Texas 22: Countdown by importance- Nos. 12-9

Texas needs a lot of things to go right in 2015 to have a chance to improve on a 6-7 record in a Big 12 that should have TCU and Baylor in the Top 10 to start the season.

Here's my Top 22 players by order of importance to the success of Texas' 2015 season and why beginning with Nos. 12-9:

  Nos. 22-19.

  Nos. 18-13.

No. 12. Anthony Wheeler, MLB, freshman/Cecil Cherry, MLB, freshman

My gut is Wheeler edges out Cherry and Tim Cole eventually to take over the middle linebacker position, because he's such a physical presence who has the lateral quickness to go sideline to sideline. But Cherry comes from nothing in Frostproof, Fla., and has an obvious hunger that may not be denied. Whoever wins this position, whether it's Wheeler, Cherry, Cole or Dalton Santos, holds one of the keys to the 2015 defense.

No. 11. John Bonney, Nickel CB, redshirt freshman

Surprised to see Bonney this high on the list? Don't be. The coaches trust him to play the nickel, which is one of the most demanding jobs on the defense. You have to cover the slot WR, often one of the offense's most dangerous weapons. You have to play the run as the CB closest to the line of scrimmage, and you have to be able to blitz and get home. Bonney's role on the defense in 2015 is huge.

No. 10. Malik Jefferson, LB, true freshman

He showed in the spring you can line him up outside or in the middle, and he will be around the ball, making plays. He's a big, physical, fast playmaker who has a chance to remind Texas fans of Derrick Johnson as an impact player as a freshman. With Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond gone, Jefferson gets his wish of having a lot put on his shoulders immediately.

No. 9. Naashon Hughes, OLB/DE, sophomore/Caleb Bluiett, OLB/DE, junior

These two are likely to split time on the right side of the defense in a critical pass-rushing role. Hughes is likely to be the starter with Bluiett battling back from a knee injury (ACL) suffered last season. Hughes is a slippery pass rusher who uses speed and elusiveness, while Bluiett is the more physical player. A nice combination that needs to make its presence felt in a big way this season. If Bluiett is slow to bounce back from the knee injury, JUCO transfer DE Quincy Vasser could enter the equation.


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