Monday, September 24, 2012
Due to injury, UT might reshuffle 'backers
By Carter Strickland
AUSTIN, Texas -- While Texas has not counted out Jordan Hicks this week, it might not be prudent to count on him, either.
The junior linebacker suffered a hip injury against Ole Miss a week ago and is still not 100 percent. Texas will check his health at Tuesday's practice. But the team's leading tackler is probably a longshot to make it on the field for Oklahoma State.
"Without Jordan, that's a leader on defense there," said Quandre Diggs.
Linebacker Jordan Hicks injured his hip in Texas' win over Ole Miss.
Added safety Kenny Vaccaro: "It will hurt us. But we also have depth and a lot of young linebacker who can play."
The issue for Texas is it is not sure which of those young linebackers is ready to step up and play against the nation's top-scoring offense.
"We have the first three linebackers," said coach Mack Brown of Hicks, Demarco Cobbs and Steve Edmond. "Then we have a group. If the injury were on offensive line [offensive line coach] Stacy [Searels] would know to put Luke Poehlmann in. In the secondary, [secondary coach] Duane [Akina] would put in either Josh Turner or Mykkele Thompson. At linebacker there is a group of players."
Brown and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz sat down Sunday night to try and figure out contingency plans. The one thing they struck upon was that they did not want to have to be handcuffed by putting a certain player in at a certain position. Instead, Texas is going to play the next best linebacker no matter if his speciality is middle, strong side or weak side.
So that could force some shifting among the linebackers. When Hicks went out against Ole Miss, Cobbs slid from the strong side to the weak side and Kendall Thompson came in at the strong side. Edmond stayed in the middle.
But with an off week to prepare, Texas was able to shift guys around and experiment with sets that allowed for Dalton Santos, a natural middle linebacker, to be on the field with Edmond.
Another possibility to consider is Texas playing more nickel. Oklahoma State is primarily a passing team and Texas has more faith in tis defensive backs than in its linebackers at the moment. If the Longhorns moved to more nickel it would be Vaccaro sliding down into that spot with Josh Turner or Mykkele Thompson taking over at safety.
But there are a couple of drawbacks to playing more nickel. The first is that OSU might use J.W. Walsh since Wes Lunt is injured. Lunt is more a pure passer while Walsh is a combo quarterback. That means if Walsh plays most of the snaps, Texas needs to have that extra linebacker on the field to dedicate to his running.
The other issue is that the last time Vaccaro played down in the nickel was against Wyoming. And the senior said that when he was not on the back line helping the younger safeties get into position there were issues, and that was why Wyoming hit some big passing plays.
"That was the first game, so they got the jitters out, so they should be fine," Vaccaro said.
More injuries Texas is still evaluating the health of kicker Anthony Fera and running back Joe Bergeron. Brown would like to see both practice Tuesday at 100 percent before he makes a determination on their status. That might be difficult in Fera's case because of the nature of his groin injury.
If Fera kicks on Tuesday, that might lead to soreness on Wednesday. And if that happens Texas has to re-evaluate if it takes him to Oklahoma State. The other issue is Texas needs to see Fera kick because no one really knows what he can do and if he is that much better than freshman Nick Jordan.
"I have seen him kick one time and grab his groin," Brown said.
Fera was 14 of 17 for Penn State last year. Jordan has only made 43 percent of his kick this year.
Texas can only travel 70 players to the game and Brown was unsure yet if they would take three kickers.
As for Bergeron, Brown said the running back appears to be taking rehab more seriously than he did a year ago and as such Texas might be in a better position to evaluate him at Tuesday's practice. Again, Brown wants to see him go at 100 percent on Tuesday and at the very latest Wednesday before he clears Bergeron for the OSU game.
Bergeron is second on the team in rushing with 207 yards and three touchdowns. Texas does have still have leading rusher Malcolm Brown and freshman Johnathan Gray.