Position Preview: Defensive Tackles

With the departure of Larry Dibbles and All-American Rod Wright, Texas will be challenged to step up at the defensive tackle position. But, it's a challenge the Longhorns will likely meet, as they return their starting nose tackle from last season and one of the most talented defensive linemen ever to put on the burnt orange, Frank Okam.

Players at the position:

Ben Alexander, 6-0, 298, Fr
Tully Janszen, 6-3, 280, Sr
Derek Lokey, 6-2, 275, Jr
Thomas Marshall, 6-6, 293, Jr
Roy Miller, 6-2, 300, Soph
Frank Okam, 6-5, 315, Jr

Defense starts in the middle and anchoring the middle of the Longhorn defensive line will be 6'5", 315-pound Frank Okam.

Okam has garnered a great amount of attention in the preseason. The junior is on the watch lists for the Bednarik Award (nation's top defensive player) and Lombardi Award (nation's top lineman) and joins offensive tackle Justin Blalock on the preseason Playboy All-American team.

Okam started all thirteen games last season and put up 48 tackles and a sack out of the nose tackle position. This season he'll move from nose tackle to the three-technique, which means he'll be lining up over a single guard and will face a lot more one-on-one match-ups. Competing to replace Okam as the starting nose tackle will be a couple of run stoppers who are as hard to move as tree-stumps.

"Frank has moved out because we have two body-types in Roy Miller and Derek Lokey that fit perfectly for the nose," said Mack Brown. "Those guys are so quick. They're hard to block because you usually have tall offensive linemen, so it's hard to dig them up. We feel like all three of those guys, right now, would be starters. A lot of time the nose guard gets double-teamed. In the three-technique, it's a single block for the guard." More one-on-ones mean more opportunities for sacks and Okam believes that he will not only be one of the top sackers among DTs, but says he wants to lead all Big 12 defenders in the category.

Miller was the only five-star member of the 2005 recruiting class and has been likened to former Longhorn and current Pittsburgh Steelers starter Casey Hampton. Okam was the defensive jewel of the 2004 recruiting class and, if he remains healthy, is destined to follow in the cleats of former recent Longhorn greats such as Wright and Marcus Tubbs.

"Frank will be the next great one to play for Tolle (DT Coach Mike Tolleson) at Texas," Brown added. "He's got it written all over him."

Lokey was not nearly as hyped when he came out of high school, but caught Longhorn fans' attention as a true freshman in 2004 when he burst through the line and registered a key tackle-for-loss in the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl against Michigan. Lokey has found his way onto the field in 22 career games and should have his biggest season at Texas in 2006.

Regardless of who wins the starting job at NT, expect there to be a lot of rotation along the line, with both players seeing significant time. Spelling Okam at DT will be junior Thomas Marshall and senior Tully Janszen. The 6'6" Marshall was an All-Stater on both sides of the ball both his junior and senior years of high school and came on at the end of last season and this spring as a capable back-up. Janszen has played in 20 career games despite missing all of the '04 season with a knee injury.

Someone else who may see the field in 2006 is incoming freshman Ben Alexander. Under Mack Brown, offensive linemen almost never see the field as true freshmen, but defensive linemen are a different story. If a DT is ready to go, Brown has shown no hesitation throwing them into the fire, even in the biggest games (Lokey and Okam in the '04 Rose Bowl, Miller in the '05 Rose Bowl). Alexander may be a little undersized, but he's explosive out of the blocks and could step in early on as a back up at nose tackle behind Lokey and Miller.

The position will get deeper in 2007 with the commitment of a pair of talented defensive tackles: Michael Wilcoxon of Aledo, who flew under the radar of most recruiters until his breakout performance at the U.S. Army All-American junior combine in January, and five-star behemoth Andre Jones of El Paso, who is astoundingly quick, despite tipping the scales at over 300 pounds.

Monday, July 24: QBs
Tuesday, July 25: RBs
Wednesday, July 26: WRs
Thursday, July 27: TEs
Friday: July 28: OLs

Monday, July 31: DEs
Tuesday, Aug. 1: DTs
Wednesday, Aug. 2: LBs
Thursday, Aug. 3: DBs
Friday, Aug. 4: Special Teams

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