Last season, Jackson Jeffcoat's season-ending injury was both a negative and a positive. The negative was obvious — Texas lost an All-Big 12 caliber defensive end who was on pace for a massive season. The positive? The Longhorns got an extended look at Cedric Reed in Jeffcoat's place. The 6-foot-6 then-sophomore was thrust into full-time action opposite Alex Okafor, and that experience, when coupled with a big offsesaon, meant that he was set to hit the ground running.
And he has. This week, Texas coach Mack Brown mentioned that Reed was emerging as one of the top defensive ends in the country, and when looking at the complete package of what he brings, as an outstanding run-stopper and developing pass-rusher, it's hard to disagree. Reed actually leads the Longhorns in tackles with 42 stops, and 6.5 of those have come in the backfield, including three sacks. He's used his length to bat down four passes, and he's forced two fumbles. And he has six quarterback hurries, plays that, as he continues to develop, could turn into sacks.
Reed has provided the ideal strong-side complement to Jeffcoat, who elected to return to Texas for his senior season. Jeffcoat has been a bit up-and-down … he's made the big play, and his timing for the big play has been fantastic. But there have been other times when he's been too much of a non-factor. Still, it's tough to argue with the numbers. Jeffcoat has seven tackles for loss and five sacks, putting him on pace for a career-high in the latter category. He also has nine quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and an interception that closed out the Iowa State game. Jeffcoat's main fault is that he can work too far upfield at times … it's an effective move when the coverage is there because he's good at working back to the quarterback. But he doesn't typically explode well enough to bend the edge, and at times he can run himself out of the play.
Reggie Wilson also had a big offseason, earning rave reviews from his teammates for his increased dedication and focus. And he's shown up well as a No. 3 end, especially last game against Oklahoma, when he made two stops, one assisted in the backfield and another on a hustle play that saved a big gain. Wilson has a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble on the season, to go along with his 13 tackles. He's teamed with Shiro Davis among the backups, with Davis working to match his production to his prodigious athletic gifts. Remember that Davis actually ran a 4.56 electronic 40-yard dash at The Opening in high school, at the same event that Texas back Johnathan Gray ran a 4.53. He has the kind of explosion that could make him a special player, but he hasn't yet harnessed that ability, making five tackles, a sack and a quarterback hurry.
One of Davis or the younger ends will need to step up next year, when Texas loses Jeffcoat and Wilson to graduation. Bryce Cottrell has the quickness to become an excellent pass-rusher, though he's currently spending his time on special teams. And Caleb Bluiett hasn't played as much as expected prior to the season, though the No. 5 or No. 6 defensive end doesn't typically play a ton.
As a group, the potential here is through the roof, and if Reed continues his high level of play and Jeffcoat continues to hit the home runs, this will be arguably the best end grouping in the Big 12.