Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz at Texas' practice
The Longhorn defense is poised to have a great 2012 campaign, but will a youthful linebacker corps hold Texas back?
The presence of Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson is gone, and the Texas Longhorns will be having to fill the shoes of a couple of the program’s most respected linebackers—a replacement that could see the position go up or down dramatically.
Acho and Robinson left holes in the middle of a Longhorns defense that figures to be one of the best in the country, but second-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has the quality and depth at the position that should have Texas fans salivating for more.
Playing in a 4-2-5 look against the pass-heavy Big 12, the Longhorns may often have only two linebackers on the field. Make no mistake though, Texas is loaded with youth at the position that could turn concerns into strengths.
Here is the breakdown.
SLB Jordan Hicks (Jr.)
MLB Steve Edmond (So.)
WLB Demarco Cobbs (Jr.)
Hicks enters his junior season fully healthy, a status he struggled with consistently last season. With the departures of Acho and Robinson, the former Ohio standout inherits leadership position in a group of players that lack true experience.
Edmond figures to be the impact middle linebacker that the Longhorns have waited for since the days of Derrick Johnson. A literal plug up the gut, Edmond simply fills the holes with physicality and presence—efforts that may have opposing teams looking to the outside for their running lanes, which plays to the strength of the speedy Texas defense. His pass defense isn’t too shabby, either. A big concern has to be Edmond’s inexperience, but all the reports point to impact player over deer in the headlights.
Cobbs may be the most athletic linebacker of the group. As a running back in high school—as well as a candidate to play in the defensive backfield when he first arrived at Texas—Cobbs plays with almost reckless speed that borders on ridiculous when getting after the ball (think Holiday Bowl against Cal last season). In Texas’ base 4-3 look, Cobbs looks to be a great compliment to what Edmond and Hicks are able to command as far as lane control, allowing the former Tulsa product to run wild.
Peter Jinkens (Fr.)
Kendall Thompson (So.)
Tevin Jackson (So.)
Aaron Benson (So.)
Dalton Santos (Fr.)
Tim Cole (Fr.)
With the Longhorns shelled into their nickel formation, the chances for some of the young linebackers to get some action appears limited. Nevertheless, this group could be one of the most impressive in the coming years.
Jinkens and Santos reportedly have the upper hand in receiving early time on the field as freshmen with their feel for the defensive game. Santos was a late addition to the 2012 recruiting class and has the mold of a solid middle linebacker waiting behind Edmond.
Thompson and Jackson, a couple of sophomores, figure to be next in line to secure backup positions with Benson trailing. Little has been mentioned of Cole, although his teammate and former Brenham counterpart Malcom Brown has had rave reviews at defensive tackle.
The Bottom Line
Although defensive coordinator Manny Diaz likely embraces that title to its fullest, he also takes command of the linebackers. Without a doubt, despite the inexperience-laden group, there is just as much talent here as other positions.
Hicks, Cobbs, and Edmond will be formidable and only look to improve as the season progresses. This fails to mention how much pressure is relieved because of better defensive line play.
Once this group finds its rhythm, the linebackers will be the glue that takes the defense where it needs to be to challenge for a conference title.