Tulsa loses eight starters from an attacking defense that helped the Golden Hurricane to 11 wins in 2012. So recruiting depth on the defensive side of the ball was a big key in the class of 2013.
TU loses all four starters from the defensive line, one linebacker and three defensive backs. While the Hurricane has some young players waiting in the wings, it was obvious Tulsa needed a big crop of defensive linemen.
"The defensive line was a point of emphasis in this recruiting class," said Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship. "We really needed to grow some depth there, and I think we did that with guys like Lionell Phillips, Jesse Brubaker and Zach Webb. You put those three interior guys with Dalton Rodriguez and Frankie Davis, two local kids, and we think we have really helped ourselves on the defensive front."
Phillips (6-2, 285), Brubaker (6-4, 260) and Webb (6-2, 280) are strong, aggressive defensive tackles. Phillips amassed 64 tackles, 12 tackles-for-loss and five sacks in his senior season for Garland (TX) Naaman Forest, signing with TU over offers from Kansas, Houston and New Mexico.
Brubaker started at tight end in his first three seasons with Wylie (TX) East, but started at defensive tackle as a senior, posting 50 tackles, 10 TFLs and four sacks. Webb had an impressive 83 tackles, 23 TFLs and six sacks as a senior at Tulsa (OK) Metro Christian, earning first-team all-state honors.
At defensive end, three-star prospects Rodriguez (6-6, 280) and Davis (6-3, 240) were two of the best in Oklahoma. Rodriguez helped Tulsa (OK) Union to another outstanding season in 2012, putting up 78 tackles and nine sacks. He was one of the more highly recruited Tulsa signees, earning offers from Oklahoma, Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, Iowa State, Oregon State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
Davis played for Union rival Broken Arrow (OK). As a senior, he earned first-team all-metro and second-team all-state honors after posting 82 tackles, five sacks and three fumble recoveries.
At linebacker, Tulsa loses its top playmaker in DeAundre Brown, who led the team in tackles (125) and tackles-for-loss (17). He was also second on the team in sacks (9), third in pass deflections (8) and tied for first in QB hurries (5).
TU has some young talent in the linebacker corps and added more in the 2013 recruiting class.
"We brought in a couple of linebackers that were really highly rated on our board," said Blankenship. "Devin Rolan is a guy that we have been on for a couple years from McAlester (Okla.). He's a big, physical inside linebacker who can really run, and then C.J. Gooden, from Ashdown, Arkansas, is another guy that can really run. These two guys bring some speed with physicality to the table.
"We're fortunate to get a third linebacker, Jake Hanks from Colorado, who's a big, strong and physical guy."
Rolan (6-1, 230) chose Tulsa over Indiana and had a stellar senior season for McAlester (OK). He collected 119 tackles on defense, and as a fullback on offense, he rushed for 370 yards and four touchdowns on just 61 carries.
Gooden (6-2, 220) racked up 110 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions as a senior at Ashdown (AR), earning first-team Democrat-Gazette all-state and all-area honors. Rivals.com rated him as the 10th-best senior prospect in Arkansas.
Jake Hanks (6-2, 240) recorded 61 tackles and 6.5 sacks this season as a defensive end at Fort Collins (CO), earning Front Range League all-conference accolades. He was named to the Colorado Prep Report first-team Elite Defense and earned Northern Colorado all-area honors as well, and was the 2012 Colorado Class 5A state champion in the shot put.
The backend of Tulsa's defense will also need work in spring practice and fall camp. TU loses three defensive backs but added depth with several quality players.
"We needed some depth at corner and got two kids out of the Dallas area, Will Barrow and Ray Crockett, Jr., who are really going to help us in that area," Blankenship described. "They have the ability to be real special at cornerback.
"Two Oklahomans -- Joe Bean and Kerwin Thomas -- come into the secondary. Both Joe and Kerwin are really athletic guys. Joe can be a Marco Nelson type of player, while Kerwin is another athlete who could even move over to the offense."
Barrow (5-10, 170) was the highest-rated of Tulsa's defensive back signees. He was ranked as the No. 67 cornerback in the nation by Rivals.com and was also a Texas Top 100 prospect. As a senior at Dallas (TX) Skyline, he led his team to a 12-2 record and the fourth round of the state playoffs, earning first-team all-district honors. The cousin of former TU linebacker Curnelius Arnick, Barrow signed with Tulsa over Texas Tech, Washington State and Houston.
Crockett (6-1, 170) is the son of Ray Crockett, Sr., who played for 14 years in the NFL. The younger Crockett did not play prep football until his junior season at Southlake (TX) Carroll. As a senior, he made 30 tackles, 12 pass break-ups, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Joe Bean (6-1, 195) from Hooker (OK) and Kerwin Thomas (5-10, 160) from Wagoner (OK) were both multi-sport athletes in high school. Bean gained over 2,000 yard rushing, 1,000 yards passing and 200 yards receiving as a senior, and he was credited with 105 tackles, 10 tackles-for-loss and two interceptions. Thomas had 49 tackles and two interceptions on defense as a senior, while also making 31 receptions for 527 yards and seven touchdowns on offense.
Over the past two seasons, it has been typical for most true freshmen to redshirt at Tulsa, but a few have made an instant impact. This group of defensive talent certainly has the possibility of putting an immediate contributor or two into the mix this fall.