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2009 Texas Preview - Defense
Texas LB Sergio Kindle
Texas LB Sergio Kindle
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 31, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Texas Longhorn Defense

Texas Longhorns

Preview 2009 - Defense


- 2009 CFN Texas Preview | 2009 Texas Offense
- 2009 Texas Defense | 2009 Texas Depth Chart
- 2008 Texas Preview | 2007 Texas Preview | 2006 Texas Preview
 

What you need to know: With defensive coordinator Will Muschamp sticking around and secured for the future, signed up to take over for Mack Brown as the head coach in the succession plan, the defense should continue to be fantastic after finishing third in the nation against the run, first in sacks, and fifth in scoring D. However, there are a few issues. The defensive tackles are a bit questionable, even with Lamarr Houston moving to the nose, and the secondary doesn’t make enough big plays. However, the production will be there thanks to the aggressive scheme, a great pass rush, and tremendous athleticism and speed all across the board. The lighter schedule will help the overall stats, and it’ll give the defense time to fill in the holes and figure out the right fits for the right spots. Is Sergio Kindle really going to take over for Brian Orakpo on the end, or is he going to spend most of his time back at linebacker? Who will emerge as the starters at corner in a four-man race for two positions? Most teams could only dream about having the “problems” Texas is facing.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Roddrick Muckelroy, 112
Sacks: Sergio Kindle, 10
Interceptions: Earl Thomas, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DE/LB Sergio Kindle
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DT Kheeston Randall
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Sam Acho
Best pro prospect: Kindle
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Kindle, 2) DT Lamarr Houston, 3) LB Roddrick Muckelroy
Strength of the defense: Overall speed and athleticism, Will Muschamp
Weakness of the defense: Defensive tackle, interceptions

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
:
Who’s going to get the honor of trying to replace pass rushing terror Brian Orakpo? Senior Sergio Kindle, a linebacker by trade, will move into a pass rushing Buck role after dominating last season on the strongside. The 6-4, 255-pound All-America candidate will still see time at linebacker, and he’ll likely go back and forth between the two roles, and when he’s on the line, he’ll have one job and one job only: kill the quarterback. He made 50 tackles and nine sacks last year, with 13 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries, and he showed he could handle the task up front starting two games late last year when Orakpo went down. He has just enough size to hold up and devastating closing speed when he gets into the backfield.

Looking to step up at the other end position is Eddie Jones, a 6-3, 255-pound talent who hasn’t had any luck staying healthy. If he’s right, and that’s not a given considering he won’t be back until this fall after undergoing ankle surgery, he should be a big-time pass rusher from the Power end. He made 36 tackles and 2.5 sacks with seven tackles for loss, and he has the big-time tools to do a lot more. Again, though, he has to get healthy.

Returning at tackle is Lamarr Houston after beefing up this off-season. The 6-2, 290-pound senior will move over to nose tackle to replace Roy Miller after making 20 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss. Even though he’s very quick and very tough, his production dipped after making a permanent move to the inside after playing on the end. Part of the problem was that he was figuring out the position, and part of the problem was a foot injury that kept him at less than 100%.

The biggest issue up front is at the second tackle spot. Sophomore Kheeston Randall is a 6-5, 288-pound athlete who saw a little bit of action as a true freshman making two tackles. While he’s hardly a space-eater, he’s expected to grow into a top run stopper with the lateral quickness to quickly plug up holes.

Projected Top Reserves: Until Eddie Jones is back and healthy, and certain to be in a rotation considered Jones’s history of getting hurt, Sam Acho will play a big role as he pushes for the starting defensive end job on the other side of Sergio Kindle. Acho is a 6-3, 258-pound pass rusher who’s stronger than his size, but he has to produce. After a strong freshman season when he looked like he might be the next big thing, he had a good 26-rackle season with 4.5 sacks and six tackles for loss. He could be used from time to time at the rush end with Kindle moves to linebacker.

Also looking to make a bigger splash is redshirt freshman Dravannti Johnson, a former linebacker who’s a bit undersized at 6-2 and 232 pounds but has tremendous speed. He was a high school sprinter and will be used only as a pass rushing specialist.

Looking to beef up the inside of the line is Ben Alexander, a 6-0, 310-pound bowling ball who came up with four tackles and a tackle for loss last season. He’ll help ease the loss of Roy Miller on the nose, and while he’s not expected to come up with many plays behind the line, he’ll eat up space. Hardly a special talent, it’ll be his job to hold up on the inside and not get shoved around.

The real excitement is around star recruit Alex Okafor, one of the nation’s most sought-after prep players. An elite talent, the 6-4, 240-pound speed rusher is expected to get his feet wet early on in the rotation at the Buck end spot.
 
Watch Out For ... The line to not miss Brian Orakpo all that much. Of course it hurts to lose a superstar All-American who cranked out 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss, but Sergio Kindle was more than fine in Orakpo’s place late last year. There are enough other options, and enough quickness across the front, to get into the backfield on a regular basis.
Strength: Stopping the run. The Longhorns led the Big 12 and were third in the nation against the run. While that’s a bit misleading since there weren’t many running teams on the slate, and Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Ohio State all ran for over 200 yards, this was still a good group. There isn’t a lot of big beef up front this year, but everyone can move.
Weakness: Tackle. Lamarr Houston is a natural tackle who’ll be asked to be an anchor on the nose. While he should be fine, that’s not where his strongest talents are. It’ll be a rotation to find the right second tackle with a slew of prospects all getting their turn. The production will inevitably be there, but it might take a few games to get settled.
Outlook: It’ll be an interesting front four that has to fill in some ten-mile wide holes. If Sergio Kindle stays up front on the end, the pass rushing production won’t drop off a lick after the Longhorns led the nation last year in sacks. Now the tackles have to come through and clog up the run without Roy Miller to count on anymore. The stats will be better than the line, mainly because everyone will be throwing the ball, making the run stats look strong, but it’ll still be an active and effective line.
Rating: 8

Linebackers

Projected Starters
:
The strongside job is Sergio Kindle’s whenever he’s not hanging out in opposing backfield from one of the defensive end spots, but when he’s up front it’ll be sophomore Keenan Robinson trying to come up with Kindle’s same level of production. The 6-3, 225-pound Robinson made 22 tackles and a sack in a limited role on the defense and as a special teamer, but he should shine with more responsibility. A special athlete who was a star high school triple jumper, he can move sideline-to-sideline. Now he has to prove he can hold up against the run on a regular basis.

Back in the middle is Jared Norton after getting five starts last year and coming up with 49 tackles, 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss. He’s an athletic, experienced veteran with 6-3, 237-pound size and good range. He’s been a solid reserve in the past, and tough enough to play through a few injuries, but he didn’t take his game to another level last year and now he’ll have to turn it loose.

Returning to his spot on the weakside is last year’s leading tackler, Roddrick Muckelroy, who came up with 106 stops and four tackles for loss. He was everywhere last season with more solo stops than the team’s second leading tackler had total tackles. At 6-2 and 235 pounds, he has the size to play any of the three linebacking positions, but he has too much speed and athleticism to not be in space on the weakside. The second-team All-Big 12 performer should be in for an even bigger season.
 
Projected Top Reserves: Pushing for time in the middle will be 6-3, 233-pound junior Dustin Earnest, a smart player who has earned Academic All-Big 12 honors off the field and now has to make his mark on it. He made 14 tackles as a reserve last season and will play on special teams, too. He won’t knock Jared Norton out of a starting job, but he’ll play more.

6-2, 235-pound sophomore Emmanuel Acho, the brother of defensive end, Sam Acho, will work behind Muckelroy on the weakside. A special teamer as a true freshman, Acho made 11 tackles and came up with a forced fumble against Baylor despite missing part of the year with a knee injury. He was a high school track star who brings big-time athleticism to the position. He’ll be a star in place of Muckelroy next year.

True freshman Tariq Allen got to school early and is expected to be a part of the strongside linebacking mix. The 6-2, 235-pounder has a body ready to see time right away, but the big hitting playmaker will be brought along slowly. He could eventually be used in a variety of ways including as a pass rusher.
 
Watch Out For ... a decent shuffling of players. Depending on where Sergio Kindle plays, this will either be a devastating linebacking corps full of tremendous athletes and a starting trio as good as any in the Big 12, or it’ll be a good group with several options. Roddrick Muckelroy is a sure thing on the weakside, and after him there will be a good rotation of players.
Strength: Athleticism. No one should be able to outrun this group. This is a 230ish pound-per-man track team playing linebacker. Everyone can move, everyone can get into the backfield, and everyone can cover a lot of ground. There might not be a tone-setting big man to work around, but everyone will pitch in.
Weakness: Sure-thing backups. If Kindle is on the defensive line, the reserves will form a promising but untested group that could be the key to the Texas season. Tariq Allen is only a freshman, while Emmanuel Acho and Dustin Earnest have to show early on that they can be Big 12 playmakers. Jared Norton and Keenan Robinson aren’t stars yet.
Outlook: On sheer athleticism, the Longhorn linebacking corps will be fantastic against the run. The pass coverage is a bit suspect, but it’s made up for by an aggressive scheme and the ability to get into the backfield on a regular basis. Assuming Sergio Kindle will spend most of his time on the end, this is a strong group of prospects that come up with a productive season. Can they find a few special players who can be the type of Kindle-like difference makers to help out Roddrick Muckelroy? It’s Texas, so someone will emerge as the season goes on.
Rating: 8

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
:
There’s only one loss in the secondary, corner Ryan Palmer, but that doesn’t mean things are necessarily settled. There will be a battle for the two cornerback spots with Deon Beasley looking to stay at the job he started at late in the season. The 5-10, 180-pound senior has tremendous speed, is strong for his size, and wasn’t a bad ball-hawker with six broken up passes to go along with 38 tackles and three tackles for loss. Even with his experience and production, he hasn’t played up to his talent level; a lot more is expected out of him.

The other corner spot will be an ongoing fight with junior Chykie Brown looking to take back the starting job he lost midway through last year thanks to an ankle injury. The 6-1, 187-pounder made 28 tackles and broke up nine passes. The team’s best cover-corner, he’ll be a key player in the rotation and in nickel and dime packages. He’s a smart, tough, athlete with the upside to keep growing into a top playmaker,but he needs to be more consistent.

The safety jobs are more settled, especially sophomore Earl Thomas, who finished second on the team with 63 tackles with two interceptions and 15 broken up passes. At 5-10 and 197 pounds, he plays like a big cornerback more than a true safety, but he makes things happen all over the field with good instincts and tremendous quickness. In the rotation, he’ll also be used as the team’s main nickel back.

Sophomore Blake Gideon wasn’t considered much of a prospect going into last year, but he came through with a nice season finishing third on the team with 59 tackles. Known mostly for the tough drop of a sure interception that would’ve stopped Texas Tech’s final drive, he showed good production all season long on his way to honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, he has good size and is a nice hitter, but he’ll have to fight to keep his job all year long.

Projected Top Reserves: Looking to battle for the right cornerback job is 6-1, 185-pound junior Curtis Brown, a spot starter who made 26 tackles with nine broken up passes. He has next-level speed and athleticism but hasn’t done enough with his skills. With his size, he doesn’t get pushed around by bigger receivers, and he can stay with the smaller, quicker ones.

Certain to be in the mix for one of the corner jobs all season long is sophomore Aaron Williams, a 6-1, 189-pound top prospect who made 16 tackles and broke up three passes. If nothing else, he’ll work as a nickel back where he should be great in space and should do more against the run.

Pushing Blake Gideon will be sophomore Christian Scott, a 6-1, 209-pound high-riser who made 13 tackles and broke up three passes in a limited role. The former high school track star has phenomenal speed and can jump out of the stadium, and he’ll be all over the field whenever he’s in the lineup. He’ll also see time on special teams.
 
Watch Out For ... Marcus Davis. A secondary that gives up yards like this one does is always looking for new blood, and Davis, a true freshman, could provide it. He’s a big-time corner prospect who was an elite track star. He might be the team’s best athlete.
Strength: Speed and quickness. This group can flat-out fly. It’s almost like the Longhorns have clones who can all do just about the same things. They’re all tall, tough, and very, very quick and athletic. If nothing else, they can all get to the ball, but they just have to do more of it when it’s in the air.
Weakness: Really big plays. While the numbers might not show it, the pass defense really did improve considering it was bombs away every week in the Big 12. However, the secondary struggled to make the game-changing plays despite enjoying a big-time pass rush that pressured quarterback after quarterback. There were only six interceptions, and three of them came from Ryan Palmer, the one lost starter in the secondary.
Outlook: The pass defense gave up a ton of yards, but that was mostly because teams had to keep throwing to try to keep up in shootouts. Compared to how poor the secondary played for a few years, last season was a lot better. The key will be to start making more big plays to take advantage of the aggressive front seven, and with more experience, plenty of athleticism, and loads of talent, this group should be able to do more.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters
:
Senior Hunter Lawrence took over the placekicking job hitting 10-of-12 field goals on the way to second-team All-Big 12 honors. He has an excellent midrange leg hitting 4-of-5 shots from 40 yards and beyond.

The punting game was among the best in the country thanks to the combination of junior John Gold and sophomore Justin Tucker. Gold was more of a blaster, hanging it up for six fair catches and averaging 45 yards per kick with seven put inside the 20. Tucker is a bit more of a specialist averaging 45.2 yards per kick and putting eight inside the 20. Tucker handled the kickoff duties and took over more of the punting duties late in the year, but Gold will be the main man in a pinch.

WR Jordan Shipley is expected to handle more of the kickoff return duties in place of Quan Cosby, who averaged 20.6 yards per return. Shipley averaged 26.3 yards per return with a touchdown against Oklahoma. Cosby and Shipley combined on the punt rseturn duties with Shipley having the better year averaging 10.7 yards per return with a score against Texas Tech.
 
Watch Out For ... Jordan Shipley to be fantastic with more work in the return game. Quan Cosby was solid, and was certainly dangerous a few years ago, but Shipley finds ways to make things happen.
Strength: The punting game. John Gold and Justin Tucker did a great job, but the coverage teams also did a great job. Finishing third in the nation in net punting wasn’t a fluke. 
Weakness: Punt returns. Shipley did a good job when he got his chances, but the overall pop to the punt return game wasn’t always there. This wasn’t a big issue, but it could be better.
Outlook: Somewhat quietly, Texas has been among the best in the nation in special teams over the last few seasons. Everything works, and with most of the key components back, it’ll be a shock if this isn’t one of the team’s strengths. The kicking game is solid, the coverage teams are great, and the return game is more than just serviceable.
Rating: 8.5