How Texas Will Improve, Part Three

When watching the Red River Shootout, it wasn't hard to envision at least two of Texas's linebackers on postseason All-America teams.

Keenan Robinson had a whopping 19 tackles, including two for loss. Not to be outdone, Emmanuel Acho had 17 stops, five in the backfield, a sack and a forced fumble. The duo helped to keep Oklahoma's offense in check, with two Sooner touchdowns coming on drives that were stopped, but continued by penalties.

Fast forward a few months, and neither player made first-team All-Big 12, and only Acho made the second-team. Sure, the linebackers weren't the main issue on a defense that struggled against the power game up front and had a lack of speed in the back. But it was also a somewhat inconsistent unit, for multiple reasons. For one, other than Acho and Robinson, the group lacked players who excelled at playing in space. So Texas either had to choose between playing Dravannti Johnson, a defensive end type, at SAM, or move Acho from the middle to SAM, while Dustin Earnest and Jared Norton manned the middle.

That shuffling at times left the Longhorns out of position, with opposing running backs taking advantage of the gaps to put up huge plays.

But no longer. In 2011, Johnson will be at defensive end, while Earnest and Norton have graduated.

Moving into the starting lineup is Jordan Hicks, an uber athlete who runs exceptionally well and has All-America potential of his own. Hicks was a true freshman a year ago, but performed well in limited duty. Also adding to the range of the linebacking unit is Demarco Cobbs, who stood out on special teams in 2010, and played a few downs as a safety. Like Hicks, Cobbs gives Texas another fantastic athlete to turn to on the outside.

The inside will be manned by a combination of Acho and Robinson, both of whom cross-trained on the inside and outside in the spring. Also adding to the depth there will be true freshman Steve Edmond, another exceptional athlete for an outside linebacker. Fellow true freshmen Tevin Jackson and Kendall Thompson lend more athleticism and versatility, while redshirt freshman Aaron Benson and true freshman Chet Moss lend even more depth.

So why will the Longhorns be better than a year ago, when they were especially vulnerable to the run? An influx in speed, talent and depth, with a highly talented Hicks joining the core duo of Acho and Robinson, means that Texas should boast a linebacking unit among the Big 12's best.

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