Of course, Texas fans knew better. Because while Kheeston Randall, the team's best defensive tackle, graduated, and while Calvin Howell had the second-most starts to Randall, tackle was arguably the deepest position on the team a year ago, with the Longhorns playing five players extensive time.
Just how did Texas get there, just one year removed from a 2010 season that saw the Longhorns so thin that they pushed Alex Okafor inside next to Randall? That is a bit more complicated of an answer.
Some of it came as a result of increased experience for Howell, a redshirt freshman in 2010, and Ashton Dorsey, a true freshman that season. With an extra year under their belts, both became legitimate Big 12 defensive tackles, allowing Okafor to move back to his natural end spot, where he was an All-Big 12 player. The cause was also helped when five-star true freshman Desmond Jackson came in ready to be the fourth tackle. And finally, the fifth player was added when Chris Whaley, who moved to defensive end from running back, continued to grow and became a pass-rushing defensive tackle with outstanding quickness.
Three of those players return for 2012, though defensive coordinator Manny Diaz added that one concern is that they are all technically in different roles than a year ago. With Randall gone, the Longhorns are out their top tackle. And Howell means that others will have to play more snaps as well. Still, there's plenty of reason for optimism.
For one, Dorsey is back after a season that saw him start four games, and he appears ready to assume Randall's role as leader along the line. He was second to Randall in tackles at the position, making 24, and his seven tackles for loss actually led all Longhorn defensive tackles. He's also fresh off one of his best performances, a two-tackle-for-loss effort in the Holiday Bowl, and he followed that up with a strong spring and an excellent spring game.
And while the competition is fierce, at this point it appears he may be teamed with now-sophomore Jackson. Jackson is one of the team's strongest players, and has also shown ability as a cat-quick penetrator. He had 10 tackles a year ago, including two sacks, the most of any of the defensive tackles. And he appeared to take that extra step in the spring, looking more confident by the minute.
If he doesn't win the job, it will probably go to a newcomer. At 6-5 335, Brandon Moore is the team's heaviest defensive tackle option by at least 30 pounds. But he's more than just a big body, winning several matchups because of his off-ball quickness and his ability to stay low and strong. The East Mississippi Community College transfer is a former four-star recruit who started his career with Alabama, and was athletic enough to get some time there as a defensive end in the Crimson Tide's 3-4.
Whaley is also back, but he seems best suited to passing plays, when he can unleash his athleticism and get after the passer. He's still growing as a run defender — he made two tackles for loss and a sack last year — but seemed better there in the spring.
And don't be shocked if the Longhorns are five-deep yet again, thanks to a stellar recruiting class that includes five-star prospect Malcom Brown of Brenham, who might be more polished than Jackson was out of high school. Paul Boyette of Humble and Alex Norman of Bishop Dunne are both highly talented players who could also factor in, if Brown isn't ready for whatever reason. All three are outstanding athletes, and Brown even played some tight end for Brenham, and could do so in limited situations for Texas.