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NEW FACES IN NEW PLACES ON DEFENSE?

With spring football starting March 7, which players are going to get a look at middle linebacker? It won't be Malik Jefferson apparently, who will probably be moving outside. Here's a look at some other developments on defense that appear to be on the horizon for the Texas Longhorns ...

INJURY UPDATE:

TE Andrew Beck (broken foot) is out for spring ball, and P Michael Dickson (hamstring) will start spring ball in injury rehab.

On QB Shane Buechele's thumb injury on his throwing hand ...

I reported in HD ONLY a few weeks back that Buechele had suffered a sprained thumb on his throwing hand and played with the injury down the stretch of last season - about the time you saw him basically stop throwing deep balls.

He's fine, though, now and hasn't had surgery.

Apparently, Buechele had some problems with such an injury in HS and this was an aggravation of it. I'm told if there are problems during spring ball, he'll have surgery in time for the fall season. But right now, so far, so good. He's full-go in workouts.

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After talking to defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, D-line coach Oscar Giles, special teams coordinator/safeties coach Craig Naivar and cornerbacks coach Jason Washington on Wednesday, here are some notables heading into the beginning of spring football on March 7:

 

* Junior Breckyn Hager, who finished second on the team in tackles and led the team in TFLs (13.5) and sacks (6) in 2016, will definitely get a look at MLB as well as OLB.

Orlando, the LB coach, wants a physical, contact-craving middle linebacker who can "bark" calls with confidence over the noise of 100,000 fans.

"There are two or three guys we want to take a look at middle linebacker," Orlando said, declining to name names. But when I asked specifically about Hager, Orlando said Hager was one of them.

* It sounds like LB Jeffrey McCulloch will be another one who gets a look at MLB, because Orlando said McCulloch "will cross-train at inside and outside linebacker." 

 

* It sounds like Orlando definitely sees junior Malik Jefferson as an outside linebacker - most likely the weak side linebacker, where Jefferson's versatile talents are probably best put to use (the same position Jordan Hicks played at Texas).

"The Will linebacker has to be dynamic - rush the passer, drop into coverage and play in space - sideline to sideline," Orlando said.

On expectations for Jefferson, Orlando said, "We'll see. It will be about my relationship with him and how he affects the rest of the unit."

* On incoming JUCO transfer LB Gary Johnson, Orlando said he thinks Johnson has the versatility to play inside or outside.

"He can blitz," Orlando said. "He's got some wiggle. He runs well. We need to put some weight on him."

Orlando said Johnson is probably 215 and needs to be at least 225.

"Sometimes, those JUCO training tables are 'whatever food I can find,'" Orlando said.

 

* Todd Orlando wants to have his three best LBs on the field the most and not rotate as much to build familiarity and cohesion.

"Apparently, there has been a lot of guys in waves at the linebacker position," Orlando said. "We'll try to shave that down and get the best three guys out there together."

* Sophomore Malcolm Roach, who played primarily at OLB last season, could be seeing a lot more time at defensive end in both the three-man and four-man fronts, because he's nearly 270 pounds.

 

* At defensive tackle, Orlando said he thinks there will be a rotation of "five or six" players. 

Nose tackle will be competitive. Orlando said he expects to have two nose tackles who can hold the point of attack.

Obviously, undersized NT senior Poona Ford (5-11, 303) has the most experience and finished fourth on the team in tackles last season.

"Poona has played," Orlando said. "But we've got some other, bigger bodies we want to take a look at. And in this league, you have to be able to run."

I keep hearing DT Marcel Southall's name as one to watch, and, in my opinion, the redshirt freshman from Duncanville (6-2, 327) used his hands the best of all the five DTs who came to Texas in the 2016 class (Jordan Elliott, Gerald Wilbon, Chris Daniels and D'Andre Christmas).

* While junior Chris Nelson (6-1, 297) has the most experience at the 3-technique DT, there will be fierce competition at that spot.

I've heard there are high hopes for Jordan Elliott, as a 3-technique DT or even DE in a three-man front whose explosiveness has drawn at least one comparison to Houston's Ed Oliver. Look for D'Andre Christmas to push for time at the 3-technique DT and/or DE in a three-man line as well.

* When safeties coach Craig Naivar was asked about leaders at his position, the first name out of his mouth was P.J. Locke III, then DeShon Elliott, then Jason Hall and Brandon Jones.

* CB John Bonney has gotten praise for his work in winter conditioning and it sounds like CBs Holton Hill and Davante Davis are buying in. 

* As part of the game plan, Orlando said the coaches will determine the percentage of time they want a player at every position should be on the field.

"We'll determine X, Y and Z player should be on the field 65 percent of the time - let's say," Orlando said. "And then which guys should be on the field 35 percent of the time or less - depending on what each player can do to help us."

 

 

* Orlando said he won't be able to fully calculate a player's buy-in until they put the pads on and he can see who's willing to hit and be physical.

"We've got a lot of guys who've worked hard and looked great in shorts," Orlando said. "But when I ask a guy to run into another player as hard as he can, that's the final piece to the buy-in for me."

 

* Orlando on Tom Herman having players divided up into two groups each morning with a point system that determines which group won that morning's workout - with the winners getting a loaded breakfast buffet inside while the losers go outside and eat watery eggs, burnt biscuits and drink from a hose ...

"When you win, there should be a reward for winning and a consequence for losing," Orlando said. "Every play, you either won your assignment or lost. So how do you win? It's the training and commitment to winning at every turn. It's the purpose with which you do every single thing that's asked of you. That's how you win on each play. We want our guys to be constantly reminded that the fun is in winning and that it sucks to lose."

 

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