2007 Longhorn Defense… What to Expect? The Unexpected
Defense wins championships. My 6th grade PE teacher taught me that. He also taught us that if you wear early 80’s style running shorts during the hurdler’s stretch, people could see your junk. So, in honor of Coach Papa, and the fact Colt McCoy could throw for 89 touchdowns, and I would still be pissed at Greg Davis, I’ll focus on the defense. Certainly a much more interesting topic to me.
Dude, is that your hog?
Here goes, a position by position look at the defensive side of the ball in 2007, with some information you may or may not have expected.
The two deep: Derek Lokey, Frank Okam, Roy Miller, Thomas Marshall/Brian Ellis
The meat and potato unit for this Longhorn D. Virtually zero question marks going into the season, which subsequently makes it difficult to work in my "unexpected" theme.
A healthy Frank Okam coupled with arguably the best player on the team in Derek Lokey and the Longhorns have the ideal foundation on which to build a championship D. Co-starter Roy Miller allows the coaching staff the flexibility to go to a smaller more active front by pulling Okam, or providing Lokey with a breather between fighting off double teams on D and headhunting LB’s in a lead blocking role on short yardage offense. Uber-athletic Brian Ellis and Solid Senior Thomas Marshall round out a deep group.
Expecting the unexpected: Well if you’re a Longhorn fan hopefully the theme for this position is what you see is what you get. This is arguably the most talented DT unit the Horns have fielded since Casey Hampton and Shaun Rogers. It’s most certainly the deepest in the Mack Brown era.
The two deep: Brian Orakpo, Aaron Lewis, Eddie Jones, Lamarr Houston.
In the Mack Brown era the Longhorn front four has been notoriously ineffective at pressuring the passer without blitzing help. To make matters worse, until Tim Crowder broke the mark last year, the only other Longhorn player to post double digit sack numbers in the last decade was Aaron Humphrey.
Well, the double digit sack streak should continue this year. Orakpo and Jones give the Longhorns two bona fide edge rushers as opposed to athletic spin –down phenoms that have been moved to the position. Orakpo, who didn’t get near as many snaps as he will this year, was still able to tally six sacks and should vie for all Big 12 honors. Jones, a 5 star prospect out of Kilgore, should see significant playing time spelling Orakpo. Aaron Lewis, the starter opposite Orakpo, is an all-around talented DLineman who is equally adept at defending the run as he is rushing the passer. Lamarr Houston, a converted and highly touted oversized high school running back, might be the most athletically gifted of this group. He should see significant snaps in a reserve role as well.
Expecting the unexpected: While you would expect Orakpo to break the double digit sack barrier this year, don’t be surprised to see this unit combine for the most sacks in the Mack Brown era. Lewis might even tally some of his sacks dropping down to DT on obvious passing downs leaving Orakpo, and either Jones/Houston as the edge rushers.
The two deep Sam, Mike, Will respectively: Killabrew/Earnest, Bobino/Norton, Derry/Muckelroy, Sergio Kindle
In the last two decades of Longhorn Football there hasn’t been a more maddening position than linebacker. I venture to guess you’d be hard pressed to find a member of those staffs that would disagree. From Tyson King single handedly winning Salaam a Heisman to DD Lewis turning his back to take on lead blockers the position has resembled a monkey f’ing a football. Yikes, let’s hurry up and get to the secondary.
Athletically this group should be Kindle, Norton, Muckelroy. Kindle reminds people of Lavar Arrington, Muckelroy was the team’s best linebacker before getting hurt last year, and Norton seems to be the athletic answer at Mike. But unless Mac Duff can coach a lick it wouldn’t matter if the depth chart read Taylor Butkus Lambert. Still an official depth chart of Killabrew Bobino Derry is not what the Longhorn Nation wanted to see, and quite frankly there is no excuse for these upper classmen to be entrenched as starters. They sucked out loud last year. As Denny Green would say, "They are who we thought they were." Hopefully it won’t take a loss for Mack to figure it out.
Expecting the unexpected: I know I’m reaching here, but I fully expect two of Kindle, Norton, and Muckelroy to win starting jobs by the end of the season. Not coincidentally it will almost assuredly happen after the first Longhorn loss.
The two deep: Foster/Curtis Brown or Chykie Brown, Palmer or Deon Beasley
The two deep at this position is a classic struggle between experience and talent. But let’s be realistic, this isn’t a case of talented upper classmen holding off super blue true fish and sophs. Nope, this is just one of Mack Brown’s fatal flaws. It’s Tyrone Jones taking snaps from Derrick Johnson, Vince Young not playing a down in a loss to Arkansas as a result of Chance Mock’s seniority, or Ivan Williams carrying the rock vs. OU instead of Cedric Benson. Mack’s loyalty. Mack’s Achilles heal.
That said, I do like Brandon Foster more out of the two. Foster is a super speedy smurf who closes on balls in a blink of eye. It’s his ball skills once the ball arrives that get him in trouble. If he can improve on this part of his game he has a chance to be a solid Big 12 corner. If this aspect of his game doesn’t improve and gets in his head, the Bowmans, Kelleys, and Blythes of the conference will put his ass on the pine.
Speaking of short corners, Ryan Palmer is listed at the spot opposite Foster. When asked about either of his Lilliputians Mack will tell you Ray Mickens and Darrel Green were short and fast. Yeah, Mack, so what? Harold Carmichael was tall and skinny. The problem for Palmer is he’s a fourth year junior who’s made exactly one decent play in his career at Texas, which was a nifty first down saving tackle vs. Tech. That’s it. It’s not like dude is a fixture in the secondary. The fact of the matter is if Palmer takes any snaps from Beasley or either Brown is borderline criminal.
Chykie Brown, Curtis Brown, and Deon Beasley are super blue 5 star prospects and are the future of Texas Football at the position. They should be the present. Chykie Brown is the prototype with size and speed galore. A faster Cedric Griffin. But alas he’s a redshirt freshman and probably won’t play meaningful snaps until Texas loses a game and Mack gets David Banner angry.
Curtis Brown is dynamic freshman who could do damage on either side of the ball. Very athletic but his best attribute may be that he’s a true baller, or for you old farts, a football player through and through. He’s a true freshman, so he’s unlikely to log meaningful snaps until…you guessed it, a loss.
Deon Beasley is very similar to Brown in size, stature, and speed. He’s a true sophomore who played a significant amount during his freshman season. And, having started a game last year, he’s your one true glimmer of hope to play and become a starter while this team is undefeated.
Expecting the Unexpected: What do Brandon Healey, Marcus Wilkins, and Greg Brown all have in common? They all had relatively obscure careers up until their senior season in which they performed at surprisingly productive levels. For this year’s senior moxie award candidate, look no further than Brandon Foster. He’s faced some outstanding receivers during his tenure at Texas and if he can just improve on his ability to play the ball he has a chance to garner some all Big 12 honorable mention votes.
Two deep: Marcus Griffin, Eric Jackson, Drew Kelson, Christian Scott
The starting two safeties for Texas remind me of a Bill Murray line in Caddyshack. "Big hitter, the Lama." Marcus Griffin and Eric Jackson may cover like a couple beer league flag football safeties, but make no mistake about it they will come up and strike you. In an ideal world this duo would be allowed to play zone, over the top coverage and headhunt game in and game out. A little Tampa 2 if you will, sans Gene Chizik. F’ you Gene. But alas, Texas doesn’t look to have the LB personnel to play that style. So, Texas fans can look forward to this pair blowing up running teams like TAMU and TCU. When playing Tech and Nebraska, however, this duo might be exposed.
Drew Kelson is your classic Safety/LB tweener who’s shown flashes in his 4 year mismanaged career. He’s a super athlete that in the right system could flourish. Three coordinators in 4 years have done this young man a disservice. Christian Scott is the future at the position, with superior cover skills to the other 3. If he can avoid robbing drug dealers and frat boys at gun point, he might be all conference down the line.
Expecting the Unexpected: Don’t be surprised if this group has trouble with playaction. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Seriously, though, if this group is used correctly in a Cover 2, or even an inverted Cover 2, they have the ability to do some damage. If they’re lining up Michael Huff style on slot receivers in nickel, word is there are alumni that will flay Duane Akina with a spork. I’m guessing Akina is sharp enough to lean on his front 4 and allow these guys to protect the corners over the top. My fearless prediction, neither safety cracks the top two in tackles this year. Remember the top 3 tacklers in 2006 were secondary players.
Overall. This will be a top 10 defense, partly due to the Horns’ talent and partly due to the dearth of offensive talent in conference. Considering the weakness of this unit being secondary play, one has to conclude that the season schedule with respect to offensive matchups is almost ideal. The two best passing offenses the Horns will face, Nebraska and Tech, travel to Austin. Traditionally strong conference foes OU and TAMU will be hard pressed to put up huge passing numbers. OU’s breaking in a freshman QB and Steven McGee throws like a girl. TCU, the only decent non-conference foe is breaking in a new QB as well. Plus, there’s still little to no game film to clue opposing coaches as to Akina’s style and tendencies as a defensive coordinator. I would be very surprised if this defense wasn’t better than the overall defensive numbers put up last year. Should be a fun year full of surprises regardless.