Texas Defensive and Special Teams Preview

With the Longhorns' season just two days away, here's a look at Texas's defense and special teams heading into the Rice game.

Defensive line:

The Big 12 might not have a better end duo than projected starters Sam Acho and Eddie Jones, a pair of 6-foot-3, 260-pound seniors. Acho is an all-conference player who can cause offensive lines trouble from both end and tackle, while Jones is also pretty well-rounded. The two combined for 21 tackles for loss and 15 sacks a year ago.

Depth will be supplied by a pair of super-talented true freshmen in Jackson Jeffcoat and Reggie Wilson, rated the Nos. 2 and 3 defensive ends in the Class of 2010. Both have shown the ability in camp to get to the passer, while also displaying the athleticism to drop into coverage, key duties in a Will Muschamp defense. Jeffcoat (6-5 238) had 20 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks a year ago for Plano West High School. Wilson (6-3 250) had 25 tackles for loss and nine sacks for Haltom High School.

Defensive tackle, other than junior Kheeston Randall, is another story. Randall (6-5 295), is highly talented and capable of earning all-conference honors from his nose tackle spot. Texas coach Mack Brown called Randall "what you want from a tackle," lauding Randall's size, strength, athleticism and quickness off the ball. Ashton Dorsey (6-2 295), a talented true freshman, will back up Randall at the nose. Coaches are excited about his potential.

Tyrell Higgins (6-3 285) earned the start at the three-technique spot, a position he earned through hard work and a great final scrimmage, where he tipped and intercepted a pass. Still, this position battle is incredibly close, with sophomore Alex Okafor (6-5 258) and redshirt freshman Calvin Howell (6-4 290) breathing down Higgins's neck. Each of those two was banged up and missed time in fall camp. Okafor gives the Longhorns another long, quick athlete to rush from the inside on passing downs.

True freshmen Taylor Bible and Greg Daniels could also play.


Linebacker represents another of Texas's major strengths. Keenan Robinson (6-3 239) is the All-Big 12 candidate. He had 74 tackles a year ago, and put together great spring and fall camps. He'll start at WILL, where his speed and range will be excellent assets. A tackling machine, Robinson topped the Longhorns in stops in at least one of the three scrimmages.

Emmanuel Acho (6-2 240) has earned the attention of his teammates by re-making his body, trimming fat and adding athleticism. Acho started two games a year ago, but made the most of his time by making 10 tackles for loss. He'll start at the MIKE position, though Acho has the athleticism and versatility to play all three spots. He's listed as the primary backup at SAM, and would also probably move to WILL if Robinson were to go down.

Dravannti Johnson has earned the start at SAM. Johnson has excellent size (6-2 250), and speed. His versatility is a big plus, as he'll play a defensive end/ linebacker hybrid where he can get after the quarterback. That position fits well with his talents, as Johnson was a pure defensive end coming out of high school, where he had 16 sacks.

Senior Dustin Earnest (6-3 232) serves as the primary backup in the middle, though like Acho, he could play any of the three spots if needed. He's an excellent utility player. Jared Norton (6-3 248) has recovered from a shoulder injury and gives Texas a masher in the running game. True freshman Jordan Hicks (6-2 220) has earned the backup spot at WILL. He's an excellent athlete with sideline-to-sideline range, and will likely play mostly in passing situations.

Defensive back:

When asked if Texas had the best defensive backfield in the country, Curtis Brown said that the Longhorns could only try to be as good as they could be. Modesty aside, there aren't many units to compare to Texas's back four (or five, if you count the nickel back spot). Three Texas defensive backs – cornerbacks Brown and Aaron Williams and safety Blake Gideon – were selected as preseason All-Big 12 picks.

Williams (6-1 195) is probably the top pro prospect, but he is listed as a co-starter at left cornerback with Brown. Where Williams thrives is as a nickel back, where he demonstrates outstanding cover skills, great physicality and a talent for slipping blocks and making tackles. His multiple talents serve him well there.

Both Curtis (6-0 184) and Chykie Brown (6-0 194) give the Longhorns exactly what you want from a pair of cornerbacks, with great size, length and athleticism. Curtis has rarely been tested, and he only has one pick in his career, an interception that he returned 77 yards for a touchdown last year. Chykie intercepted two passes a year ago.

True freshmen Carrington Byndom (6-0 175) and A.J. White (6-0 175) have stood out in practice and must get repetitions this year. With both Browns entering their senior seasons, and with Williams potentially entering the NFL Draft following his junior year, both could be starting a year from now.

Gideon (6-1 205) doesn't wow athletically, but he's always around the football and is one of the Longhorns' great leaders. He had 62 tackles last year and intercepted six passes, a number that probably would have garnered more attention if Gideon wasn't playing next to All-American Earl Thomas. A junior, Gideon is already a two-year starter.

Starting next to Gideon will be Christian Scott (6-1 215), arguably the most intimidating hitter on the Longhorns' roster. How hard a hitter is Scott? Texas coaches have had to ask him to scale back a bit to protect his teammates in practice.

Kenny Vaccaro (6-1 201) is another big hitter at safety, and he will play at times at nickel back when the Longhorns want to employ three safeties. True freshman Adrian Phillips (5-11 199) is Gideon's backup at right safety, where he brings excellent mobility. Fellow true freshman Demarco Cobbs could also factor in at safety once his hamstring heals a bit.

Special teams:

Justin Tucker will serve as Texas's field goal kicker, kickoff specialist and its rugby style punter. Tucker averaged 40.4 yards on his punts last year, while he had 14 touchbacks on his 99 kicks. Texas coaches said his range has improved from a year ago, with him putting more kickoffs in the end zone. Now though, he'll also serve as Texas's field goal kicker, a role he hasn't filled since coming to Texas from Austin Westlake High School. At Westlake, Tucker made 30 of 44 field goals and 155 of 162 extra points.

John Gold will serve as Texas's primary punter. The senior booted 15 punts last year, averaging 44.1 yards per punt. Five of his kicks went 50-plus yards, while four were downed inside the 20.

True freshman William Russ will also likely play, to get Russ some experience for when Gold leaves. Russ starred at Louisiana power Evangel Christian, connecting on 34 of his 50 field goals and averaging 41 yards per punt. Russ also placed 122 of his kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks.

Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe, two of Texas's fastest players, will return kickoffs, where both are dangerous. The same goes for Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown, Texas's punt returners.

Cade McCrary earned the job as Texas's holder, while Greg Smith will be the long snapper on field goals and extra points. Alex Zumberge will long-snap on punts.

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