February 23, 2009

Spring football: Who will step up on the D-line?

With spring football starting Friday, we preview the defensive line … .

On the roster at end: Sam Acho, junior, 6-3, 258; Russell Carter, sophomore, 6-3, 245; Eddie Jones, junior, 6-3, 260; Sergio Kindle, senior, 6-4, 240; Dravannti Johnson, redshirt freshman, 6-2, 237; Alex Okafor, freshman, 6-4, 240; Tevin Mims, freshman, 6-4, 245 (in the fall); Dominique Jones, freshman, 6-3, 240

On the roster at tackle: Lamarr Houston, senior, 6-2, 285; Kheeston Randall, sophomore, 6-5, 275; Ben Alexander, senior, 6-0, 310; Jarvis Humphrey, redshirt freshman, 6-2, 290; Michael Wilcoxon, sophomore, 6-3, 285; Derek Johnson, freshman, 6-3, 310 (in the fall); Calvin Howell, freshman, 6-4, 265

The battle at end: The walkout starters if there was a game today would be Sergio Kindle at rush end, replacing Brian Orakpo, and Sam Acho at power end, replacing Henry Melton. Eddie Jones is going to miss the spring while recovering from shoulder and ankle surgeries. The backup to Kindle at rush end would be Russell Carter, followed by Alex Okafor. In the fall, Eddie Jones will back up Acho, and then coaches will see if Dravannti Johnson or Tevin Mims can work their way into the rotation. Dominique Jones is also having surgery and will miss the spring. So it's hard to project where he fits in at the moment.

The battle at tackle: The walkout starters if there was a game today would be Lamarr Houston at the nose tackle and Kheeston Randall at the three technique (lined up on the outside shoulder of the guard). With all the spread teams in the Big 12, Texas wants both of its interior linemen to be able to rush the passer. If Texas comes up against a two-back rushing team, like UT did against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, then Ben Alexander would get more work at the nose tackle. But Alexander is probably more of a run specialist with all the teams throwing the ball in the Big 12. Coaches liked what they saw from Wilcoxon in bowl practices, so now is the time for a guy like Jarvis Humphrey. He'll have the coaches' full attention in the spring - before Calvin Howell, Derek Johnson and Tevin Mims show up. Mims will get a look at both the three technique and power end in the fall.

Who could surprise at end in the spring: Coaches are hoping Kindle makes the transition to full-time pass rusher and replaces Orakpo. This is the opportunity Will Muschamp vowed to Kindle and Kindle's father when Kindle was making his decision about whether to stay or go. I'll be shocked if this doesn't take off. The guy who could really shake things up is Okafor. He has been impressive in the off-season program as an early enrollee. He looks like he's been in the Longhorns' weight program for a couple years already and can flat-out fly off the ball. Russell Carter knows he has a challenge on his hands to get into the rotation.

Who could surprise at tackle in the spring: This is Jarvis Humphrey's time. The coaches love the physicality and flexibility of Kheeston Randall. They love Lamarr Houston's heart and motor. They think Wilcoxon can help. So it's time for Humphrey to grab his place in the rotation before Howell, Johnson and Mims show up in the summer.

Final analysis: The defensive line is a mystery right now because of the lack of depth. A lot of the guys who will be counted on in the rotation behind the projected starters are really young. Good for the future. A challenge for right now. This is probably the one area on the team in 2009 that can least afford an injury. There is decent, proven depth everywhere on the team except defensive line. So the young guys really need to come on starting Friday. And while the thought of Lamarr Houston at the nose tackle at 285 pounds raises an eyebrow at first, you realize that most of UT's schedule is against spread passing teams when you want a pass rusher at the nose. The coaches want four guys on the line who can rush the passer in this league.


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