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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.