Young defensive line aims to measure up to past greats

Over the last four seasons, offensive coordinators have tried to devise game plans that would neutralize former All-Conference defensive ends Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz. The two standouts are no longer with the team, but one senior end said it’s up to the upperclassmen to step up as leaders and continue giving opposing coaches headaches.

“Every year you have a senior class that shows the younger guys how to do it,” said Matt Panfil, who made four tackles and recorded 1.5 sacks in a 26-3 win Saturday at New Mexico. “So far in practice we’ve shown the younger guys how to go hard every play in practice, and I think we’re going to do some good things this year.”

The 6-foot-3-inch, 245-pound defensive end from North Crowley High School is the only senior at the position and will anchor the right side of the line. Last season, Panfil made 37 tackles while starting six games.

Head coach Gary Patterson said he thinks the defensive line will get better as the season goes along.

“We get James Vess back and he’s been great in the fall and spring,” Patterson said. “You have all of your tackles back and Jerry Hughes is more of an athletic defensive end than Chase Ortiz was. Now he just needs to become as good of a player as Chase was.”

Hughes recorded a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception, which earned him Mountain West Conference Player of the Week honors.

Panfil said one reason to be optimistic about the defensive line is the return of senior defensive tackle Vess, who made one tackle Saturday. TCU missed his ability to stop the run and sack the quarterback as he sat out the entire 2007 campaign. In 2006, Vess had four sacks in the final seven games. He was named TCU’s Defensive Player of the Week twice in that span.

“Even though I didn’t play last year, I was around all of the guys and we’ve really been able to gel as a unit to the point that we’re brothers,” Vess said. “Every year, with guys graduating, it’s important that other people step up and play well. I really think Jerry Hughes and Matt Panfil have an opportunity to make a name for themselves.”

Patterson praised both redshirt freshman defensive end Braylon Broughton, the 2008 MWC Preseason Freshman of the Year, and sophomore Clarence Leatch for their ability to get to the quarterback.

“Both of those guys have great bursts,” Patterson said.