There are also many young players on the defensive side that are still working toward their physical maturity at the college level. Players ranging from the likes of defensive ends Jarrell Owens, Jordan Brailford, and Cole Walterscheid to linebackers like Gyasi Akem and Josh Mabin to defensive backs like Ramon Richards, Dylan Harding, and Tre Roberts.
Here's our guesses and thought on development that needs to take place between now and the start of spring practice on March 9.
This is the one position group on the team that needs to be developed. Fans often times look at the entire defensive line as a position group, but both starting defensive tackles in James Castleman and Ofa Hautau were seniors. They will be missed because of their production and also their leadership.
Behind those two last season you often saw Vili Levini, who has gradually become a player that can play both inside and out on the defensive line. There is a young player that redshirted in Trey Carter, who could wind up in the same situation, and newcomer and junior college transfer in the very solid 6-4, 307-pound Motekiai Maile, who also played tackle and end on the defensive line at Tyler Junior College.
Now Vincent Taylor, Ben Hughes and Eric Davis are strictly defensive tackles. All are still young. Davis and Maile are both going to be juniors and everybody else is younger. They can all continue to develop and that will be not just a good, but could be a great thing.
2. Make the Linebackers a Community
If you read our offensive to-do list then you would have seen the step of bringing unity to the offensive line. On a football team there are always classes, the recruiting classes that players arrive at a school with. With the linebackers there are development classes as guys like Justin Phillips, Gyasi Akem, and Kirk Tucker were rushed in development last year as they needed to play.
The starting stalwarts of Ryan Simmons and Seth Jacobs would make up another group, and then the likes of Devante Averette, transfer Chad Whitener and maybe even grizzled veteran Kris Catlin would make up a group of linebackers that sat out last season.
Averette was able to play some following his rapid rehab of an ACL surgery. You also have the redshirted in Josh Mabin because of an injury. Knock on wood that all will be healthy and back on the field at the same time this spring. Honestly, because of injury and other factors some have not been on the field together much, if at all. It is a group that looks like they will really get along and the same central coach and recruiter is involved in Spencer.
3. Keep Up the Progression of Youth
Really don't have to elaborate much here as there are so many young players on defense that are still working on their bodies to prepare them for the future and where they will contribute on the defense.
Great examples are Jordan Brailford and Cole Walterscheid at defensive end. Both players have put on 30 pounds or more of muscle since arriving on campus. Young linebacker like Gyasi Akem or Kirk Tucker have also been progressing physically. In the secondary you have Ramon Richards and Tre Flowers that continue to fill out their frame.
4. Introduce the Hammer
I bet you were picturing some new diabolical exercise or a new piece of equipment that players would slave on and come out bigger and stronger. No, the hammer is new assistant coach on defense Dan Hammerschmidt. The former running backs coach at Houston has been on offense in most of his recent coaching assignments but he played safety in college at Colorado State and coached defense starting out and it appears he is excited about making a return to that side of the ball.
I've always said if you really want to jolt one side of the ball or the other at any position, then bring over an offensive coach to coach defense or vice versa. My reasoning is that when you spend so much time working to attack one side or the other then you become very proficient at knowing what works best for that other side. I think Hammerschmidt will be a great example of this.