"Somebody's got to fill that other (RDT) spot," Brown said, "and right now I think that's an unanswered question."
Early in his freshman year, Dibbles refused to redshirt and then insisted that his jersey number be switched to Number 1. It was enough to make former DT Marcus Tubbs roll his eyes in disbelief. ("I tried to slap some sense into him," Tubbs said. "I told him that's not a number for us. We're big guys.") A source close to the program reported that Dibbles, instead, saw himself as the next big thing and expected fans to snap up his jersey at local sporting good stores in anticipation of the renown he would give to it.
Coaches said last year that they saw evidence of a more mature and svelte Dibbles (6-2, 285) who was working hard to get into playing-shape. However, coaches questioned if Dibbles could be counted on during those long, sustained drives (not so much in the heat of battle but in the heat). I asked Brown if Dibbles now had the physical stamina for the long haul.
"He could have tonight," Brown said at the close of Tuesday's opening practice, "but he hasn't yet so that's something he's got to learn to do. He's a young player that's going into his third year, he's 284 pounds (Note: that's down from a listed 285 last season) and he's in better shape than he's ever been in."
Dibbles saw action in 11 games last year, posting 18 tackles, two TFL, and three QB pressures. He registered a career-best seven tackles against Tulane as a sophomore. And, of course, he now wears jersey number 92.
Granted, one doesn't replace an NFL first round draft pick like Marcus Tubbs overnight. But it's not an entirely unusual situation for Longhorn coaches.
"We've had this come up nearly every year, three of our six years here, so we're used to that," Brown said. "We don't try to replace guys; we try to get new guys to step up and find their place. That's one thing we've done really well here because we've recruited well. Obviously, Rod Wright will step into the Marcus Tubbs-type place, and the Shaun Rogers and the Casey Hamptons, and that puts a tremendous amount of pressure on him."
Wright was a second-team All-Big 12 choice in 2003 after posting 80 tackles, including a team-best 7.5 QB sacks. He also led the team with 30 QB pressures while forcing three fumbles. Wright earned 2002 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors from league coaches as well as a spot on The Sporting News freshman All-America squad in 2002. All told, he has registered 145 tackles, including 25 TFL, in 26 career games. At 6-5 and 315 pounds of solid muscle, you don't realize what a physical specimen Wright is until you walk beside him. He looks like something that a football geneticist would concoct as the perfect down lineman. (Now, if only we could clone Wright at a spot where depth is a concern).
Wright's primary backup was expected to be either junior Kaelen Jakes (6-3, 260) or senior Austin Sendlein. But Jakes has been moved to power end to shore up a suddenly thinned position while Sendlein announced this week he was hanging up his cleats after battling multiple injuries. Sendlein had earned six career starts and 26 appearances, serving as a backup LDE last season.
Senior Stevie Lee entered the spring as the designated starter at RDT but finished as co-backup with sophomore Tully Janszen. (Coaches said Janszen had a very impressive spring while privately saying Lee was a great kid but now a half-step slower following the foot injury that sidelined him as a freshman). Janszen (6-3, 275) played in seven games as a backup DT and on special teams, registering two tackles and forcing a fumble. Lee has 41 appearances and two career starts (against Baylor and LSU in 2002) in totaling 51 tackles. He switched to the O-Line in spring, 2003, but returned to the D-line this year to bolster the two-deep chart.
Speaking of depth: true freshman Franklin Okam arrives on the scene wearing a red cape and a big 'S' up front (see Day One Practice Notes and Observations). Well, okay, Okam may not be Superman but many consider the Parade All-American from Dallas Lake Highlands as the jewel of this year's recruiting class. He is "an impact player", Brown said on Signing Day, and could contribute early. Okam (6-5, 300) earned Texas 5A All-State honors in both football and track and field.
"I really feel like (defensive coaches) are excited about some of the newness on defense, even with some of the new guys that haven't played yet," Brown said. "The guys are really hungry right now. They're coming in with a good spirit and a lot of unknowns. It's a good time for them, both coaches and players."
Regardless of changes on the defensive line, the bottom line remains the same for Brown: "Defensively, we want to be the best tackling team in the country and the toughest team in America."