Finally: depth, talent, certainty. And potentially the best LB unit we've had in twenty five years.
Of course, that's a relative statement, roughly tantamount to saying toughest guy at Baylor....
"Parker wears cut off Chinos and smokes clove cigarettes on his Vespa! I hope he doesn't TP my dorm!"
Let's break these guys down.
Disclaimer: if you want to understand the upside and deficits of Acho and Robinson and what that means to our defense, really take the time to watch the two OU scouting videos. Scouting videos ARE NOT highlight videos. Don't watch it with some bullshit Rivals highlight reel mindset. Players win some, lose some. It's instructive.
It's Acho Uno Ocho time.
That's a solid representation of his good traits, flaws, and everything in between against a high level opponent where he's asked to perform an array of assignments that place him in very tough situations: single coverage on DeMarco Murray, lining up in a half dozen places, dealing with boots and play action, blitzing off the edge. On the plus side of the ledger we see decisive quickness, a knack for taking a gap and coming off of the edge, comfort in space (he's 6-2, 240 and moves like he's 220), some coverage ability, a willingness to mix it up.
It also reveals some false steps, a bad read or two, average physicality at the point of attack, and a missed tackle. I expect Acho to thrive in Diaz's schemes not only because of his intelligence, but because when you point him at a gap and tell him to attack, Acho is an incredibly disruptive athlete. I expect a very good year from Acho and 1st or 2nd team All-Big 12 level of play.
Keenan Robinson is the complete package physically and he led the Longhorns with 113 tackles last year (including 19 against Oklahoma). Good quickness, strength, solid effort, with a NFL prototype frame (6-3, 240). He's an experienced senior with 26 career starts and 211 tackles and virtually assured of a NFL career. What's not to like? Well, Robinson is not a consistently instinctive player and dislikes dealing with big uglies (not unusual for a WLB). He's vulnerable to cutback runners and he doesn't always take on blocks soundly (sometimes even using playside shoulder). Keenan doesn't always understand that his speed affords him the luxury of settling and watching the play develop.
Check the video:
Some really good play here mixed with some hiccups. He's dominant when he's decisively commits to a read or doesn't have any OL seep through to his level. Keep Keenan clean and he's a bad mama jamma. However, do you also see how running directly at him and putting big bodies on him discomforts him? It affects his tackling, too.
Jordan Hicks (6-2, 230) is the most instinctive linebacker on the team. He flashed as a true freshman and I was really disappointed to see him miss a portion of Spring practice. Before fracturing his foot, the buzz is that he may have been the best guy on the unit. His skill set is somewhat duplicative to Robinson and Acho in terms of finesse and we will not start a linebacker who can be classified as an Oklahoma drill banger. Hicks is a high level athlete not only in terms of measurables, but with respect to great hands, coordination, and skill. Interceptions and fumble recoveries are going the other way, not bouncing off of his hands, and he has the hips and speed to acquit himself well in Diaz's coverage/blitz schemes. I'm very excited to see a healthy sophomore Jordan Hicks. He may well be a special player.
Aaron Benson (6-2, 230) was redshirted last year, but after seeing him in person, I can tell you that he looks the part. He's put together. Anything beyond that is wait-and-see. He should be a useful special teamer, at the least.
Tevin Jackson (6-2, 235) lost a year to the NCAA Clearinghouse's bizarre whims, but it may prove to be ultimately useful. He healed a wrist injury and it allowed him a de facto redshirt season without counting towards his eligibility. So now we have a 19 year old true freshman with five years on his horizon. Tevin can bring the heat rushing the passer and there may be a role for him doing that right away. I think he has a steep learning curve as a traditional LB though. Much of his high school responsibility was of the "Tevin, go get 'em" variety.
Freshman Chet Moss looked solid in the Spring game and he has seemingly already secured a back-up role at MLB. Decent size (6-2, 235), heady, and a willingness to get dirty inside. Can't have a linebacker kennel with nothing but greyhounds.
Sophomore DeMarco Cobbs is an intriguing position switch. When you have a big-boned skill athlete who is also very physical, linebacker makes a lot of sense. He goes about 6-1, 210 and that clearly slots him at WLB. I like the move and I could see him developing into a player if we'll give him some time and patience. He'll certainly contribute on special teams.
Steve Edmond's high school tape reveals an ultra physical linebacker with legit athletic ability and a high capacity for gridiron cruelty. He's also a true freshman fighting for air where the three starters are already set and his highlights were against 2A competition. Edmond has a huge frame and though someone like Nick Saban would tell the big boy to play ILB for him at 255+, it will be interesting to see what we do with him. I still think there's a place for a traditional MLB in today's college football - particularly as the worm turns back to the running game. Guys like Edmond and Tevin Jackson are at the top of my interest list when we start to get August practice info.
I don't expect freshman Kendall Thompson to grab field time this year, largely because we need to find out his best aptitude. He may end up at DE as he grows into his body (currently 6-3, 230) and he's someone I'd like to redshirt. If he does play, it's either really good news or really bad news.
Sophomore Patrick Nkwopara is listed at a hopeful 5-11, 215, but that's because he was measured by Tom Cruise's publicist. Nkwopara is a halfling and he fears Mordor, amusement park ride requirements, and adult swim. I don't see a role for Nkwopara this year, unless the team decides to stage a production of Oliver Twist in lieu of the Rice game. Seriously, he should get some special team run and he's always a high effort guy.
This is a good linebacking corps with a solid mix of veterans, intriguing youngsters, and a future superstar or two. We're going to be starting essentially three outside linebackers and that comes with benefits in terms of our blitzing/coverage responsibilities, their ability to shore up Diaz's fire zones, and general team speed. It may handicap us a bit if the other team wants to get nasty running the ball right at us and commits to doing it for four quarters.
This highlights the necessity of our DL stepping up and demanding double teams because if we keep this linebacking unit clean, they're going to shine.