2005 Position-By-Position Preview: DE

And the Oscar goes to the University of Texas. That would be first-year DE coach Oscar Giles. The former Longhorn is gearing up for his first season as a UT position coach and has the makings of one of Mack Brown's best hires.

Texas returns all four starters to its defensive front, while DEs Tim Crowder and Brian Robison have combined for 33 starts at their respective positions. (Robison started three games at MLB as a RS-freshman in 2003.) Yet, the argument here is that Giles is the most important returning letterman (1988-91) with respect to the DE position.

Giles' hiring was under the radar screen with national Assistant Coach of the Year Gene Chizik also coming on board to direct the defense. Yet Giles is, arguably, an upgrade even though former DE coach Dick Tomey brought a national reputation to the Forty Acres. Tomey is considered the architect of Arizona's renowned 'Desert Swarm' defense; he was also credited with bringing some of the toughness drills that head coach Mack Brown installed during the spring of 2004. Yet Tomey had never coached DE before his arrival in Austin and some questioned his attention to detail (read: technique) relative to that position.

The 65-year Tomey came across as "grandfatherly" to some of the players while the 35-year-old Giles is a bundle of youthful energy. As the youngest coach on the staff, Giles relates well with the players who highly regard the fact that he is the only UT assistant to know what it's like to run onto the Memorial Stadium turf in a Longhorn uniform. Giles was a three-year starter and earned AP All-Southwest Conference during that 1990 "Shock the Nation" championship season.

Giles presence on campus means even more. Whereas previous DE coaches understood that generating an honest pass rush was a critical component of their job description, Giles takes it personally. I mean it hurts his heart that Texas has not had a double-digit sack-man in years. (LDE Tim Crowder led the team in sacks last season with all of 4.5.) Mention Texas' paltry sack totals to Giles and he winces, shakes his head, takes a deep breath, and then looks you in the eye before vowing, "We're gonna fix it." So determined to remedy the situation that Giles introduced extra drills as punishment (er, incentive) for guys who fail to give maximum effort on their pass rush attempts.

(DT Rod Wright told me two weeks ago that former DC Greg Robinson's scheme was so geared toward the defensive front playing containment and directing the flow toward the linebackers that it curtailed the pass rush. Wright predicted that Texas would be among the national leaders in the sack race this year now that Chizik is allowing his front four to be playmakers.)

Brown has been demanding, pleading, begging for an honest pass rush for three straight seasons. And he believes the pass rush never materialized because the defensive front was hampered by injuries.

No spot was hit harder by attrition this time last year than DE. (Three of the six players missing-in-action, either because of health or academic issues, were DEs.) That had much to do with Texas failing to sustain a pass rush, a-gain, in 2004. Texas had but 20 sacks last season (eight of which were against the Aggies) and none against Oklahoma and Arkansas.

"We lost four or five guys last year at the end of summer and we had guys who hadn't played before," Brown said. "We played (converted MLB) Brian Robinson who hadn't played. Tim Crowder's played very little."

Actually, junior Crowder is the old man of the DEs with 21 consecutive starts and was the first member of the 2003 recruiting class to lose his redshirt. He has shown explosiveness from the edge and led the team with 22 QB pressures in 2004 on the way to AP Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors. Crowder was slow out of the starting gate last season but finished strong. His three sacks against Oklahoma State and nine tackles against Texas A&M were career highs. (In fact, Crowder was responsible for Texas' only sacks against OSU.) The rub on Crowder is that he has a difficult time fighting off blocks against bigger O-linemen. There is good reason for optimism that Crowder is coming into his own as he enters his junior campaign, adding 15 pounds of muscle and now tipping the scales at 6-4, 270.

Junior Mike Williams battled Crowder for playing time last spring, Williams is in danger of missing his second consecutive year for academic reasons. Williams has logged all of one career start at Texas but tantalized Horn fans with his burst from the corner.

RS-freshman Brian Orakpo could be a force to be reckoned with if he can maintain explosiveness while adding lean muscle to his 6-4, 238-pound frame. Coaches are high on Orakpo, who trained at both ends this past spring. He is expected to be the first DE off the bench on game day.

RDE Brian Robison is a versatile, smart, hard-nosed, multi-sport athlete who'll never possess the explosiveness of Williams or Crowder. But he was Texas' best option last fall with Williams' absence. He accounted for 48 tackles and was second on the team with 14 TFLs. He added 14 QB pressures and an INT to earn AP Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors. Robison has the vertical leap of Spider Man and tied a school record with four blocked kicks in 2003 (three FGs, plus a critical blocked PAT against Texas Tech).

Frankly, I believe there's only one game on the schedule where Robison may be a step slow to consistently hold his own and that's against Oklahoma. To be fair, there's not many DEs who can effectively contain RB Adrian Peterson. Not all of Peterson's 225 yards last year were on Robison's side, but it seems like it. But before I sell Robison short, I want to come back to one play in last year's 12-0 loss.

There's about nine minutes remaining in the third and OU has a 3-0 lead. It's third-and-goal from the Longhorn six and you just know Peterson is coming at Robison. Sure enough, he does. But this time, Robison fights off his block and out-hustles Peterson to the corner. Robison lassos Peterson and, with the body language that can only indicate 'Enough is enough!', the RS-sophomore throws the Heisman runner-up for a three-yard loss. I made a note to myself following that play: if the Horns go on to win after holding Oklahoma to just a FG, that becomes Texas' defensive play of the year. Alas, Robison's play is lost in the fifth-straight loss to OU. But it personifies the kind of effort and resolve that keeps him on the field.

Sophomore Scott Derry trained at both MLB and DE this past spring. Brown said Derry is both smart and athletic enough to play anywhere among the front seven as coaches will lean on Derry to shore up depth at DE and LB.

Fifth-year senior Kaelen Jakes entered the spring as Crowder's understudy but will probably serve as Robison's backup this season. Jakes appeared in nine games on defense and on special teams last year, recording three tackles and a fumble recovery.

True freshman Aaron Lewis (6-4, 270) could compete for playing time if he turns in an eye-opening August camp. The Albuquerque product was a Parade All-American selection and a two-time first-team all-stater.

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