Season Preview: Defensive Backs

2010 in Review: The Horns had many struggles last season, but one of the biggest faults of the defense was the lack of forced turnovers. This was evident with the defensive backs’ lack of interceptions (UT ranked first nationally in interceptions in 2009 with 25). Texas had three cornerbacks go in the first five rounds of the NFL Draft this year (Aaron Williams in 2nd round, Curtis Brown in 3rd round and Chykie Brown in 5th round) and those three players accounted for one interception … TOTAL! Texas as a team only pulled down eight interceptions in 2010. All starting safeties return from a year ago, including senior Blake Gideon. Gideon is the model of consistency, posting more than 60 tackles in each of his three years as starter for the Horns.

Key Returner: Everyone knows what to expect from Gideon, but Kenny Vaccaro is the true wild card. The hard-hitting safety will be a key player when it comes to forcing more turnovers and laying the wood for the defense. He has one interception and two forced fumbles for his career, so he will have to improve on those numbers if the Horns are to be successful this year.

Player to Watch: Of the young crop of corners, the most interesting is true freshman Quandre Diggs. The brother of lifetime Longhorn Quentin Jammer, a three-year starter and All-America for Texas, is a big-time athlete and is guaranteed to see lots of playing time in his first season. He may start the year as the nickel corner, but expect to see a lot of No. 28 flying around the field. Fellow baby Horns Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips, both sophomores, will be the first to get a crack at the starting corner spots.

The Defensive Backs to be successful, they need to … not look like freshmen. Technically none of the starters will be actual freshmen, but no one who starts at corner for the Horns will have a start under his belt. Until senior Christian Scott returns from his three-game suspension, after pleading no contest to misdemeanor assault, junior Nolan Brewster will be the only backup defensive back with any collegiate experience.

read more

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.

read more

Season Preview: Linebackers

2010 in Review: The Horns’ linebacking corps was one of the few bright spots of this past season. Linebackers Keenan Robinson (113) and Emmanuel Acho (87) led the team in tackles and accounted for six (three interceptions, three fumble recoveries) of the team’s 17 takeaways. Highly-touted freshman Jordan Hicks, who must look like the smartest man on the planet after passing up Ohio State to attend school at the 40 acres, played all 12 games on special teams and logged eight games at linebacker. Jared Norton and Dustin Earnest, who also logged time in as starters, graduated and exhausted their eligibility.

Key Returner: It’s difficult to separate Robinson and Acho because they are so similar and equally as important to the unit. Which is why the key returner will be known as RobCho. If RobCho can stay healthy, the linebacking corps will again be one of the Longhorns’ greatest strengths.

Player to Watch: It would be easy to say Hicks, a five-star recruit coming out of high school with tremendous upside, but one name that has intrigued coaches this fall has been sophomore Demarco Cobbs. The converted safety appeared in all 12 games last season on special teams, including one at defensive back, and recorded five tackles. Not much, but with his speed and coverage abilities he adds a versatile option to defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s blitz schemes. Junior Dravannti Johnson could also make an impact with the linebackers, although most of the time will be spent with his hand on the ground terrorizing QB’s at the defensive end position.

For the Linebackers to be successful, they need to … stay healthy. The linebacking unit is deep with talent, but not experience. Other than RobCho, Hicks and Johnson, no other Texas linebacker has logged game time at the position. The Horns will rely heavily on the leadership and experience that RobCho provides. An injury to either one of them would be a devastating blow. Hicks missed time in the spring with a broken bone in his right foot, which required surgery, but he should be healthy by the opener.

read more