2005 Position-By-Position Preview: DT

LDT Rod Wright deferred the NFL's big bucks for one more year (in part) because he's banking on one thing: Texas will be money in 2005. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the Horns will be fielding one of the top defensive fronts in college football and, arguably, the best of Mack Brown's tenure.

Wright, the anchor of a line that returns four starters, may be the most celebrated collegiate DT by the time he hangs up his cleats. Already, he has earned a spot on preseason watch lists for the Outland Trophy (nation's top interior lineman), the Lombardi Award (nation's top lineman), the Bednarik Award (nation's top defensive player), the Nagurski Trophy (nation's top defensive player) and Lott Trophy (defensive player of the year).

"Rod Wright is a guy that started every game at Texas that he has been healthy," head coach Mack Brown said. "Rod did not redshirt and is a guy that played alongside some of the best players that we have ever had in the defensive line. He is ending up his career as one of the great ones to ever play at The University of Texas."

Wright worked his way into the Longhorn lineup in 2002, playing in all 13 games and starting nine. His 65 tackles (including 13 TFLs and 4.5 sacks) earned him Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors and a spot on The Sporting News first-team Freshman All-American squad.

Wright produced one of those 'Is the glass half-full or half-empty?' junior campaigns. Hampered most of the year by an early ankle injury, Wright was credited with 36 tackles, including three TFLs and one sack. It was enough to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors and yet he is The Sporting News' current pick as the league's Most Overrated Player. Wright recently told Inside Texas that he is finally 100 percent and has not needed to tape the ankle during voluntary summer footwork drills. He also believes his tackle and sack totals will increase as a result of new Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik's schemes that allow down linemen to be playmakers. Former Co-DC Greg Robinson insisted that the D-Line spend more time "sitting and holding" offensive linemen, Wright said, and thus allow linebackers to "roam to make plays."

Chizik won the Frank Broyles Award on January 16, presented annually to the nation’s top major college football assistant coach after his Auburn defense finished No. 1 nationally in points allowed (11.3 ppg) on the way to the Southeastern Conference championship and a 13-0 season. That same day, Brown contacted Chizik about the vacancy on his staff when Robinson left for Syracuse after just 12 months in Austin. Chizik's unit gave up just one rushing TD during the 11-game regular season and did not allow an opposing back to total 100 yards in 17 games. Auburn ranked fifth in total defense (277.6 ypg) in 2004.

Statistically, Texas' run defense was improved under Robinson (107.4 ypg, NCAA No. 16) but it's clear that Wright is stoked about Chizik's style (reminiscent of former DC Carl Reese's approach) that allows him to attack rather than contain. He is also stoked about a schedule that includes road trips to Ohio State and Texas A&M, plus some unfinished business against Oklahoma, because Wright has a tendency to rise to the occasion in big games. Last season, for example, 14 of his 36 tackles came against Top 25 opponents. During his sophomore campaign, Wright compiled 37 tackles, three sacks and four TFLs against five teams that were ranked in either of the two major polls.

RDT Larry Dibbles earned his scholarship last season with that critical forced fumble at Arkansas on Sept. 11. With the Horns clinging to a 22-20 lead with 2:54 remaining, Dibbles punched the ball out of QB Matt Jones' hands that FS Phillip Geiggar recovered at the Texas seven. Dibbles sat out spring ball for academic reasons but returns after notching 11 starts during his All-Big 12 junior campaign. He led all Longhorn D-linemen last year with 49 stops, including five TFLs. He was credited with just 1.5 QB sacks (an area of concern and emphasis this season) but was credited with nine pressures and batted down six passes on the season.

RDT Frank Okam was a First-Team Freshman All-American in 2004 and stepped in for Dibbles during the spring. Okam's star is on the rise and he is projected to be Texas' next great DT. (Just wait 'til Okam and Miller are upperclassmen on the field at the same time.) He notched 22 tackles, six TFL, two sacks and nine QB pressures while seeing action in all 12 games and logging one start.

RS-sophomore Derek Lokey will miss the preseason after suffering a stress fracture in his ankle in mid-July. Lokey saw action in ten games last season, recording ten tackles, three TFLs and five QB pressures. At 6-2, 275, Lokey is the smallest of the DTs on campus but was a favorite of Robinson because of his toughness, intensity and, as Robinson put it, was "always scrapping."

Tully Janszen did not participate in contact drills this past spring and now looks to make up for lost time after suffering a season-ending knee injury in August camp one year ago. Janszen played in seven games as a RS-freshman in 2003.

Following a nondescript spring, backups Thomas Marshall and Marco Martin will compete for playing time -- but it won't be against Wright. The incumbents will likely be losing ground on the depth chart to five-star recruit Roy Miller who is projected to lose his redshirt as early as the Sept. 3 home opener. The 6-2, 300-pound true freshman is cut in the mold of former Longhorn Casey Hampton and was named a captain in the U.S. Army All-America Bowl last winter. His blue-collar work ethic earned him MVP of practice honors and he finished second in the MVP voting for the game.

Players report Sunday, August 7. The first practice of the 2005 is set for 6:30 p.m., Monday, at Denius Field. The session is open to the pubic.


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