2012 Texas Preview - Defense
Texas S Kenny Vaccaro
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview & Analysis - Texas Longhorns
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
If this isn't the best defense in America, it'll be in the running to be the fastest and most athletic. The Big 12's No. 1 defense of 2011 gets back six starters and will enjoy an upgrade in athleticism at almost all the openings after leading the league in run defense, pass defense and finishing second in scoring D. The defensive front is stunningly quick for its size helped by a pair of NFL defensive ends in Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat. The line is big and fast, and so is the linebacking corps that might be even better and will be far more athletic despite losing leading tacklers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson; Steve Edmond and Demarco Cobbs bringing jaw-dropping speed. And then there's the secondary with warp wheels at all four spots.
Star of the defense: Senior DE Alex Okafor
Tackles: Kenny Vaccaro, 77
Sacks: Alex Okafor, 7
Interceptions: Quandre Diggs, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DT Ashton Dorsey
Unsung star on the rise: Junior NT Brandon Moore
Best pro prospect: Junior DE Jackson Jeffcoat
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Okafor, 2) Jeffcoat, 3) FS Kenny Vaccaro
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, End
Weakness of the defense: Proven Depth, Veteran Tackles
There are several NFL teams that would trade their starting ends for the Texas tandem. 6-5, 260-pound Alex Okafor moved over from defensive tackle to end and turned into an All-American. There were whispers that he was about to do something great last offseason, and he more than came through with 54 tackles with seven sacks and 14 tackles for loss with 17 quarterback pressures. Very big and very quick off the ball for his size, he's not necessarily a speed rusher and he's not a flash of lightning, but he was a force who feasted off of single blocking.
Also dominating was 6-5, 250-pound junior Jackson Jeffcoat, a superstar recruit who was supposed to be the program's next great pass rusher from Day One. After getting his feet wet with 13 tackles and 2.5 sacks with a little bit of time in his first year, he showed off his promise and potential last year with 63 tackles, six sacks and 18 tackles for loss on the way to All-Big 12 honors. With elite athleticism and room to still add a little more good weight on his frame, he's still just scratching the surface. The only down side is that he has to come back healthy after suffering a torn pectoral muscle.
Gone is top defensive tackle Kheeston Randall, and now it's up to 6-2, 295-pound junior Ashton Dorsey, who might not be huge but is a rock-solid defender who made 22 tackles with a sack and five tackles for loss. Good against the run, he's also excellent at getting off the ball and working his way into the backfield. Strong enough to have started on the nose four times last year, he can do a little of everything in the interior. He'll work with 6-3, 279-pound junior Chris Whaley, a backup who came up with five tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss. The former star high school running back has tremendous athleticism and carries his weight well; there's a world of upside.
JUCO transfer Brandon Moore is coming in from East Mississippi CC with tremendous athleticism and shocking speed for a 6-5, 325-pound prospect. The junior is a massive space-eater who could hold down the starting job on the nose from the start, or at the very least he'll work in a rotation with 6-1, 285-pound sophomore Desmond Jackson, a good reserve who made eight tackles with a sack. A great recruit two years ago, he has the potential to be an anchor with a great build on the nose, but he's also quick enough to work as an interior pass rushing tackle.
With Jeffcoat hurting this spring, junior Reggie Wilson and sophomore Cedric Reed got a chance to show what they could do. The 6-3, 252-pound Wilson is an athletic prospect who hasn't had too much of a chance to shine making just nine tackles in his limited time. Even so, he's considered to be the team's best pure pass rusher. The 6-6, 256-pound Reed made three tackles in a limited role but has a world of talent as a dangerous all-around end.
Watch Out For … Moore. Human beings shouldn't be this big and this fast, but Moore does have all the freakish tools and ability to potentially become a dominant force on the inside. The line is loaded with athletes, but Moore is athletic and huge.
Strength: Lots and lots and lots of athletes. Jeffcoat and Okafor are NFL ready, and there's more athleticism where they came from. Adding even more to the equation will be good recruits Hassan Ridgeway and Torshiro Davis, who might not be all that big but they can fly. Star recruit Malcolm Davis is a 6-4, 285-pound defensive tackle, but he can move, too.
Weakness: Interior pass rush. It's nitpicking time, but both starting tackles have to be replaced and the new guys have to get into the backfield a little more often. There's speed and quickness to make an impact, but now it has to happen.
Outlook: Watch out. Jeffcoat has to be healthy and back to form, but if all the parts are working the defensive front has the potential to be among the best in college football. Okafor and Jeffcoat will be millionaires next year at this time and there's more than enough speed, size and athleticism to form a rotation to keep them fresh outside and provide some nice options inside. The talent level is through the roof, and it'll show.
Unit Rating: 9
Gone are Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho, the team's two top tacklers, but don't shed any tears. Taking over in the middle is sophomore Steve Edmond, who isn't just bigger than Robinson but if faster and more athletic. A huge hitter who can fly all over the field, he brings the thump whenever he gets to a ball-carrier and should be one of the team's statistical stars after making 16 tackles with two tackles for loss. He'll be backed up by 6-2, 233-pound sophomore Aaron Benson, a special teamer and backup with great size and the ability to play just about anywhere in the linebacking corps. He made two tackles last season.
Stepping in for Acho on the weakside will be 6-2, 215-pound junior Demarco Cobbs, who might not be all that big but is a flash of lightning when he gets into space. He only saw time in six games making four tackles after missing the first part of the season with a broken arm, but the former Parade All-America safety is fine and should be a dominant force into the backfield when he's turned loose. He'll be too fast for most offensive tackles to deal with. Adding a little more size is 6-3, 237-pound sophomore Kendall Thompson, who made eight tackles as a reserve and can work anywhere in the linebacking corps.
While Edmonds and Cobbs are generating the biggest buzz, junior Jordan Hicks is the lone returning starter making 57 tackles with two tackles for loss and three broken up passes. At 6-2 and 235 pounds he has good size on the strongside and is as good and as sound as any of the team's linebackers. The Ohio native was snagged away from Ohio State and was a special recruit in a haul of special recruits two years ago with next-level athleticism and tremendous ability. He has the potential to be special.
Watch Out For … Edmond. The prototype, he's exactly what you want a linebacker to look like with great size, tremendous strength and jaw-dropping speed. Be disappointed if he's not an All-Big 12 performer.
Strength: Raw speed. There might be a faster linebacking corps in college football, but it's highly doubtful if there's anyone who can match the size and the speed. No one will be able to outrun this group.
Weakness: Sure-thing depth. As promising as the linebacking corps might be, there are still two new starters in the equation. The backups are going to be fine and they have the requisite skills and tools, but they're not proven as part of a rotation.
Outlook: Amazingly, despite losing Acho and Robinson and their 218 tackles with 26 tackles for loss, the linebackers should be better. Edmond has the potential to be outstanding and Cobbs will be a difference-maker who should be able to change games with his speed and quickness. And then there's Hicks, who might be the most talented linebacker on the lot. This group will be turned loose and then watch them fly.
Unit Rating: 9
The Longhorns lost third-leading tackler Blake Gideon at free safety, but the secondary is loaded with athletes and speed, and it has a nice answer to fill in for Gideon in Kenny Vaccaro, a veteran who started every game last year at strong safety and now will get a chance to use his physical style and skills to be all over the field. All but certain to be gone to the NFL, the 6-1, 215-pound senior stuck around for one more year after finishing fourth on the team with 77 tackles with a sack, two picks and eight broken up passes. While he's a huge hitter, it's his speed and range that make him special, earning All-Big 12 honors last season. While he'll be the main man at free safety, he'll also work as a nickel defender from time to time.
With Vaccaro moving, 5-11, 199-pound junior Adrian Phillips will get the call at strong safety after making 39 tackles with two picks and five broken up passes. A corner for the first half of last year, he ended up working in a variety of ways and should shine with a bigger role at safety. A star high school wide receiver, he quickly made the switch to defensive back and has been a natural. While he was banged up this offseason, he should be one of the team's leading tacklers.
Sophomore Quandre Diggs is one of the team's fastest players with next-level warp wheels to go along with 5-10, 200-pound size. An All-Big 12 performer and one of the league's top freshmen defenders, he made48 tackles with four tackles for loss, 13 broken up passes with a team-leading three picks. He'll handle one corner job on the right side, while 6-0, 180-pound junior Carrington Byndom will once again work on the left after starting every game last season. The veteran went from being a raw talent to a strong all-around playmaker making 55 tackles with eight tackles for loss, two picks and a team-leading 15 broken up passes. All the tools are there, and now he should be an All-America caliber playmaker who'll make teams pay for going his way.
With Phillips hurt this spring, 6-2, 183-pound sophomore Mykkele Thompson stepped in and showed he could handle the work at either safety spot without a problem. With excellent size he's physical and can bring a pop, but his real worth is his elite athleticism. Even among Texas defensive backs Thompson is a special all-around athlete with state championship-level long jumping skills and track star sprinter's speed. Decent when he got his chances as a true freshman, he made 13 tackles and blocked a punt against Iowa State.
Vaccaro is the best nickel back option, but 6-0, 177-pound sophomore Josh Turner will likely be the fifth defensive back in the rotation. With Oklahoma state championship-level track speed and tremendous range, he'll be all over the field when he gets his chances after making six tackles getting his feet wet. He also returned a blocked punt 34 yards for a score against Iowa State.
Watch Out For … Vaccaro getting a bigger national profile. The Longhorn secondary is good enough at the other three spots to allow Vaccaro to roam around where needed and make things happen, and that should allow him to be even more of a weapon. He'll produce no matter where he plays.
Strength: Deep plays. The Texas secondary had a better 2011 season than it ever got credit for considering it had to face high-octane offense after high-octane offense. Oklahoma and Baylor were the only two teams to crank out more than 300 yards and only OU, BU, Texas A&M and Texas Tech came up with multiple touchdown passes. The Longhorns allowed 13 touchdown passes and gave up two picks.
Weakness: Picks. There were three against UCLA, two against BYU and three more against BYU. There were only four interceptions in the other ten games. Considering how good the pass rush was and with so much talent at all four spots, there needed to be more game-changing plays.
Outlook: Loaded. The secondary lost three NFL defensive backs two years ago and still finished first in the Big 12 in pass defense. This year the defensive backfield is loaded up with more than enough athletes to stay with any receiving corps, and with the pass rush certain to be a big plus, expect huge things from the Texas defensive backs.
Unit Rating: 9
Justin Tucker nailed 17-of-21 field goals last year and 40-of-48 in his terrific career. He's gone, and now the hopes and dreams of the Texas season might fall on Nick Jordan, a 6-1, 175-pound true freshman with a nice leg, but not necessarily a cannon. He's hardly a sure-thing, meaning redshirt freshman Ben Pruitt will continue to get a long look. The former walk-on is just good enough to have a shot, but it's Jordan's job to lose.
Tucker might have been a great field goal kicker, but he was mediocre as a punter averaging just 39.2 yards per boot and putting 13 inside the 20. Sophomore William Russ has a huge leg and can be used on kickoffs along with his punting duties.
The punt return game was special, finishing ninth in the nation, with Quandre Diggs using his phenomenal speed to average a whopping 22.6 yards per try on eight returns. Receiver Jaxon Shipley will also be used after averaging 5.2 yards per try. D.J. Monroe will likely be the top kickoff return option average 20 yards per try, but Diggs will likely be the main man after getting most of the work averaging 19.1 yards per attempt.
Watch Out For … the kicking situation. There are a lot of eggs put in Jordan's basket. The kicking game was shaky enough this offseason to mean Jordan is the main man from the moment he sets foot on campus.
Strength: Returner speed. Texas has more than enough great athletes to return kicks and punts, and few players in college football are faster than Diggs.
Weakness: Punting. The kickoff coverage unit can certainly be stronger after giving up 23.8 yards per try, but the punting game needs to shine after a rough year. Russ has the leg, but he'll have to average well over 40 yards per try.
Outlook: The special teams have been average over the last few seasons after being among the Big 12's best for several seasons. The kicking and punting games are starting from scratch and the coverage teams have to be better. The return game will turn out to be the strength.
Unit Rating: 6
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2012 Texas Defense |
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