Contract Year: Can Chris Whaley channel Henry Melton?

US PRESSWIRE

The former RB-turned-DT is in a contract year. Can he make the jump?

Former Longhorn RB-turned-DE and current Chicago Bear defensive tackle Henry Melton had a long, strange journey from domination at Grapevine high school to an almost-too-late career conversion to defensive end under DC Will Muschamp, stopping off along the way to amass 625 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns as a Longhorn short yardage running back.

And you can bet Henry shows his Bear teammates his college RB highlights from time to time...


While Melton made the switch to his natural position just in time, though regrettably late in his Longhorn career, he was able to show enough potential as a senior in 2008 to warrant a 4th round selection by the Chicago Bears. There, Melton worked tirelessly to build his skills, filled out his body (he's now 6-2, 295) and became one of the most quietly coveted defensive linemen in the NFL. Interior DL who can put pressure on the passing game while still remaining sound against the run are rare, and Melton is that.

Proof of that is in the Bears' one year guaranteed franchise designation guaranteeing him 8.45 million in 2013 while both parties work to hammer out a longer term agreement. Needless to say, Big Henry is getting paid. And the Longhorns are proud.

Another player still on the 40 Acres has undergone a similar journey, but has yet to break out. This year, his senior year - his contract year - is his final opportunity to do it in Burnt Orange.

Unlike Melton, Chris Whaley converted to the defensive line as a redshirt sophomore, fulfilling a prediction made by most analysts while Melton was still a running back at Madisonville High School. Mack Brown stuck to a stubborn assessment that Whaley was a future RB (despite a growing 6-3, 235 pound frame as a junior) and made Whaley his only 2009 RB take - in a class that featured Texas prepsters like A&M's Christine Michael, Razorback Knile Davis, Stanford's Stepfan Taylor, Texas Tech's Eric Stephens, and TCU's Waymon James. This on the heels of a 2008 RB class consisting of Jeremy Hills and Tre Newton.

Wow. I actually got briefly dizzy there. Sorry. Moving on...

Whaley wasn't ever going to become the answer at RB, but he was still a great take as an Athlete - the senior year designation made for him by most recruiting services.

Whaley redshirted and tarried at running back (and Greg Davis H-back) for another year, the staff transitioned him to the defensive line as a sophomore and the raw athlete showed real flashes as a pass rusher, using his excellent quickness and sweet feet to flash his potential for 2012.

If you were going to make a 2012 "surprise" break-out bet, Chris Whaley offered the most appealing odds on the Texas roster.

In 2012, Whaley earned the starting nod at nose tackle in a group deep with options, a seemingly strange designation given his skill set, but one that foreshadowed a Diaz defense intent on DL and LB stunting to force negative plays, usually at the exclusion of gap control, often ignorant of down and distance. The 2012 defense did force many negative tackles for loss (Texas was in the top 10 for TFL nationally), but did so while also being gouged repeatedly in the running game, turning several run-of-the-mill opposition running backs into highlight kings. And limited a capable DT crew into set pieces rather than football players.

Whaley was totally unnoticeable - and lost his starting designation by year end - finishing the season with 22 tackles, a modest 4 tackles for loss, only two QB hits, and a surprising zero sacks. Whether he was sunk by bad scheme, misplaced deployment, or he simply didn't have the tools to succeed is the great mystery. Like the rest of our defense, he looked like another good athlete alternating between robotic gap deployment and total confusion.

Going into his senior year, Whaley still possesses enormous athletic potential, but pressed by great talents like sophomore DT Malcom Brown and steady, productive (and I'd offer underrated) veterans like Ashton Dorsey, it's unclear where he fits in beyond 3rd down situational pass rusher and #3 DT. He could even decline.

Of course, anyone predicting a very bright NFL future for Henry Melton at a similar stage in his career would have been met with a raised eyebrow. The possibility for Whaley to put it together, and for the staff to deploy him appropriately in a broader scheme, is still very much there.

Is there still enough time?

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