2007 Texas Preview - Defense

Posted Jun 6, 2007

Preview 2007 Texas Longhorn Defense Preview


Texas Longhorns

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Texas Preview | 2007 Texas Offense Preview 
2007 Texas Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Texas Preview 

What you need to know: Duane Akina goes from co-defensive coordinator to the head man in charge, and there will be changes. Last year's defense was all about stopping the run, and the talented secondary got torched. This year's D will focus on doing everything, with an eye towards being more aggressive and generating more pressure. The strength is at tackle and in the linebacking corps, with NFL caliber talent that should keep the Longhorns among the nation's leaders against the run. The ends will be fine, in time, and they'll get to pin their ears back and go to the quarterback. All the pressure should help out a secondary in transition, with only one starter returning from a group that loses Thorpe Award winner Aaron Ross and All-American Michael Griffin.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Marcus Griffin, 90
Sacks: Brian Orakpo, 4.5
Interceptions: Marcus Griffin, Ryan Palmer, 1

Star of the defense: Senior DT Frank Okam
Player that has to step up and become a star: CBs Deon Beasley, Chykie Brown, Brandon Foster and Ryan Palmer
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Roddrick Muckelroy
Best pro prospect: Okam
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Okam, 2)
FS Marcus Griffin, 3) LB Rashad Bobino
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, defensive tackle
Weakness of the defense:

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
While the ends might be a bit of a question mark, the tackles, when combined with junior Roy Miller, will be among the best in the nation. Senior Derek Lokey and Frank Okam are strong veterans who don't get pushed around.

With 26 career starts, 37 appearances, and 108 tackles, Okam is the seasoned vet and the leader on the line. He had a chance to leave early for the NFL draft, and would've been a top 50 pick, but the 6-5, 320-pounder is back and should be in the hunt for All-America honors. Not just a rock against the run, he's great at getting into the backfield.

The 6-2, 280-pound Lokey is a smart, tough player who came up with 24 tackles on the nose before getting knocked out for the year with a broken leg. A versatile player over the course of his career, getting a few carries as a goal line back, he has a great combination of strength and desire with a non-stop motor. He might not be the team's most talented lineman, but he makes things happen.

Gone are Tim Crowder and Brian Robison on the ends, and they won't easily be replaced. It'll take a rotation to fill the void, with juniors Brian Orakpo and Aaron Lewis the most likely candidates to start. Orakpo is a great pass rusher, generating 4.5 sacks and 26 tackles in a limited role behind Crowder, he has received a little bit of all-star acclaim in his career despite the lack of playing time. It's his job for the taking at the Quick end, but at 6-4 and 248 pounds, he might have problems holding up full-time against the run.

Lewis has been a part of the rotation since day one, and had a nice year as a backup and spot starter for Robinson making 21 tackles and three sacks with 11 quarterback pressures. While not the pass rusher Orakpo is, he's extremely fast off the ball for his size and is great at knocking down passes.

Projected Top Reserves: Okam and Lokey form a great duo, but those two and 6-2, 295-pound junior Roy Miller, who's a strong run stopper and a nice presence in the backfield making 39 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and six tackles for loss starting six times and seeing action in every game, make for a brick wall in the middle. He could step in and start at either spot.

Coming up with a good end rotation on the ends will be vital, meaning 265-pound sophomore Lamarr Houston will have to grow into a role at the Power defensive end, either as a starter or a backup to Lewis. He had a nice first year making 14 tackles and a sack as a true freshman. With an excellent combination of size and quickness, he should grow into a big-time pass rusher.

The backups at the other end spot are intriguing, to say the least. Behind Orakpo will be a combination of junior Henry Melton, the 268-pound former running back who thumped his way to 625 yards and 16 touchdowns over the last two years, and redshirt freshman Eddie Jones, a next-level, 260-pound prospect who just needs a little time and seasoning. First, Melton has to get out of trouble after being arrested and charged wit a DWI.
Watch Out For ... Orakpo to become the team's newest pass rushing star. Great in a reserve role last year, he should explode out of the shadow of Brian Robison.
Strength: Tackles. Okam, Miller and Lokey might not get a ton of national press, but these three form the nucleus for one of the nation's best run defenses.
Weakness: Backup end. In time, there will be good production from the reserves, but it might take a little while before Jones, Melton and Houston all start to shine.
Outlook: It's not all doom and gloom after losing 16 sacks and 96 tackles from Robison and Crowder. The tackles will make up for any problems on the outside early on, and eventually, there will be an excellent rotation of active defenders at the end. The line will hardly be a weakness.
Rating: 8.5


Projected Starters
The linebacking corps is loaded with all three starters returning and a host of talented players waiting in the wings. The leading returning tackler is junior Rashad Babino in the middle. While he's an undersized 5-11 and 228 pounds, he's a good hitter who has 26 career starts on both the outside and the middle, making 127 tackles and 20 tackles for loss. He plays much bigger than his size and has sideline-to-sideline range.

Back on the strongside will be senior Robert Killebrew, a longtime veteran with 22 starts who had the tough task of filling in for Derrick Johnson two years ago, and has come though fine with 122 career tackles. He regressed a bit, having to play in more of a rotation last year, making just 40 tackles with no sacks and four tackles for loss coming off a dominant sophomore season. A good pass rusher, he has the speed to also play on the weakside if needed.

Starting on the weakside will be 6-3, 230-pound senior Scott Derry, who's coming off a good, unheralded 70-tackle season with nine tackles for loss after missing all of 2005 with an ankle injury. While not great in pass coverage, he's not a liability, and he's more physical than most weakside linebackers.

Projected Top Reserves: On the rise is sophomore Sergio Kindle, a tremendous talent who stepped in as a true freshman and made 21 tackles after missing the first few games with an ankle injury and was never quite right all year. He's 6-4, 239 pounds, and has sprinter's speed. At Woodrow Wilson High in Dallas, he ran for 5,632 yards and 86 touchdowns and made 411 tackles. He'll push hard for the starting job on the strongside.

Combining with Derry on the weakside is 6-2, 230-pound sophomore Roddrick Muckelroy, who started off with ten tackles, a sack and three tackles for loss in three games before suffering a ruptured tendon in his finger. He'll be the X factor in the corps with the potential to be an all-star, both in the conference and on a national scale, before his career is over. He's big, tremendously fast, and extremely talented.

While Kindle and Muckelroy might end up starting, 6-3, 236-pound sophomore Jared Norton is strictly a backup in the middle behind Bobino. He brings more size to the inside and showed he could handle himself well as a true freshman with 15 tackles. Mostly a special teamer, he'll play a bigger role on defense.
Watch Out For ... Kindle and Muckelroy to take over starting spots sooner than later. Killebrew has been around for so long that he'll be hard to knock out, and Derry is a rock-solid defender, but the backups are more talented.
Strength: Talent. Taking Norton out of the equation, for now, the other five linebackers form a deep, experienced, fast group full of NFL prospects. The secondary had the million dollar talent last year, now it's the linebacking corps.
Weakness: Pass defense. Last year's group only had to focus on the run and did nothing to help out the passing game. Now it'll have to be aggressive, stop the run, and do more to stop the pass.
Outlook: The receiving corps might be the strength of the offense, but the linebackers are the strength of the team. The possible second teamers, whoever they might become, will all get big looks in NFL camps and could start almost anywhere else in the Big 12. This group will dominate at times in the more aggressive defensive system. an the coaching staff find the right rotation? Sure, it's complaining about the Porsche for not having enough cup holders, but it could be a problem to develop the right chemistry considering all the star defenders need time.
Rating: 10

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
Three top starters, Aaron Ross, Michael Griffin and Tarell Brown are gone leaving mile-wide holes in talent. The one returning starter is senior Marcus Griffin, who finished second on the team with 90 tackles with an interception and three broken up passes. While he's not the talent his brother Michael is, he's a good hitter who should do even more against the pass after moving from strong safety to free safety.

Stepping in at strong safety will most likely be 6-2, 200-pound senior Erick Jackson, but he'll have to fight for the job. A career reserve with 23 tackles, he doesn't have much in the way of upside, at least compared to the other options for the job, but he's been around long enough to know what he's doing and has some of the best speed in the secondary. He could also move to free safety if needed.

The starting corner jobs are up for grabs, but senior Brandon Foster appears to have taken hold of the spot on the left side after waiting in the wings for the last few years. A speedy reserve, he made 31 tackles over the last two seasons, but he's made his biggest impact on special teams.

On the other side will likely be sophomore Deon Beasley, who got a start against Baylor and finished the year with seven tackles. While he's not all that big at 5-10 and 170 pounds, he's strong for his size, tremendously fast, and has a world of upside. Now he has to prove he can be consistent in coverage.

Projected Top Reserves: Neck-and-neck with Beasley for the starting right corner job is redshirt freshman Chykie Brown, who at 6-1 and 180 pounds is a bigger option for the job. A smart, tough athlete with tremendous potential, all he needs is a little time and seasoning. He has the skills, but he'll give up a few big plays before he figures out what he's doing.

Pushing for the other corner job will be junior Ryan Palmer. A career reserve with 24 career tackles and an interception, he's been a top special teamer along with his minimal time in the secondary. He's a big bigger than Foster at 5-10 and 190 pounds, and he can fly.
In high school, he was the fourth fastest sprinter in Texas.

There's a battle for the strong safety job with sophomores Robert Joseph and Ishie Oduegwu pushing Jackson. Odeuegwu made seven tackles as a reserve, and if given time, will be a hitting machine. Joseph, who made 14 stops last year, brings even more pop as a blow-him-up type of defender.

The most interesting prospect is free safety Drew Kelson, a former linebacker who made 54 tackles over the last two years and now will push Griffin for time. He seems to have found a home after playing in the secondary, at running back, and at weakside linebacker. Being physical isn't an issue, and he has the speed. He just needs more seasoning.
Watch Out For ... a drastic improvement in the numbers. Last year's defense was all about stopping the run, and now the D will focus more on being balanced. There might be a talent drop-off from last year's secondary, but the overall stats will be better.
Strength: Speed. A lot of mistakes will be erased by sheer athleticism. Few receiving corps in the country have the wheels to blow by this group.
Weakness: Experience. Last year might not have been great, but you don't get better by losing Aaron Ross, Michael Griffin, and Tarell Brown. It'll be a work in progress to find the right mix of talents.
Outlook: The secondary would be a concern if last year's group wasn't so bad. It might have been full of NFL talent, but it stunk. It gave up way too many big plays, only helped the D pick off 13 passes, and got picked apart by just about anyone who could throw the forward pass. Yes, the scheme didn't help the situation, but a secondary with Thorpe Award winner and a top draft pick shouldn't need too much help. This year's secondary will struggle with its consistency, but it'll be helped out with more pressure generated from the front seven and more assistance from the linebackers.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Losing punter Greg Johnson and his 40.8-yard average and 22 kicks inside the 20 is a big blow. It'll be between sophomore Trevor Gerland and junior Justin Moore for the job. Gerland is a sprinter who happens to be a decent punting prospect. He doesn't have a huge leg, but he has a little bit of experience averaging 39.2 yards per kick and putting three of his six punts inside the 20. Junior Ryan Bailey will most likely take over the full-time placekicking duties after hitting all six of his chances including a 43-yarder against Iowa. He took over the job halfway through last season and should be steady inside the 40.
Watch Out For ... the overall kicking game to be just fine. Johnson will be missed as a punter, but Gerland will pin teams deep time and again. Bailey showed at the end of last year what he could do.
Strength: Return game. Quan Cosby is a major weapon averaging 25.7 yards per kickoff return and 32 yards on his two punt returns. The Longhorns were 19th in the nation in punt returns and 17th in kickoff returns, and should be close to that good again.
Weakness: Big legs. Gerland and Bailey might be consistent and accurate, but can they air it out? They haven't been tested yet on deep kicks.
Outlook: The coverage units and returners will be among the best in the country. As long as Gerland and Bailey are above-average, the special teams will be a strength.
Rating: 8


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