Post-Spring Outlook: Defensive Ends

If Big 12 coaches had to pick the one position where Texas seemed to have a major advantage heading into 2012, it would probably be at defensive end.

Because while most schools would love to have a single five-star prospect, Texas actually has three: Alex Okafor, Jackson Jeffcoat and Reggie Wilson, the team's top three defensive end options. Further, both Okafor and Jeffcoat are expected to compete for All-Big 12 honors again, or even more.

Okafor's decision to return to Texas immediately boosted the Longhorns' chances of fielding an elite defense. Jeffcoat figured to be a potential All-American, but had Okafor left, the other end spot would have been somewhat of a question mark. Instead, Texas brings back both players from a group that was red-hot to close out the season.

Through the first six games of 2011, Texas only had seven sacks as a team, including one from Okafor and none from Jeffcoat. That quickly changed. In the final seven contests, the Longhorns had a whopping 22 sacks (more than three per game), with Okafor and Jeffcoat combining for 14 of those (exactly two per game). Had they maintained that pace through the season, Texas would have finished with more than 40 sacks (40.86), with their vaunted end duo putting up 26 between them.

So it was easy to see why Texas was so excited to get both of them back. At 6-foot-5 and 260-plus pounds, Okafor is arguably the top defensive end in the country heading into 2013, and is considered potentially a top-10 NFL Draft pick next year. He had 58 tackles, 14 for loss and seven sacks, and held up really well against the run. He has great get-off, but also brings the power that comes from being a former defensive tackle.

Jeffcoat actually finished with better numbers than Okafor, and could be a first-round pick if he comes out early. Jeffcoat isn't as great athletically as Okafor is, but may be better technically. He finished with 71 tackles, 21 for loss and eight sacks. But fans wanting to see improvement out of Jeffcoat this spring will have to wait until the fall, as an injury kept him out of spring practice. Still, he's expected to heal quickly, and his absence actually had some benefits.

One of those was the "discovery" of Reggie Wilson. A former five-star prospect, Wilson has been stuck behind fellow five-stars Okafor and Jeffcoat. He's always been one of the team's top pass-rushers, but hasn't always held up on running downs. But he looked much better in that respect this spring, and continued to be a handful in passing situations. He likely earned himself some playing time with his performance.

And Cedric Reed continued his development. Reed has an outstanding frame and uses his hands well enough to be a three-down defender. He could be grooming himself to serve as Okafor's backup, and step in after Okafor graduates.

The rest of the depth will be absorbed by a talented freshman class that arrives in June, with the best candidates likely being the explosive pass-rusher Torshiro Davis and the already NFL-sized Hassan Ridgeway.


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