB for Muschamp's defense that year. I started watching and in that game, he was more a hybrid 3-4 backer, generally w/his hand in the dirt like a D-Ware type and busting up the RTs. He was also every bit of 240+.

Also worth noting, is that in that game Colt was running zone read w/a GT counter to Tre Newton /Fozzy. TAMU had terrible gap integrity and was blown up several times.

.... And also also worth noting, Jerrod Johnson was running 5 wide sets and throwing slot fades to Swope, Fuller and Tannehill.

I was having a Solomon moment and thinking there's nothing new under the sun.
That was about the most trouble that really good 2009 defense had in any game that year. Johnson was great, but Colt was better thankfully.
 

genericbufan

Member
Aug 7, 2020
47
34
0
I wouldn't read too, too much into the Logan part. As someone else mentioned on Twitter, Aranda really wants this to be a two-way player. WBK has never really dropped before and we didn't have a spring to teach him, so it's somewhat understandable that he might be a bit of a work in progress on that front to start the season.

That said, I think it's fair to read into a bit, especially with regard to our peso fronts. We have two guys who are really DEs who could serve as quasi-OLBs in peso. (WBK and Randolph.) We have two jacks who are probably (at least at this point in their careers) better dropping than they are at beating OTs. (T Brown and Logan.) And we're pretty thin at DT/NT/SDE. Therefore, at least in my opinion, it makes some sense to use a lot of peso. We might be somewhat predictable in terms of bringing WBK/Randolph, but that's actually not that new for an Aranda defense. Despite his use of creepers, his edge rushers were somewhat predictable. (Key, Chaisson, etc.)

I need to go back and re-watch it, but I think the 2016 Citrus Bowl will be very instructive here. (Bower/Key wrecking Lamar Jackson's world.) [And yes, I realize there is a lot of Aranda peso tape out there, but this game seems to carry more weight given the 2016 Louisville offense.]
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: travisroeder

Ian Boyd

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
21,876
67,322
0
Ypsilanti, MI
I wouldn't read too, too much into the Logan part. As someone else mentioned on Twitter, Aranda really wants this to be a two-way player. WBK has never really dropped before and we didn't have a spring to teach him, so it's somewhat understandable that he might be a bit of a work in progress on that front to start the season.
Using a two-way jack, if they're not going heavy peso, strikes me as a disaster waiting to happen. You don't want to be a team that has to blitz to get pressure in this league.
 
  • Like
Reactions: bHero

travisroeder

Member
Aug 6, 2020
82
100
0
Yes, that’s a useful blitz to mix in but you can get into trouble with it.
My point is, if WBK is playing and rushing nearly every down from the JACK, why is that safer than having a more versatile JACK who can drop and a WILL who can insert?
 

genericbufan

Member
Aug 7, 2020
47
34
0
Using a two-way jack, if they're not going heavy peso, strikes me as a disaster waiting to happen. You don't want to be a team that has to blitz to get pressure in this league.
As Travis pointed out, I thought we all assumed that Aranda would consistently bring 4. Were you expecting him to primarily bring 3?
 

Ian Boyd

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
21,876
67,322
0
Ypsilanti, MI
My point is, if WBK is playing and rushing nearly every down from the JACK, why is that safer than having a more versatile JACK who can drop and a WILL who can insert?
If you’re dependent on a shifting 4-man rush you can get found out and caught, especially in the run game. Also, teams that do this often do so to set up the field scrape blitz.
 

travisroeder

Member
Aug 6, 2020
82
100
0
If you’re dependent on a shifting 4-man rush you can get found out and caught, especially in the run game. Also, teams that do this often do so to set up the field scrape blitz.
I don't think it's fair to say you're dependent. They wouldn't start Logan if he couldn't rush. The problem is that if it's WBK (at least currently) the ONLY option is to send the JACK. If you have Logan you can send Logan 50% of the time, WILL 15%, etc. etc. ... that seems less problematic than offense knowing every time.
 

ripharley

Member Who Talks
Jul 15, 2017
351
553
0
Probably putting too fine a point on it but I’m looking forward to watching B12 defenses cope with B12 offenses more than v.v.

Aranda’s debut as h.c. is going to be interesting to say the least.
 
  • Like
Reactions: sherf1 and Ian Boyd