I'll be grading the entire Longhorn team on the first half of the season during the bye week, but I want to start that series of posts with an appreciation of the only Longhorn player I have graded out at an A level - junior Longhorn defensive end Cedric Reed. (Injuries to Daje Johnson, Jordan Hicks, and David Ash garner them first half of the season Incompletes).
Longhorn Defensive And Team MVP - DE Cedric Reed
Would anyone have predicted those plaudits at this stage of season?
Probably not. But no Longhorn has played with greater consistency, effort, and pride in every game.
Some will find this choice debatable, but it's an easy call for me. The improvement in the 3rd year player from raw-boned East Texan with a power forward frame to surprisingly physical run stopper and condor wingspan QB terrorizer has been startling. Maybe we shouldn't be so surprised - Reed only started six games last year as a true sophomore (pressed into starting duty with Jeffcoat's injury) and still finished the season 2nd in tackles out of the D-linemen and tied for 2nd on the team overall in QB pressures. His growth line stayed steep. Oscar Giles has a pretty good track record of development with his guys and seems to have carved out his own little island of competence isolated from the broader cultural decay.
Reed is the team leading tackler from the DE position (8.4 tackles per game) - please consider how often you read "team leading tackler at DE" in a sentence - and is also tied for the team lead in sacks (3.0), leads in batted balls (4), and in tackles for loss (6.5). Reed also forced fumbles (his 2 FF lead the team) in critical moments against Kansas State and Iowa State.
Beyond the statistics, Reed has been all over the place. While Jackson Jeffcoat still gets the announcer plaudits and has the reputation, Reed has been much stouter against the run, played with a much more consistent motor, and has proven to be nearly his equal as a pass rusher. In fact, Jeffcoat is only my 3rd best graded starting DL, behind Reed (A) and Brown (B+).
Only Malcom Brown has demonstrated a similar physical presence and every play impact, but Reed has done it without the mental lapses. Though Reed doesn't have the elite measurables that make NFL Combine scouts twitch, he has the kind of athleticism that translates very well to the football field - a long frame with natural balance and good recovery, strong hands that he uses to control and discard bigger blockers, good quickness, and great lateral movement. His versatility has been awesome: he's an adept pass rusher who won't lose contain or gamble for sacks at the expense of honoring a responsibility, shows a great motor in backside pursuit, has repeatedly whipped offensive tackles heads up from a 5 technique against the run, throws TEs and lead blockers around, and rarely makes mental errors.
Unfortunately, our linebacker play and overall defensive team concepts in support of #88 have been so egregious (though improving) that he can dominate his area and still be avoided or have his impact marginalized by opponent game plans. But he plugs away and still manages to impact every contest. Individual effort and excellence should be recognized and not dismissed with a broad brush of "our defense sucks." So while we fret about the future of Longhorn football, let's appreciate one of the players playing his heart out in the present.
Keep bringing your A game, Cedric.