2010 Texas Preview – Defense
Texas CB Curtis Brown
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Texas Longhorn Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The Will Muschamp-led defense led the nation in run defense, finished third in total defense, and 12th in scoring D, and there won't be much of a drop-off. It might be a bit of a reach to finish second in the nation in sacks without Sergio Kindle, but there are more than enough good defensive end options, and speed at outside linebacker in Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho, to get into the backfield on a regular basis. The tackle situation is a wee bit iffy, for Texas, but only because there might need to be some shuffling done, and the backup middle linebacker situation is a bit of a question mark, but that's nitpicking. The secondary is loaded with NFL talent and might be the best in America (even without ball-hawking superstar Earl Thomas at safety), there's a slew of pro talent waiting in the wings from the latest recruiting class, and there's an elite coaching talent in Muschamp, who has gushed over the potential of this ultra-talented, ultra-athletic D.
Star of the defense: Senior DE Sam Acho
Tackles: Keenan Robinson, 74
Sacks: Sam Acho, 10
Interceptions: Blake Gideon, 6
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior LB Dustin Earnest
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Emmanuel Acho
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Aaron Williams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Acho, 2) LB Keenan Robinson, 3) LB Emmanuel Acho
Strength of the defense: Secondary, Pass Rush
Weakness of the defense: Middle Linebacker, Safety Coverage
Projected Starters: The Texas line needs a new star pass rusher to emerge to pick up the slack left by Sergio Kindle, and now it's up Sam Acho to be the main man. The 6-3, 260-pound senior isn't exactly like Kindle in style, he's tougher against the run and could be used as a smallish defensive tackle in a pinch, but he's a big play performer making ten sacks and 14 tackles for loss to go along with 63 stops. Stronger than his size, he doesn't get pushed around and he has a terrific burst into the backfield. Very smart and very productive, the Lott semifinalist and honorable mention All-Big 12 performer will get the spotlight as the next All-America candidate on the UT line.
Junior Kheeston Randall had a good season as a spot starter on the nose, but he only showed a glimpse of his immense potential. The 6-5, 295-pounder made 23 tackles with two sacks as an athletic defender on the inside, and now the expectations are sky-high to take another step forward in the progression. He's not a space-eater, but he moves well and does a nice job of holding up against the run while also having the burst to get into the backfield.
Is Calvin Howell ready to sit in the middle of the Texas defensive line for the next four years? The 6-4, 290-pound redshirt freshman will try to take over for Lamarr Houston, who dominated with 68 tackles and eight sacks, and he has the upside and the talent to eventually become the same sort of dominant force as long as he stays healthy. He was expected to be a big factor as a true freshman, but he broke his foot early on and missed the entire year.
Sophomore Alex Okafor will either start or he'll be a very, very key part of the defensive end rotation after making 22 tackles with two tackles for loss as a true freshman. The 6-4, 250-pound speedster was the star of star defensive recruits in last year's class and was expected to be a dangerous force right away, at least as a specialist, but he didn't register a sack and was good, but not phenomenal. This year he's expected to do more with a bigger role, and if nothing else he's expected to take a big step forward as a disruptive playmaker.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior Eddie Jones will likely be a starter, or at the very least No. 1A on the depth chart at both end spots. The 6-3, 260-pound veteran has the talent and has the athleticism, but he has had problems staying healthy. After undergoing ankle surgery, he came back to make five sacks and 23 tackles with 15 quarterback pressures looking almost as good as new. With 38 games of experience, and healthy, he'll be a bigger, more dangerous factor and not just a backup and special teamer.
If it's not Calvin Howell or Sam Acho at defensive tackle, it'll be junior Tyrell Higgins, a 6-3, 279-pound interior presence with the strength to play on the nose and the quickness to be a pass rusher. While he wasn't considered a top prospect like most UT linemen, he has just enough time in the system as a key practice player, and with five tackles last year, to potentially become a factor.
6-3, 300-pound Taylor Bible will get every shot to see time right away as a true freshman. The brash all-star, who was one of the several superstar prospects brought in by the latest haul, has ability to stuff the middle of the line. While he's not considered a sure-thing pass rusher and is more of an anchor for the nose, he's not glued to the floor; he has nice lateral quickness.
Other freshmen will see time on defense, but Jackson Jeffcoat will be the best of the bunch when all is said and done over the next few years. Only 6-5 and 235 pounds, he needs to hit the weights and bulk up, but eventually he's going to be a killer from the outside with a devastating first step to become an all-star, next-level pass rusher. On everyone's list of the top defensive line prospects in America, he was among the crown jewels in the phenomenal 2010 class.
Watch Out For … the end rotation. Will Acho see time inside to help boost the tackle rotation, or will he be more needed to be another Brian Orakpo/Sergio Kindle on the outside? Will it be Okafor or Jones getting the start? It doesn't really matter; the pass rushing production will come no matter who's on the field.
Strength: Run defense. Texas finished third in the nation against the run in 2008, and was even better last season leading the nation allowing 72.4 yards per game. While the stats aren't likely to be quite as good without Sergio Kindle and Lamarr Houston, the line is still loaded with excellent young players ready to shine, and a great rotation certain to keep everyone fresh. However …
Weakness: Teams that can actually run. If you lead the nation in run defense you're doing something right not matter what. However, the 2008 team didn't face too many teams that could run, but gave up 200 yards or more against the teams that could (Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Ohio State). Last year, the Longhorns didn't face anyone with a steady ground game, until November, and Texas A&M ran for 190 yards. When the D needed to come up big to make up for the loss of Colt McCoy in the BCS Championship, it had problems with Alabama running for 205 yards and four touchdowns.
Outlook: With losses to graduation and a transfer (Derek Johnson), there will be some concerns about the tackle rotation, but the Longhorns need a little time to get the right rotation going. If all goes well, Acho plays on the outside and doesn't have to do much at tackle, while Jones and Okafor combine to form a terror of a pass rushing tandem. The line might not be quite the killer it has been over the past few years, but this is Texas; it'll finish in the top ten in the nation in run defense and should crank out sacks by the truckload.
Unit Rating: 8
Projected Starters: When Sergio Kindle ended up spending all of last year on the defensive front, junior Keenan Robinson ended up starting every game on the strongside and came up with a fantastic year finishing third on the team with 74 tackles (with ten against Nebraska in the Big 12 title game) and five tackles for loss earning honorable mention All-Big 12 accolades. While he's not a terror of a pass rusher, the 6-2, 232-pound veteran has the athleticism to get into the backfield and be all over the field after making just 1.5 sacks last season. A special athlete, he was a star high school triple jumper and can move sideline to sideline.
Roddrick Muckelroy ended up starting every game but one in the middle making a team-leading 102 stops. Now that Muckelroy's a Cincinnati Bengal, senior Dustin Earnest will finally get his chance at the job after making 26 tackles with a sack including three in his one start against Baylor. He's an Academic All-Big 12 performer and has been a nice backup and a special teamer, but at 6-2 and 229 pounds he'll have to prove he can hold up and be physical to last the entire year.
6-2, 235-pound junior Emmanuel Acho is on the verge of stardom. He came up with a nice year making 49 tackles with two sacks and ten tackles for loss with an interception, and now he'll go from being a spot starter and key backup to a dangerous all-around force at either outside position, but he'll most likely start the season on the weakside. Not just great against the run and not just a speedy pass rusher, he's also great in pass coverage with the smarts to sniff out plays and the track star quickness to keep up. At 6-2 and 235 pounds he has good size and he's tough having fought through a knee injury earlier in his career.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 246-pound senior Jared Norton will get a long look at the middle linebacker gig … maybe. There are a few great options for the middle position, and Norton is hardly a sure thing after missing almost all of last year with a shoulder injury. If he's right, he'll be one of the team's leading tacklers with 6-3, 246-pound size and excellent athleticism making 49 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 2008. He's tough, and if he's even close to being able to go, he will.
Depending on which service you go by, several players could vie for the honor of being the best prospect in the phenomenal 2010 UT recruiting class, but one thing is clear; getting Jordan Hicks was a major coup. The 6-2, 220-pounder from Ohio got away from Ohio State and was a special recruit in a haul of special recruits. He's a next-level athlete who can fly, doesn't miss a tackle, and has the ability to become a sideline-to-sideline playmaker when he gets his chance.
6-2, 230-pound Tevin Jackson wasn't nearly the hyped recruit that Jordan Hicks was, but he'd be the star of the show in just about any other recruiting class. An outside linebacker, he's a pass rusher with the burst and the smarts to be a consistent playmaker in the backfield and a nice pass defender. He'll make a ton of big plays, forced fumbles, and sacks.
Watch Out For … Acho. The freshmen will get the hype, and the spotlight will likely be on the situation in the middle, but Acho is primed and ready for a tremendous season. He has all the tools with the size, speed, and smarts to become an all-star and, potentially, the stats to be in the hunt for All-America honors.
Strength: The outside. If Jackson is even close to ready to play, he'll be a dangerous backup while Robinson and Acho should combine for over 150 tackles. The two projected starters will keep the mistakes to a minimum and should always be around the ball.
Weakness: Sure-thing depth in the middle. Earnest will be more than fine if he gets the call, but Norton has to prove that his shoulder is sound while Hicks, if he plays in the middle and no matter how promising he might be, is still a true freshman.
Outlook: The linebackers didn't quite get the attention they deserved, and losing Muckelroy, even though he was dinged up with a knee problem, isn't a plus, but now the group should get plenty of press. Acho and Robinson are talented veterans, while Earnest is ready to shine now that he has the chance. If the true freshmen are half as good as the hype, the corps will be rock solid.
Unit Rating: 8
Projected Starters: Earl Thomas was one of the best defensive backs in the long and storied history of Longhorn football, and the NFL scouts couldn't stop drooling over his natural safety ability (even if he wasn't big enough for their liking). The shoes are way too big to fill for Christian Scott, but motivation won't be a problem after being academically ineligible last year and working on the scout team. The 6-1, 215-pound junior is a former high school track star with phenomenal speed and jump out of the stadium athletic ability, but he has to prove he can use all his tools to be the same sort of playmaker as Thomas at strong safety.
Junior Aaron Williams was a superstar recruit who grew into an indispensable defensive back making 44 tackles with two sacks (with one ending Sam Bradford's Oklahoma career), six tackles for loss, and three interceptions with eight broken up passes. He spent most of the year at corner before moving to nickel late in the year, and with 6-1 and 192-pound size and great range he should be among the team's leading tacklers no matter where he lines up.
Junior Blake Gideon was mostly known for dropping the interception that would've sealed the 2008 Texas Tech game (which Michael Crabtree capitalized on with his classic last-second scoring grab), but that has changed as he has become a terrific all-around safety following up a 59-tackle first year with 62 tackles, five broken up passes, and six interceptions, including a key pick on a fake punt in the Alabama loss. The two-time honorable mention All-Big 12 selection is a smart, sound veteran who provides a nice pop and is terrific at being in the right place at the right time. At 6-1 and 200 pounds he has good size to go along with his range and his nose for the ball.
6-0, 180-pound senior Curtis Brown has seemingly been around forever and has been a sound, consistent defender at both corner and as a nickel defender. While he's not huge, he's a good tackler making 53 stops with 15 broken up passes and a 77-yard interception return for a score against Oklahoma State. While he's great for the defensive backfield, he's also an elite special teamer. He has the next-level speed to hang around with the faster receivers, and the toughness to push around the more physical ones.
Projected Top Reserves: Consider Chykie Brown a starter. The 6-0, 187-pound senior started the first four games at corner before starting eight more as a nickel back finishing with 48 tackles with two sacks, two interceptions, and eight broken up passes. With great coverage skills, a non-stop motor, and superior recovery skills, he's all over the field and he'll make things happen in a variety of ways for the secondary.
The Texas secondary is full of superior talents, but it's not exactly the biggest hitting group around. Sophomore Kenny Vaccaro changes all of that with his physical play and his big pops. Mostly a special teamer last year, he made 19 tackles and forced a fumble, but he's a high-riser for the defense with the 6-1, 201-pound size and the talent to shine at strong safety and as a nickel defender if and when he gets his chance.
Junior Nolan Brewster isn't expected to be a top pass defender, but the 6-2, 210-pounder will get a long look at the backup free safety job after making 24 tackles with a pick and two tackles for loss. Strong on special teams, he's makes things happen whenever he's on the field, and while he's not Blake Gideon, he's good enough to keep the production rolling if he's pushed into the starting spot.
True freshman A.J. White is expected to get a shot at playing time right away as a key backup corner. The 6-0, 175-pounder is ready to go out of the box with good tackling skills and polished coverage ability. Physical, he could get his feet wet as a nickel or dime defender.
Watch Out For … Scott. He wasn't able to get on the field until the national title game, as a special teamer, and now he's ready to come out roaring at strong safety. The talent is there and the tackling skills should make him one of the team's top stat-sheet fillers.
Strength: NFL talent. Williams, Scott, and both Browns have the type of skills and smarts to test off the charts at the Combine and/or pro workouts, and Gideon and White will see time in an NFL camp in the very near future. If Earl Thomas had returned, this would be considered a secondary at an all-timer level.
Weakness: Proven coverage ability of the safeties other than Gideon. Scott has the athleticism, but he, along with Vaccaro and Brewster, are question marks in coverage compared to Earl Thomas (but so are most safeties). Thomas made eight picks and broke up 16 passes, and while the UT secondary will be more than fine, losing an instinctive player the caliber of the current Seattle Seahawk will be felt.
Outlook: Considering Texas plays mostly against teams that rely on the pass, and considering most teams have to bomb away to keep up, giving up 15 touchdown passes (with seven combined coming against Texas Tech and Texas A&M) along with 25 picks was amazing. Everyone of note is back except for Earl Thomas, and while there will be moments when the better quarterbacks will connect for over 300 yards, the secondary should be among the most effective and productive in America.
Unit Rating: 9.5
Projected Starters: Taking over for the very good, very clutch Hunter Lawrence, who nailed 22-of-25 field goals including a very special bomb in the Big 12 Championship, will be junior Justin Tucker, a big-legged junior who has been solid as the team's kickoff specialist. Also used as a punter, he'll get to focus more on his field goals after averaging 40.4 yards per punt with 15 put inside the 20. He has the range to come up with attempts from 50 yards and in, but he has to prove he can be as reliable as Lawrence.
With Tucker working more on field goals, veteran John Gold will get his chances again to be the main punter after averaging 43.1 yards per try on his 11 kicks. He has a big leg, and while he might not be quite as consistent as Tucker, he should air it out a bit more.
Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe will once again handle the bulk of the kickoff return duties after a phenomenal season. Monroe set a school-record with two kick returns for scores in the same season, highlighted by a thriller against Texas A&M, and averaged 33.6 yards per pop, while Goodwin has the blinding speed to average 21.8 yards per try.
Trying to take over for Jordan Shipley as the top punt returner will likely be Aaron Williams , the speedy corner who cuts on a dime. Goodwin, who returned one punt for 22 yards against Colorado, will also get a look.
Watch Out For … Tucker to be more than fine. While he might not be Hunter Lawrence right away, he was terrific this spring and showed that he's ready to fill in the role. Texas won't play in many close games, but he'll have to come through in the clutch at least twice.
Strength: The return game. Texas was 14th in the nation in punt returns and seventh in kickoff returns. Monroe and Goodwin are weapons with Goodwin a heart-stopper whenever he has had the ball in his hands, and while losing Jordan Shipley will be a problem, several good options appear ready to step up.
Weakness: Punting. Gold has the potential to come up with some blasts, but he and Tucker weren't exactly a strength as Texas finished 93rd in the nation, and tenth in the Big 12, in net punting. Colt McCoy turned out to be the most accurate kicker putting all four of his punts inside the 20.
Outlook: The special teams have been terrific for the last few years, and while it would be nice to get more out of the punting game, and there's some question about Tucker replacing Lawrence, the Longhorns should be fine here. If Monroe and the return game is as good as last year, the special teams could be great.
Unit Rating: 7.5
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