OK, so this is a lot more than one player, but there are a number of moving parts here. How much time will Jordan Hicks get, and will he look rusty? How well have Steve Edmond and Dalton Santos developed in the middle? Will Peter Jinkens be more assignment-sound? A number of players saw time a year ago, but most weren't ready for the limelight. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz's defense is linebacker-driven, and with those players making the right reads, it can be a pretty lights-out group. Texas looks strong in the front and has tons of potential in the back. So this position could decide just how good the Texas defense is this year.
Most expected Phillips to be ready for primetime a year ago. And why not — the junior was highly tested as a cornerback as a sophomore and was moving to his more natural safety position. But Phillips suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out of contact drills and he spent the first half of the season adjusting to the speed of the game and missing tackles. He rebounded well at the end of the year and has been outstanding this spring. With Carrington Byndom looking like an All-Big 12 candidate again at cornerback and Quandre Diggs thriving in his new role as nickel corner, having a full-go Phillips on the back end could be the missing piece for a secondary that is high on speed and talent.
3) Cedric Reed
When Jackson Jeffcoat played just six games a year ago with an injury, Reed stepped in well, making 46 tackles and eight tackles for loss. Now, he'll be counted on to fill the opening left by Alex Okafor's graduation. Reed has a ton of ability, especially as a run-stopping end. Can he get to the quarterback a little bit better? He had 2.5 sacks last year, but also ranked second on the team with 13 quarterback hurries. Another year of development could help Reed start to turn those hurries into sacks. The Longhorns are loaded at defensive tackle, and if Jeffcoat is back fully healthy, should be outstanding at one end spot. That leaves Reed's spot as the only semi question mark on the front.