Hicks missed 9 games in 2013 (Achilles) and 10 games in 2012 (groin). Hicks was leading the team in tackles (41) when he popped his Achilles in Game 4 of last season.
For the Texas defense to see improvement, Hicks has to stay healthy. Steve Edmond, Dalton Santos, Tim Cole and Peter Jinkens have to do a much better job of getting off blocks and not taking false steps or this position will continue to give ground.
Texas led the nation in missed tackles in 2012, when it gave up 29.2 points per game and a school-record 404.2 yards per game. Things improved slightly in 2013 in points allowed per game (25.8), but not in total yards (407.2).
The bottom line is Texas still has miles and miles to go to improve defensively, especially at the linebacker position.
Injuries have impacted more than Hicks at LB. Tevin Jackson (shoulder injury last spring; ACL tear last fall) and Kendall Thompson (his fourth concussion - suffered this spring - has him contemplating giving up football).
Bad recruiting has also played a role in the failures of the LB position.
Dravannti Johnson (2008)
Tariq Allen (2009)
Patrick Nkwopara (2009)
Aaron Benson (2010)
Chet Moss (2011)
Whether it was poor evaluation or development, they were all misses. (Moss was recruited as a LB before moving to FB, where he also failed to make an impact.)
When you're only taking one or two LBs per class, that's an exceptionally high miss rate.
And I didn't even include Tevin Jackson (2010) or Kendall Thompson (2011) on that list, because they played in 2012 and have had injury issues. But they could easily be on that list.
There's hope for the LB group in 2014. The coaching staff hasn't seen Jordan Hicks yet (he should be able to work out starting in June). But they see promise in Steve Edmond, Dalton Santos, Peter Jinkens and Tim Cole. All have to do a better job of using leverage and their hands to get off blocks and not take false steps that get them out of position.
The LBs Texas has recruited recently - Deoundrei Davis (2013), Naashon Hughes (2013) and Cole (2012) - could all end up contributing. The coaching staff was also pleasantly surprised by senior OLB Demarco Cobbs this spring (don't call it a comeback! - Cobbs has also battled injury issues since moving to LB from RB).
I'm not going to count linebacker as a strength for Texas until I see it.
The player evaluation and development at this position has been totally substandard prior to Charlie Strong's arrival.
There has been talent, but not nearly the production. That has to change, and it can.
Call me jaded, I just need to start seeing that improvement on the field before I step out on behalf off this position group.