Season Preview: Defensive Line

2010 in Review: The Longhorn defensive line was supposed to be a strength for the team last year. It had the leader of the defense in Sam Acho, an experienced tackle in Kheeston Randall, a 5-star recruit in Jackson Jeffcoat and a host of other talented (and BIG) linemen. But when you look at the numbers most commonly associated with defensive line success, sacks and opponents rushing yards, you’ll see that the defensive line struggled last year. The Horns d-line was responsible for 22 of the team’s 31 sacks last season, and by comparison during their run at the National Championship in 2009 the Horns ends and tackles had 32.5 sacks. It wasn’t only opposing quarterbacks who had little to worry about with the Texas defense. UT gave up 3.5 yards per carry to opponents (2.2 yards per carry in ’09) and 21 rushing touchdowns (9 rushing touchdowns in ’09).

Key Returner: As was the case last year, Randall is the key to the Longhorns defensive line. He will have to anchor the middle of the line while coaches groom a second defensive tackle to play alongside him. Last season they had the same problem and tried to fill the hole with a player out of position (Alex Okafor), another that had left the program only to come back and then leave again (Tyrell Higgins) and two true freshmen (Calvin Howell and Ashton Dorsey). Randall will have to shoulder the load again while a small army of d-tackles competes for other spot. Although Randall could have gone early to the draft last year and been an early round pick, Texas is glad he’s still in the burnt orange and white.

Player to Watch: The guy to keep an eye on is Jeffcoat. He has pedigree (his dad, Jim, played in the NFL for the Cowboys and Bills and coached the d-line at the University of Houston) and he has a motor. If not for an ankle injury last season, opposing QBs would have seen a whole lot more dirt. It’s odd with Acho and fellow senior Eddie Jones gone (both led the team in sacks last season) the Horns still have enough talent at defensive end that the scout team players could probably start on most teams. Jeffcoat and Okafor are the most natural pass-rushers out of the pack.

For the Defensive Line to be successful, they need to … stop the run. Last season when the Longhorns allowed an opposing RB to run for more than 100 yards, their record was 0-7. Conversely when Texas didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher, their record was 5-0. Games like Texas A&M where Cyrus Gray runs for 223 yards and 2 touchdowns just cannot happen this year if the Longhorns plan to turn around from last season.

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