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Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Position breakdown: Linebacker

By Carter Strickland

AUSTIN, Texas -- Jordan Hicks has been given time to heal. The rest of the Texas linebackers have had to lick some wounds as well.

Now all of them -- although just how much Hicks participates in the wake of his season-ending hip injury remains in the air -- get to start anew this spring. And that includes their position coach, Manny Diaz.

Diaz is back for his third season as the linebacker coach. After a first season, in which Diaz was handed fundamentally sound, veteran linebackers and excelled, Year Two saw Diaz struggle mightily teaching younger, inexperienced players.

Now all involved have some seasoning and that should help the progression of what was the worst unit for Texas in 2012.

Hicks
Coming off a season-ending hip injury, will LB Jordan Hicks be ready for the spring?
In addition, Diaz appears intelligent enough and humble enough to understand his shortcomings and get them fixed. That, in turn, should help fix the linebackers.

Having Hicks back doesn’t hurt either. He was to be the leader in 2012 and up until the hip injury at Ole Miss, Hicks did lead the team in tackles. But when he exited, the remaining linebackers lost their way and could not keep up with the fast-paced attacks presented to them weekly in the Big 12.

Now the pace will be picked up in practice by the new Longhorns offense. That move, along with having Hicks to guide and a presumably better-equipped Diaz to coach, should greatly help the linebackers develop into something more than a liability.

Now it just comes down to picking which of the six legitimate candidates is best suited to restore the reputation of the Texas defense and Diaz.

Peter Jinkens: He emerged as a leader at the end of last season and while he did not always know the right place to go, he at least made his mistakes at top speed. Jinkens is angling for a starting position and if he does not emerge from spring as one of the three starters at linebacker it will be surprising.

Jordan Hicks: Hicks is going to be another starter. Again, how much he plays this spring depends on how much he wants to push his hip injury. But in all likelihood he will be out on the field mixing it up most days. Despite his suspension from the Alamo Bowl, Hicks remains a solid leader and is a player the coaching staff trusts to get the job done on the field.

Steve Edmond: He did get better when the offenses became less complex. But Edmond still has a long learning curve to travel before he is completely ready to dominate the middle of the field. This spring will go a long way in helping him be more comfortable in making quick reads and moving more instinctually within the defense.

Dalton Santos: He certainly has the passion for the game but proved to be too young to be effective as a freshman. Side-to-side speed can be an issue for Santos, but uncertainty about where to go at times plays a role in that lack of speed as well. Santos is a definite option for the middle linebacker spot. His understanding of the reads, as well as communication skills will determine whether or not he is considered for the starting spot leaving spring.

Kendall Thompson: Thompson will be battling with Jinkens for playing time at the outside linebacker spot. Thompson started seven of the last nine games in 2012, so he will have the edge in terms of experience. But it will be hard to hold off the hard-charging sophomore for an outside spot. While given a chance to be a starter, Thompson will probably emerge as the fourth guy in the linebacker rotation. Or he could be the first guy on the field to replace either Hicks or Jinkens.

Tevin Jackson: Jackson’s speed was a major factor late in the year, especially when paired as a starter with Thompson and Jinkens as starters in the Alamo Bowl. But his best role was that as a blitzing linebacker on third downs. He became the linebacker that Demarco Cobbs wasn’t and then couldn’t be because of a knee injury. Like Thompson and Jinkens, he will be battling for playing time at the outside linebacker spot opposite Hicks. Going into the spring he might the third guy considered for that other outside linebacker spot. But he does have the talent to move up the depth chart.

Aaron Benson, Demarco Cobbs, Tim Cole, Deoundrei Davis: Cobbs injured his knee late in the year and will not be a spring participant. He missed last spring with a neck injury and most of his sophomore season with a forearm injury. Benson, Cole and Davis, a newcomer, will all be positioning for playing time as reserves.