Preview 2008 - Defense
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What you need to know:
Last year's defense was supposed to
be more aggressive and provide more pressure. Enter new
defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who'll show what the real
meaning of the blitz is. In one of the big upsets of the
off-season, Muschamp wasn't snapped up for a big head coaching
job, but he could be one-and-done at Texas considering he's one
of the hottest young coaches around. He has a tremendously
athletic back seven to work with, and he's going to get them
moving and with a far nastier attitude. The front four could be
even better despite losing Frank Okam and Derek Lokey inside.
While backup tackle is a concern, Roy Miler and Lamarr Houston
will form a great run stuffing tandem, while the end combination
of Brian Orakpo and former RB Henry Melton should hang out in
Tackles: Ryan Palmer,
Brian Orakpo, 5.5
Interceptions: Deon Beasley, 3
Star of the defense: Senior DT Roy Miller
Player who has to step up and become a star: Redshirt
freshman FS Earl Thomas
Unsung star on the rise: Senior DE Henry Melton
Best pro prospect: Miller
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Miller, 2) DE Brian
Orakpo, 3) DT Lamarr Houston
Strength of the defense: Line, Will Muschamp
Weakness of the defense:
Proven pass defense, veteran safeties
Projected Starters: A rock against the run last season, the line
has to replace second-team All-Big 12 performers Frank Okam and Derek
Lokey at tackle. Things will be fine as 6-2, 300-pound senior Roy
Miller and 6-2, 275-pound junior Lamarr Houston will be
Houston, who earned honorable mention All-Big 12 notice, made 66
tackles, 4.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss at end last season, moving
sides halfway through the season, but with his excellent combination of
size, quickness and pass rushing ability, he should be a terror on the
inside. He's not your normal end moving inside.
Miller is one of the team's strongest players and is an excellent run
stuffer making 40 tackles with a sack and eight tackles for loss. While
he's not asked to be much of an interior pass rusher, he is one with the
quickness to be able to collapse the pocket. He earned honorable mention
All-Big 12 honors, but he could be one of the league's most productive
tackles now that he'll be a full-time starter.
Back on the outside is pass rushing dynamo Brian Orakpo. The 6-4,
260-pound senior missed time with a knee injury but still finished the
year with 37 tackles, 5.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss. Tremendously
quick off the ball and with excellent closing speed, he'll be the one
the offenses have to design their blocking schemes to stop.
With Orakpo on one side taking all the attention, 6-3, 265-pound senior
Henry Melton could be the breakout star of the defense. A washout
as a big, bruising running back, even though he ran for 16 touchdowns in
his first two seasons, he's on the verge of being special on the end. He
saw a little bit of time on defense last season, but he mostly played on
special teams finishing with 11 tackles and a tackle for loss. This
off-season he looked and played like a real, live end with the
all-around ability to put up big stats.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 260-pound sophomore
Eddie Jones has the potential to be a star, but he has get a
little bit of good luck getting healthy. He had problems with a shoulder
injury last season and tried to heal up this spring, and now he's
expected to bee a major-league all-around player behind Orakpo after
making 28 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss. He has all the
tools to be special.
6-4, 265-pound senior Aaron Lewis has had health issues with a
collarbone problem and an injured elbow, but he needs to heal up and get
on the field to be a key backup behind Melton. A starter for the first
half of last year, he made 26 tackles, two sacks and eight tackles for
loss as a high-motor pass rusher who has gotten better by leaps and
bounds over the past few seasons.
The pressure is on star recruit Jarvis Humphrey, a 6-2, 290-pound
ready-made tackle to step in and provide instant depth. Next-level
strong even at his young age, he's the type of player defenses anchor
their front sevens around. He'll start out behind Houston bringing more
size to the mix.
Watch Out For ... Melton. Problems with a DUI and
figuring out what he was doing made for a non-descript 2007 season on
the field. Now it seems like he's got it.
Strength: Talent across the front. Even with the
losses, Miller and Houston are talented tackles who'll be major players
now that they'll get more work. Orapko, if healthy, should be a steady
pass rusher, while Melton has the potential to be great.
Weakness: Backup tackle. There's no appreciable
experience whatsoever behind Miller and Houston. It would've been nice
if Houston could stay on the end, or at least have the option to do it,
but the team needs veteran talents on the inside.
Outlook: The nation's sixth-best run defense won't
be better without Okam and Lokey, but there should be more of a pass
rush with Muschamp's style of defense and with Melton appearing to be
ready to shine on the other side of Orakpo. If the depth comes through
quickly, this will be a fantastic front four.
Projected Starters: With Robert Killebrew gone from the
strongside, 6-4, 239-pound junior Sergio Kindle will take over
bringing even more athleticism to the position. While he has problems
with a knee injury, he's a tremendous talent who stepped in as a true
freshman and did well despite having an ankle injury, and last year he
stepped up and made 32 tackles
in just eight games.
He has the talent to be special, he was the USA Today Player of the Year
back in 2005, and with his size and sprinter's speed, he could be great
if he can finally stay healthy.
Going back to his starting spot in the middle is 5-11, 238-pound senior
Rashad Bobino after finishing fourth on the team with 69 tackles
and four tackles for loss. A big-time hitter with the quickness to play
on the outside and the toughness to star inside, he should go ballistic
in the more aggressive defensive scheme. He should be in the backfield
early and often now that he'll be turned loose.
6-2, 230-pound junior Roddrick
Muckelroy is a huge tackler on the weakside with good experience and
production in a backup role making 67 tackles with 2.5 sacks and six
tackles for loss. He got the start in the Holiday Bowl, and now he
should shine with more responsibility and more playing time in place of
honorable mention All-Big 12 performer Scott Derry. He's big,
tremendously fast, and extremely talented.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Jared Norton
is an athletic, experienced veteran who made 53 tackles in the rotation
with two sacks and four tackles for loss. Mostly a reserve so far, he
stepped into the middle in the Holiday Bowl and proved he could handle
the work. While the 6-3, 242-pounder is trying to get over a thumb
injury, when everything is right he should be able to push for starting
time on the strongside behind Kindle.
Redshirt freshman Keenan Robinson was a star recruit two years
ago and is just about ready to make an impact on the weakside. The 6-3,
220-pounder is a bit smaller than Muckelroy but is a better athlete with
every bit the upside. He was used as a big wide receiver in high school
as well as a defensive end, and he was a star triple jumper.
6-3, 233-pound sophomore Dustin Earnest earned Academic All-Big
12 honors off the field, but he only made five tackles on it. He'll be
asked to be a steady backup behind Bobino in the middle, but he'll make
the most noise on the special teams.
Watch Out For ... the group to be even more
productive. Even with only one starter returning, the emergence of
Muckelroy and Kindle on the outside makes the unit more athletic and
Strength: Athleticism. No one should be able to
outrun this group. When defensive coordinator Will Muschamp releases the
hounds, the corps should look tremendous. There are too many great
athletes and too much speed to not do far, far more to wreak havoc.
Weakness: Pass defense. This has been an issue for
the past few seasons. The secondary was left on its own, the the Texas
linebackers haven't done nearly enough to help the cause. This year's
group is far better equipped to make more of a difference.
Outlook: The linebacking corps was good against
the run, but overall was a disappointment considering all the talent and
depth. This year, the talent level is still there, but the veteran depth
isn't with questions in the middle and weakside if injuries hit.
However, this is a very fast, very athletic, very promising group that
should put up big numbers across the board.
Projected Starters: The secondary had to replaced three key
NFL-caliber starters last year, and was actually better at times. This
year's group also has to replace three starters, but the losses aren't
nearly as big. The one returning starter, senior Ryan Palmer, is
a good one. 5-10 and 190 pounds with track star speed (in high school, he
was the fourth fastest sprinter in Texas), he has the tools, and he has the tackling ability
finishing second on the team with 80 tackles to go along with six
tackles for loss and 14 broken up passes. However, he didn't pick off a
pass. Now that he should get more help from the pass rush and the
linebackers, he should be even better.
Taking over on the other side, in place of third-leading tackler Brandon
Foster, who also led the team with five picks. will be 5-10, 175-pound
junior Deon Beasley, a promising spot starter who made 37 tackles
and three interceptions with nine broken up passes. Extremely fast,
strong for his size, and with the potential to be a major ball-hawker,
he has to prove he can be consistent with the bigger role.
The one big loss is at free safety where all-star Marcus Griffin, the
team's leading tackler, is gone. 5-10, 190-pound redshirt freshman
Earl Thomas is more of a cornerback than a true safety, and that's
where he might end up depending on how the secondary pecking order
shakes out. Very smart and very quick and athletic, he'll be used in a
variety of ways.
Also looking to make an impact is 6-1, 195-pound redshirt freshman
Ben Wells, who'll be fighting for the job with Ishie Osuegwu, but he
could surprise and win the strong safety job outright this fall. A good
practice player, he has enough speed and range to be considered for a
corner spot, but has the size and strength to be one to potentially be
one of the team's leading tacklers at safety.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Ishie Oduegwu
will likely take one of the starting safety jobs, but the question
will be where, and when. Hurting this spring with a shoulder injury, the
5-10, 210-pounder got passed by for the starting strong safety job, even
though he started three games late in the year and finished with 28
tackles. He has great speed and is a good hitter, but he has been
average in pass coverage.
Sophomore Chykie Brown will find
playing time somewhere. At 6-1 and 185 pounds, he's either going to be a
big corner or a rangy free safety. A smart, tough athlete with
tremendous potential, he made 11 tackles in a reserve role even though
he was in the hunt for a corner spot early on.
6-1, 178-pound Curtis Brown is a tall corner option who'll battle
with Palmer for a spot. He has next-level speed and athleticism and
showed it of at times last year making 14 tackles with a broken up pass
as a key reserve and a special teamer.
Watch Out For ... the redshirt freshmen. Will the
team really work around Thomas and Wells at safety for the next four
years? Probably not considering star safety prospect Nolan Brewster
will need a spot somewhere at some point, but it might be trial by
fire for these two early on.
Strength: Speed and quickness. Texas always has
speedy players and lightning quick defensive backs who can play just
about anywhere, and this year is the case more than ever. The secondary
is full of interchangeable parts for the coaching staff to play around
with. The best four defensive backs will be on the field.
Weakness: Size. Of course, experience will be a
big issue, but early on, size might be a problem. This is a smallish
group with most of the key players reaching to get to 5-10 and around
Outlook: After two abysmal years, the secondary
went from having a ton of NFL talent that didn't produce, to having
marginal talent that didn't produce, to having a group of unknown
talents trying to get their feet wet. On the plus side, Will Muschamp's
scheme should be more defensive-back friendly, to a point, as he'll get
the linebackers more involved, but with so much blitzing, the DBs will
have to make some big plays on their own. Last year the three top
tacklers were defensive backs. There will be huge problems if that
Projected Starters: Senior Ryan Bailey went from a nice,
steady prospect to a major-league placekicker with NFL potential nailing
18 of 22 field goals including an impressive eight of 10 from beyond 40
yards. He missed two short-range shots, but he showed off the consistent
big leg that'll allow the coaching staff to count on him anytime the
offense gets around the 35 and in.
Junior Trevor Gerland has to take over the full-time duties after
averaging 37.7 yards per kick on 15 tries. He needs to replace Justin
Moore, who averaged a solid 41.1 yards per kick with 12 put inside the
20. Not your average kicker, he finished second to Jamaal Charles in the
2005 Texas High School Track and Field Championships in the 110-meter
WR Quan Cosby is a fantastic kickoff returner averaging 24.2
yards per try with a 91-yard touchdown against Texas A&M. He was also a
solid punt returner averaging 9.4 yards per try, but he'll likely
relinquish the duties to focus more on being a top receiver.
Watch Out For ... Bailey to start receiving more
attention. He he starts hitting a few more bombs, he nailed one kick
from behind 50 last year, he'll get into the All-American discussion.
Strength: Bailey, and just about everything else.
There wasn't one glaring weak spot on the solid, but wholly
unspectacular special teams. If
Weakness: Gerland. He has to prove he can handle
the full-time punting job and he has to show he can air it out. He
should be fine, but it would be nice if he could show a bit more blast
than Moore did.
Outlook: Once again, Texas should have one of the
best all-around special teams units in the country. Bailey is a weapon,
the coverage teams rarely get beaten, unless they're dealing with Jordy
Nelson and Kansas State, and the punting should be fine. Texas won't
lose many special teams battles.