2011 Texas Preview – Defense
Texas LB Emmanuel Acho
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Texas Longhorn Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The defense might not have been a brick wall throughout the entire season, but it can't be blamed for the problems finishing sixth in the nation in yards allowed. No, this wasn't the nasty Texas D of previous seasons, but it was good enough to get by. This year it'll undergo a major overhaul and it starts at the top with new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz having to replace Will Muschamp, who was starting to get antsy and was ready to take over a head coaching job last year. He inherits a whale of a linebacking twosome in Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho to work around, and the pass rush won't be a problem with several star recruits from the last few years about to break out. Losing three NFL defensive backs in Aaron Williams, Chykie Brown, and Curtis Brown is a problem, but the safeties are experienced and can hit big, and there's speed and upside at corner. Call this a year of transition with all the youth and inexperience across the board, but few teams can match UT's defensive athleticism.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Keenan Robinson
Tackles: Keenan Robinson, 113
Sacks: Emmanuel Acho, 3
Interceptions: Blake Gideon, Keenan Robinson, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DT Calvin Howell
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DB Adrian Phillips
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Kheeston Randall
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Robinson, 2) Randall, 3) LB Emmanuel Acho
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Tackle Depth, Corner Depth
State of the Unit: The defensive front wasn't a killer at getting into the backfield, but it wasn't bad with Sam Acho registering nine sacks and 17 tackles for loss and Eddie Jones adding six more sacks with ten tackles for loss. They're both gone, but there are plenty of good talents ready to step in and produce. The line did a good enough job to get by against the run, and it should be solid again with a little bit of movement. The talent level is high and the depth will quickly develop, but someone has to step up right away and be the next Acho.
Junior Alex Okafor moved over from defensive tackle to the end and dominated at times this offseason. The 6-4, 260-pounder started eight games inside last year making 30 tackles with 2.5 sacks, four tackles for loss and 13 quarterback pressures, and while he might not be a speed rusher, he has the hustle and the quick burst off the line to get into the backfield on a regular basis. No, he's not Sam Acho or Brian Orakpo, but he'll be disruptive.
6-5, 253-pound sophomore Jackson Jeffcoat came up with a decent freshman campaign seeing time on special teams and making 13 tackles with 2.5 sacks and six tackles for loss in his little bit of time in the defensive equation. The superstar recruit of last year is the team's next great pass rusher and should quickly become a killer now that he knows what he's doing. With two starts last year and enough time with the first team this offseason to be ready for the bigger role, the crown jewel of the tremendous 2010 class is ready to breakout.
The Longhorn defensive tackles might not be as strong as usual, but senior Kheeston Randall is a good one on the nose and should be a lock for All-Big 12 honors. The 6-5, 295-pounder is ultra-athletic leading all conference defensive tackles in tackles for loss with 13 to go along with 39 tackles. Great at getting to the quarterback on a regular basis, he met the sky-high expectations going into last year and will now have to be the anchor. Now he needs to step up his game with the double teams and the focus of every blocking scheme on him.
With Okafor moving to the end, 6-4, 290-pound sophomore Calvin Howell will get the first look at the other tackle spot. The 6-4, 290-pounder saw a little bit of time last year making two tackles, but now he has to use his size and quickness to be the lead tackle in the rotation next to Randall. The talent is there, but he has to stay healthy, something he couldn't do in a true freshman season, and he has to prove he can consistently hold up against the run.
The tackle rotation should be good with sophomore Ashton Dorsey and redshirt freshman Greg Daniels ready to push Howell for time at tackle and true freshmen Desmond Jackson and Quincy Russell certain to be in the mix. The 6-2, 295-pound Dorsey made two tackles in his little bit of time as a true freshman, but he has the size to work on the nose and the quickness to shine next to Randall. He's a rock-solid prospect who isn't going to make any mistakes. The 6-5, 270-pound Daniels is expected to be the best interior pass rusher of the reserves, and 6-3, 310-pound redshirt freshman Taylor Bible , one of the team's top recruits last year, is the biggest body in the interior and needs to be a big run stuffer on the nose.
The 6-1, 280-pound Jackson is good enough to see time right away as a do-it-all pass rusher for the interior, while the 6-3, 285-pound Russell is an athletic run stopper who can play either tackle spot. Both of them have the talent to be a major part of the rotation, and they'll get every chance to push for starting time.
Junior Dravannti Johnson is part linebacker and part defensive end, and while he's a smallish 6-2 and 235 pounds, he has the strength to handle himself up front. He started five times last year making 23 tackles, but he only came up with one sack and two tackles for loss. With his speed and quickness, he has to be far more disruptive, while 6-3, 252-pound sophomore Reggie Wilson has to show why he's considered to be the team's best pure pass rusher after making five tackles as a reserve and a special teamer. Fast off the ball, he destroyed the offensive line in the spring game and could be used as a situation speed rusher.
Watch Out For … Johnson and Wilson. While they might not be the starting ends, they have the pass rushing potential to be two of the team's most disruptive players. They'll be key parts of the puzzle and they'll push for significant time right away.
Strength: Talent. Jeffcoat leads a group of next-level prospects who could've gone anywhere in America. There's size, quickness, and speed all across the front four with several options and lots and lots of upside. There might be some concerns at tackle, but the backups would start just about anywhere else.
Weakness: Tackle depth. This could go from a concern to a strength in a big hurry if Bible plays up to his prep billing and if Dorsey can come up with a great year. Okafor could always move back inside if needed, but he's going to be far better if he can stay at end for a full season.
Outlook: This is where the top-shelf recruiting has to kick in. The Longhorns always bring in top talents for every position, but the line got the most help over the last two years, and now it's time for Jeffcoat and company to shine. There are questions about the tackle depth, and the pass rushing production has to come after a relatively disappointing 2010, but there's no questioning the talent or the skill.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: The linebacking corps was good last season and it might be the team's biggest strength going into this year. The starting three is versatile, athletic, and very, very talented. There's plenty of all-star talent and big stats about to come from a group that'll be all over the field and in the backfield on a regular basis.
Senior Keenan Robinson has been a regular on the outside for the last few years and came up with a second-team All-Big 12 effort in 2010 leading the team with 113 tackles with two sacks and eight tackles for loss. The 6-3, 235-pound guided missile on the strongside was all over the place this offseason and appears ready to take his game to another level. Strong enough to move to the middle if needed, he's versatile, smart, and able to rush the passer and make plays against the pass seamlessly. He's not going to be a terror of a pass rusher, but he's a terrific athlete who was a star high school triple jumper, and he'll do what's needed.
6-2, 240-pound senior Emmanuel Acho is a good, sound veteran who can play on the outside if needed but is best suited for the middle. He followed up a strong, ten tackle-for-loss sophomore season by finishing second on the team with 87 tackles, three sacks, and 12 tackles for loss in a bigger role as a junior. Great against the run, a speedy pass rusher, and surprisingly strong in pass coverage with six broken up passes, he has All-America talent and will start to get more national recognition. Well past the knee injury suffered earlier in his career, he's a sideline-to-sideline playmaker.
Sophomore Jordan Hicks is only 6-2 and 228 pounds, but he's tough for his size and he's a great hitter. He stepped up as a true freshman making 23 tackles with a sack, but he got dinged up in spring ball. Everything is expected to be fine going into the season, and when he's right, he should be a terror. The Ohio native was snagged away from Ohio State and was a special recruit in a haul of special recruits last year. He's a next-level athlete who can fly, doesn't miss a tackle, and has the ability to become a sideline-to-sideline playmaker with a bigger role.
6-2, 210-pound sophomore Demarco Cobbs is a safety, but he saw time at outside linebacker this spring and dominated. A phenomenal athlete for the position, he'll be used to fly into the backfield on a regular basis and he should be a disruptive force. The former Parade All-American got a little bit of work last year making five tackles, but he'll be a key backup at both outside spots while a pair of true freshmen will be the key to the inside rotation. The 6-2, 235-pound Chet Moss got to school early and looked like he belonged in the middle. A tackling machine, he doesn't miss a stop and has just enough burst to get into the backfield, while fellow freshman Steve Edmond is a tremendous all-around talent who can play inside or out. He's a huge hitter who can fly all over the field.
Watch Out For … Cobbs. The secondary needs live bodies and as much help as possible but Cobbs will end up working more as an outside linebacker after a strong spring. He's not going to be a top run stopper, but he'll destroy passing games by regularly hitting the quarterback.
Strength: Acho and Robinson. As long as these two are alive and kicking, the linebacking corps will be a strength. These two are certain Big 12 all-stars, and they should be in the mix for All-America honors if they can improve on their great 2010 campaigns. Robinson led the team in tackles, Acho was No. 2, and they should combine for well over 200 tackles once again.
Weakness: Proven depth. The starting three will be terrific, and there's a whole bunch of promise and potential among the reserves, but there aren't a lot of sure things to count on. It's asking a lot to expect true freshmen to play big roles, even at Texas.
Outlook: The linebacking corps will be fantastic as long as everyone stays healthy. There's good versatility and lots of good promise and potential, but it'll be uh-oh time if anything happens to Acho or Robinson early on. If the star prospects get a little time to develop, everything will be fine.
Unit Rating: 8.5
State of the Unit: The Texas pass defense finished sixth in the nation last year and 36th in pass efficiency defense, but it didn't pick off enough passes considering the NFL talent across the board, coming up with just five interceptions as a unit. Now the secondary has to go through a major overhaul on the outside losing corners Chykie Brown, Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown to the NFL, but the safeties are back. Now those safeties have to be better. They were okay, but not killers, and their experience has to translate into more production.
Senior Blake Gideon has mostly been known for dropping the interception that would've sealed a win over Texas Tech in the 2008 Michael Crabtree classic, but he has become a solid all-around safety following up a 53-tackle sophomore season by finishing third on the team with 68 tackles with two interceptions and four broken up passes. The 6-1, 205-pound free safety, or left safety in the new terminology, is a sound veteran who has earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors over the last three seasons, and now he's the leader of the defensive backfield.
6-1, 214-pound junior Kenny Vaccaro is getting the first look at the starting strong safety/right safety job after getting the call twice last year. He's a feisty, tough playmaker who made 56 tackles with four tackles for loss with eight broken up passes. While he's a huge hitter, his speed and range separate him from the pack. At the very least he'll be an ultra-productive nickel defender, while 6-1, 217-pound senior Christian Scott , a ten game starter last year, will see plenty of action somewhere in the mix. Even though he's a former high school track star with phenomenal speed and great leaping ability, he doesn't quite translate that to the field like Vaccaro does Scott hits like a ton of bricks making 53 tackles with a pick last season.
Trying to fill in at corner is 5-11, 199-pound sophomore Adrian Phillips , a safety by nature making nine tackles in his first year with a broken up pass. A former star high school wide receiver, he had no problems transitioning to becoming a full-time defensive back and was shockingly good making the switch over to corner this offseason. He has good size, excellent speed, and great tackling ability. He'll be backed up by true freshman Quandre Diggs , who got to school early and showed he belongs in the mix right away. The 5-10, 192-pounder is a speedster with cut-on-a-dime quickness; he'll be a whale of a special teamer early on.
6-0, 175-pound sophomore Carrington Byndom saw time in every game last year as a key backup making 20 tackles, and now he'll hold down a corner job. He has the raw talent, but he takes plenty of chances and has to be more consistent in coverage. All the tools are there to be a top-shelf producer, but he has to make plays right away when the ball is in the air.
Junior Nolan Brewster is back after missing last year hurt, and now he'll be a part of the safety mix. He's not a top pass defender, but he's a good hitter making 24 tackles with two tackles for loss two years ago. Mostly he's going to star on special teams, but he seems to make things happen whenever he's on the field. He's not Blake Gideon, but he's good enough to see time in the rotation.
Watch Out For … Phillips. One of the finds of spring ball, the safety is a natural corner and has the look of the next great Texas defensive back. Now he needs a little time to work through his mistakes.
Strength: Athleticism. The secondary might need a little reworking and a little bit of time, but mistakes will be made up for with tremendous speed and athleticism. This is a versatile, tough group that can fly around and hit, and there are several pieces to play around with.
Weakness: Corner depth. Eryon Barnett was supposed to be a major factor in the corner mix before getting knocked out for the year. Byndom and Phillips should be good, and Diggs is a riser, but there's a lot of moving around of parts to try to make up for the loss of three NFL corners.
Outlook: The secondary will be fine once the starting foursome is settled on. The safeties took a lot of heat last year, but they're experienced and they can hit and hit big. The corner situation will be a bit shaky for a little while, especially if injuries strike in any way, but there's more than enough speed and skill to stop most average receiving corps. However, to beat Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the corners have to be terrific.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: Senior Justin Tucker took over for Hunter Lawrence and did a strong job nailing 23-of-27 field goals and showed good range hitting a 51 yarder against Rice and 49-yard shots against Baylor and Florida Atlantic. Ultra-reliable and with a huge leg, he's an all-star talent. With John Gold and his 43.6-yard average gone, Tucker will take on a bigger punting role after averaging 41.2 yards per kick and putting 17 of his 35 chances inside the 20.
The top returners are gone, and it'll take a little while to find the right guys to fill in for D.J. Monroe, who averaged 20.5 yards per kickoff return, Curtis Brown, who averaged 14.9 yards per punt return. Adrian Phillips , who came up with a nine yard return, and Carrington Byndom , who came up with a 13-yarder, will each get a few chances after getting a punt return last year, and several players will be tried out late this fall on kickoff returns.
Watch Out For … Tucker to be in the hunt for All-America honors. He had an excellent first year as the starter, and now he should be in the mix for the Lou Groza and the Ray Guy if he can do just a little bit more.
Strength: Tucker. He's a weapon who can nail anything from 50 yards and in. Watch out for a few blasts from 50+ this year.
Weakness: Kickoff returns and coverage teams. The Longhorns were abysmal on kickoff returns averaging a pathetic 18.5 yards per try, while the punt return team was awful allowing a whopping 14.3 yards per attempt.
Outlook: After a few strong years from the special teams, things took a step back last year. The punting game improved and Tucker turned into a star, but the return team struggled and the coverage team was lousy. Out of all the big things the team needs to improve on, the special teams can't be ignored.
Unit Rating: 6
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