Now, the Longhorns will enter the 2011 year with the exact opposite. Texas returns every interior contributor from a year ago, including two active starting defensive tackles. Defensive end is a much bigger problem, where Texas must not only account for the loss of both starters in Sam Acho and Eddie Jones, but also for departed defensive end Tevin Mims.
We'll start with the good. Kheeston Randall was the Big 12's second-best penetrating defensive tackle a year ago, with only Nebraska's Jared Crick racking up more tackles for loss. The only problem is that Randall is a bit out of place at nose tackle, where he's not necessarily built to occupy multiple blockers and gunk up the interior offensive line.
Randall playing nose tackle did allow the Longhorns to try undersized end-convert Alex Okafor at the three technique, where he was a great pass-rusher. The Longhorn staff feels like Okafor, at 6-foot-5, has the length to up his weight from the 265-270 pounds he played at a year ago to the 285-290 pound-range. That would make him better equipped to hold up against the run, while he should still be too quick for opposing guards to handle in passing situations.
That duo combined for 17 tackles for loss a year ago. After those two, there's a number of bodies for the position. Tyrell Higgins, Calvin Howell and Ashton Dorsey all played a bit last year, while Taylor Bible, De'Aires Cotton and Greg Daniels redshirted. If Bible trims his weight, he could fill a hole as a natural nose tackle.
The Longhorns don't have that many bodies at defensive end, where two sophomores could begin the year as starters. Jackson Jeffcoat produced well when healthy, making six tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and seven quarterback hurries a year ago. And Reggie Wilson, a former five-star prospect himself, made five tackles last year.
That's where the experience ends, though junior-to-be Dravannti Johnson rotated between SAM linebacker and defensive end last year. Johnson had 23 tackles last year, two of which were in the backfield.
With such a tenuous depth situation, the Longhorns could use either a newcomer or a position change to add players to the fold.
For now, Reed is the Longhorns' only commitment at defensive end, though Texas has tried to get in on players like Brandon Alexander and Jermauria Rasco. The Longhorns were likely too late in the game to get Alexander and probably lost Rasco when Will Muschamp bolted for Florida. Reed is a nice start, though the Longhorns could still use at least one more end in this class. Jackson and Russell add to last year's strong tackle group to create a strong presence in the middle. Both are active, make plays in the backfield types, as opposed to players like Dorsey, Bible and Cotton, more nose tackle types.
Future Outlook: The Longhorns are desperate for defensive ends in 2012, and it's a good year to find them in-state. Mario Edwards is one of the top ends in the class, and he'll be a top Texas target from the start. How many other ends the Longhorns pursue will probably depend on whether they can add an end or two in 2011.