You won't find any Longhorn defensive tackles on the media preseason All-Big 12 lists. Some prognosticators even consider the position to be a question mark. I have no concerns for Texas finding two quality defensive tackles in 2012.
My question is: What are we going to do with five?
Manny Diaz and Bo Davis are going to enjoy divvying up 140 snaps a game to our defensive tackles based on opponent, game situation, and each player's unique attributes and specialization.
Let's talk about the principals:
Ashton Dorsey. 6-2, 295. The most experienced DT of the crew. The junior played in twelve games last year, started four, and amassed 24 tackles, 7 tfl, 1 sack, 6 pressures. Ashton got better as the season progressed and turned in particularly strong performances against Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and Cal. He plays the run well with a low base, and can pressure the passer, but it's not his forte.
Best use: Generalist. He has value against any variety of opponent, can play 1-3 tech, and will be our most reliable known quantity. A good all-around DT.
Desmond Jackson. 6-1, 303. Played in all of our games as a true freshman. 10 tackles, 2 tfl, 2 sacks. Jackson is the strongest player on the defense (well, in the weight room, more on Moore later) and he has a very good motor. Jackson has a quick first step inside that he pairs with a nice little rip move and he brings value as a quick pressure pass rusher and run stopper. If Jackson's initial move doesn't get his man, he can be contained by bigger OL. His height and strength make him difficult to get leverage on and root out, but short arms mean his pass rush is largely built on that initial step. Like Dorsey, Jackson came on at season's end.
Best use: Energy. Run stopper. Quick inside pressure, particularly against a spread offense with weak interior OL play. Best when stunting a gap.
Brandon Moore. 6-5, 320. The redshirt junior former Bama DL turned JUCO brings man-strength and raw power to the mix. Desmond Jackson may move more plates in the gym, but Moore moves more humans on the field. Conditioning concerns may limit his value, but Moore has already lost 15 pounds, will practice himself into better shape in August, and may be feeling positively frisky once October weather rolls around. He brings physicality and power, at minimum. He'll also have to take plays off if not rested.
Best use: Heaper of general abuse on things set before him. Run stopping. At 6-5, with a strong initial punch, he has the ability to walk OL back into the QB, and use wingspan to create batted balls. Paired with Jackson or Dorsey, he can make 3rd and 2 a passing down. Because of our depth, Moore won't be required to give more than 25-30 snaps a game.
Here's what Longhorn Scott said about him in the Spring:
And then there’s Brandon Moore. Texas picked up a very interesting, if raw, talent in Moore. No bullshit, Brandon Moore is easily the strongest player that has been in a Texas uniform since Mike Williams (the offensive tackle) was drafted. But he is a diesel engine with a small gas tank. Back to back snaps and Moore is running on empty, hands on hips until he gets a chance to rest. When he is fresh he will drive his target into the backfield at will… and I mean there isn’t a player on our roster who can stop him.
Anyone else interested in seeing #97 this year?
Chris Whaley. 6-3, 292. Mack Brown's former tailback of the future, turned H-Back, turned DE, turned DT; is the most specialized player on the DL. This Hound is at his best when sic'd on opposing QBs. No one else his size can run like him and he shows RB acceleration when passers flee the pocket. Whaley is the weakest of the five against the run and still learning the interior DL ropes. He doesn't have many moves yet, but the raw redshirt junior will add skills to his repertoire as he settles in.
Best Use: 3rd and 6+. Passing teams. Against mobile QBs and moving pockets. Depending on the opponent, Whaley can be a major impact player one week, and not log 15 snaps the next.
Malcom Brown. 6-4, 315. How does a freshman force his way on to the field when there are four other DTs who can play? Probably because he looks like a young Warren Sapp. Does he look 315 to you? Brown has the widest range of possible contribution level of any of the DTs, but I suspect we see him in the rotation. Texas hasn't signed an interior DL with his skill set in some time, but Brown will have to earn his snaps the hard way.
Best Use: We'll see, won't we? Highly effective against cocker spaniels.
The rotation will be based on match-ups. Having five means Bo Davis can set standards of hustle, competitiveness, and effort on the field that allow the big men to sell out on every play. They don't have to save anything for the fourth quarter.
The rich history of UT defensive tackle play has some pretty predictable patterns. Promising players who flash early usually don't just gradually improve each year in perfect incremental fashion. More often, they make a massive jump. Think about Casey Hampton, Shaun Rogers, Marcus Tubbs, Roy Miller, Lamarr Houston. They showed flashes, their play was uneven, and then suddenly it happened. Steady Ashton Dorsey may continue to grow 10% a year. Or he may just blow up. Same with Desmond Jackson. And Brandon Moore. Or, as a pass rusher, Chris Whaley. And who knows what Malcom Brown can be if he maintains his work ethic?
Finally, modern offenses have done a lot to de-emphasize the participation level of interior DL. They're made to chase screens and outside zone, frustrated by quick passing games, and the days of Casey Hampton leading a Horns defense in season tackles are over. But that doesn't mean they can't have an impact. Quick interior pressure is the name of the game against spread offenses. If an interior DL can bat balls, make QBs throw more quickly, out of rhythm, and flush the pocket when offenses do try to get something going deep, turnovers and mayhem ensue. Similarly, when you can stop a spread running game with mostly DL play and a LB or two, you're ahead of the game.
While our secondary and DEs garner well-deserved hype, don't be surprised when the 2012 DTs make their presence felt.