Aug. 13, 2007
Editor's Note: Leading up to Baylor's Sept. 1 opener at TCU, baylorbears.com will be interviewing each of the Bears' assistant football coaches for insight into the position that they coach and the prospects for the 2007 season.
Texas native and longtime defensive coach Larry Hoefer enters his fifth season as Baylor's safeties coach, his first as the Bears' defensive coordinator and his 33rd year on the sidelines all-told.
The lone remaining member of Guy Morriss' original Baylor staff, Hoefer has coached at least one All-Big 12 performer every year and his pupils have led the Bears in tackles three times in the last four seasons.
Hoefer takes over a unit which returns seven starters and and eight of its top 10 tacklers from 2006, but it must replace All-Big 12 cornerbacks C.J. Wilson and Anthony Arline, as well as outside safety Maurice Linguist and nose tackle M.T. Robinson. That foursome combined to start 44 games in 2006, with Linguist (71 tackles) and Wilson (59 tackles), ranking third and fourth, respectively, on the squad in tackles. Baylor yielded 408.2 yards and 32.6 points in 2006.
Leading the Bears' defense in 2007 will be sophomore linebacker Joe Pawelek, a 2006 first-team freshman All-American who registered a team-high 86 tackles as a rookie. Senior linebacker Nick Moore, the Bears' second-leading tackler a year ago with 75 stops, also returns, as does junior rover Dwain Crawford, senior strong safety Brandon Stiggers, sophomore defensive end Jason Lamb, senior defensive end Geoff Nelson and junior defensive tackle Vincent Rhodes.
The Abilene, Texas, native recently sat down with baylorbears.com to discuss the Bears' 2007 defensive outlook.
Talk about the defense's progress through the first 10 practices.
Hoefer: First of all we had a good summer. John Williams and our strength staff did a nice job getting them ready. We worked hard all summer, and they came back in great shape. The retention from the spring was really good. The main thing we're working on right now is developing depth.
"Particularly when you play 12 straight games without an open date, injuries will pile up if you can't rotate people at times. But we're working on depth right now, and everyone is working hard. We've had very few injuries this first 10 days, so that's helped us."
How do feel about the defensive line's progress?
Hoefer: "We feel really good. Coach (Don) Wnek and Bobby King (graduate assistant) have done a really good job working with them. They have made a lot of progress. That's an area that we have got to improve on from a year ago, and we're really optimistic in that area."
Talk about the linebackers.
Hoefer: "Antonio Jones is really kind of running with the ones (Joe Pawelek and Nick Moore), also. So we kind of rotate those three guys, and they've got good experience. We have two young freshmen who have played real well in Earl Patin and Chris Francis. Ben Hixson is in the mix because he has good experience. We feel really good about the linebackers."
How has Dwain Crawford done since moving to rover?
Hoefer: Well, he had surgery in the spring, and he seems to be full speed now. It is a new position, but he has done well and learned quickly. We think that was a good move with Jordan Lake and Crawford being at the same position a year ago. Jordan is a natural at free safety, so that was a good move for us."
How has Jordan Lake progressed since his injury last fall?
Hoefer: "He's doing just fine. He had broken a collar bone and missed four or five games last year, but he's full speed and ready to go."
How does the cornerback position look with the absence of C.J. Wilson and Anthony Arline?
Hoefer: "Well, we had three seniors last year with C.J., Anthony and James Todd, who was also a very good player for us. But we do have two seniors (this year). Alton Widemon and Josh Bell have some experience, they played in big games, so we feel good about them. Their backups are young. They have some talent there, but very little experience. We're just trying to get them as many reps as we can. Coach (Clay) Jennings is doing a nice job bringing them along, and we feel like we'll be okay there.
Who are some young players that have caught your eye that fans are going to be able to see this fall?
Hoefer: "We have some backups that are going to be playing some that I think are going to be fine. We had a junior college transfer Leon Freeman come in and is a solid player. And Jameon Hardeman will provide depth at defensive end.
"At linebacker, the two freshmen (Chris Francis and Earl Patin) look like they will be someone to look at. Hopefully as the year goes on, they will get more and more playing time.
"At corner, we will see Cliff Odom as the one freshman corner that we recruited. He has a lot of talent and a lot of speed. He won state in the 100 meters in track, and we're trying to get him as much experience and bring him on as fast as we can.
"Rex McDougald is a freshman who came in midterm last year and might get some playing time. He is a very strong freshman. A lot of times freshmen come in and do not have good background in the weight room because they've gone from sport to sport, but Rex is very strong."
Who has emerged as leaders for the defense?
Hoefer: "We've got good solid leadership. Joe Pawelek and Nick Moore are good leaders. Jordan Lake is a good leader for us in the middle. Up front, those guys have good chemistry and have worked hard together. Most of those guys aren't real vocal guys, but their leadership is more by example and they are really working hard. But the vocal leaders would be those three guys."
What do you see as the strength of this defense?
Hoefer: "Well we lost six defensive linemen that were seniors, and of course three corners. We also lost Maurice Linguist at safety. We lost a lot of good football players, but we're optimistic. It's a little too early to tell, but we've got a really smart football team. They play well together. We're further along with what we've inserted as far as our defensive scheme, but it's too early to tell.
"We need to do better on third down, particularly third and long. We need to increase our sack production. We need to prevent big plays, long runs and long passes. We need to continue to do well in the turnover area which we have done in the last couple of years, and that's a big area that can save you when you're not playing as well.
"But we're working hard and improving each day. Each one we have gotten better. I can only think of one where we were just kind of blah and it was a practice right in the middle of second semester finals and that probably had something to do with it."
Have you made any changes to the defensive scheme?
Hoefer: "I'm hoping the production part looks better, but the scheme part will look about the same. We've made some changes and hopefully improvements. We work really well as a staff. Don Wnek is our defensive line coach, Clay Jennings our corners coach and Gary Kinne coaching our linebackers. We have a good graduate assistant in Bobby King and a student assistant in Maurice Linguist. We're all involved in this thing. You look at things you did well last year, and you look at some things you didn't do well. And you throw in some things and throw out some things."
Are you excited about becoming the defensive coordinator again?
Hoefer: "I appreciate the opportunity that Coach Morriss has given me, and I appreciate the support from the other coaches. And I think Coach Morriss has done a nice job of adding the new coaches to the staff. I think we mesh well together and coach well together, and I think the players are feeding off of that."
How has Maurice Linguist progressed in a coaches role?
Hoefer: "That's a hard job when all of the sudden you are a coach. The players know that he's smart and understands the defense. He cares about them, and they've got a lot of respect for him. And as a result, we've allowed him to coach a whole lot more heavily. So that's been very helpful for us. We're fortunate to have him. He's going to be a very good coach."
Next Up: Kasey Dunn, Assistant Head Coach, Special Teams Coordinator & Receivers Coach