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.

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On Location: Launch of the Longhorn Network

On location for the first broadcast (which most people won’t be able to see) and will be posting some photos and hopefully some video later. Stay tuned.


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Season Preview: Offensive Line

2010 in Review: If you really want to get to the root of all the offense’s problems last season, look no further than the offensive line. In 2010, Mack Brown decided that he wanted to become a North-South, downhill, I-formation running team, like he used to have when Major Applewhite and Chris Simms were under center. But it seems you actually can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Texas’ offensive line was senior laden with guys like Kyle Hix, Michael Huey and Britt Mitchell who had spent their previous years at Texas on their heels in pass protection. Pushing forward to gain a few yards on the ground was just not their forte. For an offensive line that had so many struggles last season, it’s surprising to note that they only allowed 18 sacks last season. A decent number considering the Horns defense had 31 sacks in 2010.

Key Returner: There will be a lot of new faces on the offensive line which is why the key returner has to be one of the two guys that are back. Mason Walters started all 12 games at right guard last year, but by all media accounts will probably be moved out to tackle in 2011. There is a lot more responsibility on the end of the line, so Walters will have to step up big time if the Longhorns are to have any sort of success this year. Senior David Snow will likely move out to guard to take Walters’ spot after playing all last season at center.

Player to Watch: This could easily go to newcomers Trey Hopkins orĀ Dominic Espinosa, which by early accounts will be starters on the line, but a key player to watch this season will be tackle Tray Allen. Allen was one of two 5-star recruits in the 2007 freshman class, however he has only played sparingly in his first four years on campus. He sat out all of 2010 with a foot injury and after years of waiting, finally seems to be getting his shot at a starting gig. Coming out of high school Allen was a consensus prep first team All-America selection, he was tabbed as the top lineman on the Parade All-America team, and earned first-team All-America honors from USA Today. So the talent is there, but can he finally put it together as a collegiate player. (If you have never seen or heard from Allen like me, watch the video below. He pops up at about 3 minutes in)

For the Offensive Line to be successful, they need to … open up holes for Longhorn running backs. The Texas running game struggled mightily last season in the new offense. Well, now they have a new, new offense with incoming Co-O Coordinator Bryan Harsin, which emphasizes the same downhill running game. Harsin’s passing offense needs a good rushing attack if it is to be successful because he likes the play-action pass. To the naked eye Harsin’s offense at Boise State may seem like it was a predominantly passing attack with the success of QB Kellen Moore, but over the past two seasons the Broncos have had more than 30 rushing touchdowns per season, a 5-yard per rush average and an 1,100-yard rusher.

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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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Season Preview: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

2010 in Review: In 2010, the biggest problem with the wide receiving corps was that not one receiver could be relied upon to step up week in and week out. The good news was that Texas had enough talent at receiver that a different player could step up each week, but every successful QB at Texas in the past 10 years has had a go-to target. Chris Simms had Roy Williams. Vince Young had Limas Sweed. Colt McCoy had Jordan Shipley. Garrett Gilbert has ??? That’s the question. When VY was first getting his feet wet as a starter for the Horns, he relied heavily on the safety net of his tight ends. Gilbert hasn’t had that luxury in his short career because the best tight ends can’t stay healthy. The quartet that made it on the field last year (Greg Smith, Barrett Matthews, Ahmard Howard and Dominique Jones) didn’t have nearly as many playmakers as those that didn’t (Blaine Irby, D.J. Grant, Ian Harris and Trey Graham) although Matthews does have good upside.

Key Returner: Irby is by far the most important returning player for the Horns. You may not remember him seeing as how he hasn’t played since severely injuring his knee against Rice two years ago (Watch the video at your own risk). That year he was poised to become the next big thing at tight end following in the footsteps of guys like Bo Scaife, David Thomas and Jermichael Finley. In new Co-Offensive Coordinator Bryan Harsin’s offense, the tight ends will play a major role. As long as he and fellow playmaker Grant, a converted high school wide receiver, stay healthy Gilbert should feel more comfortable dinking and dunking to his tight ends.

Player to Watch: Receiver Mike Davis is the only returning wideout that had more than 20 catches last season. Since June, four receivers have left the program including two guys who combined for 55 catches, 658 yards and three of the 10 receiving touchdowns made last year. Malcolm Williams left the team for personal reasons and Marquise Goodwin will redshirt this year while he focuses on long jump after winning the national title. It’s not like Davis is the player to watch by default though. He had five starts and two 100-yard games last year and showed flashes of greatness. There have been rumblings that Davis has been benched in practice, but he is still the most experienced playmaker at the wideout position for Texas … and he’s only a sophomore. Davis was also named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list for 2011. Keep an eye on true freshmen Jaxon Shipley and Miles Onyegbule as well. They have been getting rave reviews in camp.

For the Wide Receivers and Tight Ends to be successful, they need to … step up to the big leagues. It’s time for someone in this group to become a star and be a go-to playmaker for whoever starts at quarterback. There is no shortage of talent, but if Texas really wants to rebound from last season they need that talent to manifest into something greater. There will be a lot of guys seeing the field for the first time with so many players either coming back from injury or replacing departing starters. Mack Brown says it’s an open competition. We’ll see who steps up.

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