Texas Longhorns: Jordan Hicks
When Malcom Brown hit the field, everyone else stopped to watch.
Brown, a projected mid-first round pick, was the star of Texas’ pro day as expected Tuesday. The coveted defensive tackle stood by his NFL scouting combine testing numbers but did perform positional drills run by three NFL defensive line coaches: the Colts’ Gary Emanuel, the Lions’ Kris Kocurek and the Bengals’ Jay Hayes.
“I came in, attacked the work, did my best job and whatever that gets me is where I’ll go,” Brown said.
The 6-foot-2, 319-pound defensive lineman is currently the No. 17 pick in mock drafts by both Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. That pick belongs to the San Diego Chargers, though Brown said he doesn’t know where he’ll take pre-draft visits for workouts.
Brown did say he’s excited by the possibility of the Lions showing interest after losing Ndamukong Suh to the Miami Dolphins in free agency.
“It would be great,” Brown said. “I idolize myself after him. He plays really great and I’ll try to go somewhere to make an immediate impact.”
A year after having no players selected in the NFL draft, the Longhorns have several more standouts who will merit mid- to late-round consideration.
Jordan Hicks said he was out to prove he can be a three-down linebacker in his positional drills, and he already has visits lined up with the Texans and Eagles.
Running back Malcolm Brown improved his 40-yard dash from the NFL scouting combine, running an unofficial 40 in the mid-4.4 range on Tuesday after clocking 4.62 in Indianapolis.
“I want to be a four-down back who can run the ball, pass protect, catch the ball out of the backfield and, on fourth down, special teams,” Brown said. “That’s something I’m going to put my mind to and work as hard as I can.”
Cornerback Quandre Diggs was proud of his footwork in defensive back drills and is still trying to fight the perception that a 5-9 corner will have limited opportunities at the next level.
“Everybody is talking about slot corner but, you know, get on a team and let me play slot and I’ll show you I can play outside,” Diggs said. “I just need a chance, need a shot, and I think it’ll come in the draft. I think I’ll surprise a lot of people.”
Defensive end Cedric Reed did not participate in the pro day while he continues to recover from January surgery for a torn meniscus suffered during his senior season. He performed only the bench press at the NFL scouting combine last month. Receiver John Harris, who was not invited to the scouting combine despite a 1,000-yard season, likely raised his stock with an unofficial 4.5 in the 40.
Other Texas pro day notes:
- Receiver Jaxon Shipley made a big impression on scouts with an unofficial 40 time around 4.45. With brother Jordan Shipley in attendance for support, the younger Shipley tested well and looked sharp catching passes from former Texas quarterback David Ash.
- Nate Boyer, the Longhorns’ 34-year-old former Green Beret, is hoping to find an opportunity in the NFL as a long snapper. He bulked up 20 pounds to 216 and is hoping for at least a tryout after working out for scouts Tuesday. He was honorably discharged by the Army last month after 10 years of service, including spending the past two summers stationed in Afghanistan.
- Tight end Geoff Swaim helped his chances on Tuesday with a strong testing day. Swaim, primarily a blocker in his two seasons in Austin, produced a 35 ½ inch vertical and a 40 in the 4.6 range. Defensive back Mykkele Thompson, who wants to prove he’s a tall corner at the next level, had a good day as well with a 40 time in the 4.4 range.
Last week we took a look at potential stats from various offensive players in the conference that could be a sign of success for their respective teams. This week, we look at a stat from one defensive player per school that could be a sign of success this fall.
Here's a look at one stat from a defensive player on each Big 12 team that could be a sign of success for their teams.
Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman's total sacks: The Penn State transfer has freakish ability. At 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, Oakman moves like someone half his size and was ultra-productive as a sophomore, compiling 12.5 tackles for loss in 13 games. But he only managed two sacks as a sophomore, although he was deployed in a backup role for most of the season. If Oakman can approach double-digit sacks with increased playing time as a junior, he could help Baylor’s young secondary overcome the mistakes they are certain to make as they gain experience.
Tackles recorded by Iowa State defensive tackle Brandon Jensen: The Cyclones have a potential hole in the middle of their defense with attrition since the end of the season destroying ISU’s depth. Jensen, who quit football after the 2013 season, returned to the team shortly after spring football. His return was much needed and if he’s able to match his production while starting all 12 games a year ago, it will give Paul Rhoads a foundation for his defense that he didn’t have during spring football. If he can raise his tackle total from 18 in 2013 to around 30 in 2014, it could be a sign he’s become a disruptive force in the middle of ISU’s defense.
Kansas linebacker/defensive end Ben Goodman's tackles for loss: The junior is a versatile talent who has moved closer to the line of scrimmage to make more of an impact with his ability to be disruptive and get into the backfield. He finished with 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in 2013. If he can at least double those numbers, his disruptive nature could combine with a talented secondary to make the Jayhawks defense better than expected this fall.
Kansas State linebacker Mike Moore's total tackles: The junior looks like he could be poised for a breakthrough season with the Wildcats. He’s an active and energetic linebacker who could pair with Jonathan Truman to give KSU one of the conference’s most productive linebacking duos. Moore only had seven tackles in 2013 but finished strong with two tackles, a sack and a forced fumble against Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. If he can match or exceed Blake Slaughter's 110 tackles in 2013 it will be a good sign that the Wildcats’ defense won’t have a major drop off in 2014.
Oklahoma defensive tackle Jordan Phillips total tackles: If the junior exceeds his tackle total from 2013, that’s a great sign for OU’s defense. Phillips played in just four games as a sophomore, recording seven tackles before a back injury forced him to miss the rest of the season. Anything higher than seven tackles likely means Phillips has returned to the lineup and is healthy and productive. If he does return, he has the potential to take OU’s defense to another level.
Oklahoma State cornerback Ashton Lampkin's pass breakups: The likely replacement for Justin Gilbert will be tested early and often in 2014. If Lampkin responds to the challenge and ends up with double-digit pass breakups, it means he has made a seamless move into the starting lineup. That would be terrific news for the Cowboys because if he can join Kevin Peterson to help lock down the perimeter, OSU won’t have to count on its young and inexperienced safeties to make as many plays in the passing game.
Sack total from TCU defensive end Devonte Fields: If Fields returns to his 2012 form, he’s a game-changing talent. He managed three tackles, including two tackles for loss, before a foot injury ended his 2013 season. In 2012, Fields had 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. If he’s healthy and focused, Fields has the ability to put up career-high numbers in sacks and tackles for loss in 2014. If he does, he can transform TCU’s defense and take the unit to another level.
Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks' total tackles: The senior had 40 tackles in four games last season, so the Longhorns would love to see a full, healthy season from Hicks. If he surpasses 40 tackles in 2014, it’s a great sign for Charlie Strong’s defense. The 2011 season was the last time Hicks played in double-digit games, but he's in impact player when healthy. But he’s spent as much time on the sidelines as he has making plays during the past two seasons.
Texas Tech defensive end Branden Jackson's sack total: The Red Raiders will really need to lean on Jackson, who finished the 2013 season with 44 tackles, including nine tackles for loss, and four sacks. He’s a proven commodity along Tech’s defensive front so it will be critical for him to, at the very least, match those numbers this fall. If he struggles to be productive, the Red Raiders defensive line could be the weak link of the defense and hamper the team as a whole.
Tackles for loss by West Virginia defensive end Shaquille Riddick: The Gardner-Webb transfer has the talent to make a major impact. While it would be great for the Mountaineers if Riddick can register between 5-10 sacks, he could be a difference maker if he can record 15-20 tackles for loss. If he is consistently disruptive and getting into opponents' backfields, the Mountaineers’ talented secondary could take advantage of any mistakes by the quarterback with key turnovers. If Riddick is a matchup nightmare, he will change the future of WVU’s defense.
Recruitment rewind: The No. 4 recruit in the 2010 ESPN 150 out of West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West made his big announcement a week before signing day, choosing Texas over Ohio State on the same day that Jackson Jeffcoat chose the Longhorns. It was without a doubt one of the most exciting recruiting days of Mack Brown's long tenure at Texas, and the addition of Hicks and Jeffcoat gave the Longhorns the No. 2-rated recruiting class in the country.
Career so far: Hicks played in all 25 games in his first two seasons in Austin and had eight starts under his belt entering his junior year. Three games into the 2012 season, Hicks went down with a hip injury at Ole Miss that cost him the rest of the season. He received a medical redshirt for that missed time and got a do-over on his junior year, but another freak injury -- a torn Achilles while running in pass coverage against Kansas State -- ended his season after four games. Hicks now has missed 19 games in two years.
Best-case scenario for 2014: Thirteen full games and impressive performances. We saw flashes in 2011 of Hicks' five-star potential, but his misfortune with injuries has derailed what should have been a memorable career. Texas wisely took it slow with Hicks this spring, ensuring his full recovery, and the new defensive staff would love nothing more than to have him patrolling the second level and leading the Longhorns. Maybe the ceiling here is an All-Big 12 caliber season, but right now, all Hicks can ask for is good health and a fair chance.
Worst-case scenario for 2014: Pretty obvious answer here. He has one season left and no time for another major injury. It's hard to picture a scenario in which a healthy Hicks loses his starting job to someone else. He'll get eased back in with the early nonconference game and there shouldn't be much rust by the time Texas goes to Arlington to play UCLA. Worst case for Hicks would be another injury that makes a shot at playing in the NFL all but impossible.
Future expectations: You wonder how Hicks will be perceived by the NFL considering how little he was able to put on tape in 2012 and 2013. Not his fault, of course, but that puts him at an understandable disadvantage that a strong 2014 showing could help overcome to some extent. Safe to assume Hicks isn't focused on that right now. He could have gone pro if that's all that mattered. Instead, he's on the comeback trail knowing full well that the future is now.
1. Oklahoma (pre-spring ranking: 1): While the future of inside linebacker Frank Shannon remains unclear, the Sooners have a tailor-made replacement in Jordan Evans ready to go. Shannon was OU’s leading tackler a year ago, but Evans was the defensive MVP of the spring game in his place. Blitzing outside linebacker Eric Striker had a huge spring coming off his three-sack performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. And the Sooners had another blitzing linebacker in juco transfer Devante Bond emerge in March, which could give them flexibility to move Striker around. Dominique Alexander, the reigning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, solidifies OU’s perch atop this positional ranking, even with Shannon’s future in limbo.
2. Texas (2): Steve Edmond sparked controversy with his Baylor comments, but he also impressed coach Charlie Strong this spring with his knack for making tackles. Edmond and Dalton Santos team up to give the Longhorns a reliable combination on the inside. Athletic sophomore Timothy Cole took advantage of his opportunities with the first-team defense during the spring but should fall back into a spot role once Jordan Hicks returns this summer from a second consecutive season-ending injury. This will be a good group of linebackers, but Hicks playing up to his five-star potential is what could make it great.
3. West Virginia (3): After struggling at the “Spur” linebacker spot in 2013, Isaiah Bruce moved back inside this spring, where he starred as a freshman All-American two years ago. Bruce said he didn’t feel as comfortable playing outside and that showed, as he didn’t record a sack last season despite playing off the edge. Taking over in the Spur is converted safety K.J. Dillon, who was as impressive as any West Virginia defender this spring. With the ability to drop back in coverage, attack the run and rush the quarterback, Dillon seems to be a much better fit at the Spur. If he continues to progress at his new spot and Bruce gets back to his old self playing alongside tackling machine Nick Kwiatkoski inside, the Mountaineers will be stout at the second level.
4. Kansas (5): If the Jayhawks finally climb out of the Big 12 cellar for the first time in six years, it will be on the back of Ben Heeney and a Kansas defense that returns nine starters. One of those nine returners is Heeney’s linebacker wingman, Jake Love, who delivered a strong spring game with a scrimmage-high 10 tackles. The Jayhawks have several weaknesses, but the tackling of their linebackers is not one of them.
5. TCU (6): They get overshadowed by the units in front of and behind them, but linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet simply fulfill what’s asked of them. The Horned Frogs were surprisingly solid at linebacker last year. They should be even better in 2014.
6. Texas Tech (7): The Red Raiders received a huge boost in the spring from Kenny Williams, who made a seamless -- and voluntary -- position switch from running back to the “Raider” linebacker position. With honorable mention All-Big 12 pick Pete Robertson on the other outside spot and veterans Sam Eguavoen and Micah Awe and Utah transfer V.J. Fehoko manning the middle, the Red Raiders have a solid foundation. Ex-Ohio State linebacker Mike Mitchell, who attended Tech’s spring game, could give the unit another boost in the summer. He was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and could be eligible immediately at his next school.
7. Kansas State (8): Coach Bill Snyder seemed to be reasonably pleased with returners Jonathan Truman and Will Davis, who have locked up two of the linebacker spots. If D'Vonta Derricott, who was in the ESPN Junior College 50 and had offers from Miami, Wisconsin, Arizona State and a host of Big 12 programs, can make an impact at the third linebacker spot, the Wildcats could quickly solidify their biggest question spot defensively.
8. Baylor (4): Middle linebacker Bryce Hager will be fine once he finally recovers from a groin injury. That means Aiavion Edwards, who exited spring as the starter on the weak side, will be the key as the Bears attempt to overcome the graduation of All-Big 12 performer Eddie Lackey. Baylor, though, still has big expectations for juco transfer Grant Campbell, even though he finished spring as a backup on the depth chart. After a shaky first few practices, Campbell began to come on late in spring drills.
9. Oklahoma State (9): The Cowboys picked up a valuable transfer during the spring in former Michigan safety Josh Furman, who will be eligible immediately after getting his degree. Furman isn’t a star, but he has plenty of experience and could be a real asset teamed with juco transfer D'Nerius Antoine at Oklahoma State’s “Star” linebacker spot. On the weak side, fellow juco transfer Devante Averette really shined before suffering some mild injuries at the end of spring ball. The Cowboys will be even better there if 2012 four-star signee Seth Jacobs emerges.
10. Iowa State (10): The Cyclones remain in transition mode at linebacker while working to replace the production of departed All-Big 12 performer Jeremiah George. Redshirt freshman and former QB Alton Meeks was one of the defensive surprises of the spring; he currently sits atop the depth chart at middle linebacker. The other big defensive surprise was walk-on senior Drake Ferch, who beat out returning starter Jared Brackens on the strong side. Jevohn Miller is the third starting linebacker, but he figures to be a placeholder on the weak side until Luke Knott returns from last year’s season-ending hip injury.
1. LB Jordan Hicks
Ideally, it would make sense for Texas to roll into Big 12 play with Hicks and Steve Edmond patrolling the middle of the defense. Having those two holding it down gives you all sorts of options. But it requires a healthy Hicks.
The senior has played in just one conference game in the past two years, felled by freak injuries in back-to-back seasons. He’d like nothing more than to take out that frustration on opposing offenses in 2014.
He’ll be relied upon, too, to help Quandre Diggs and Cedric Reed lead this defense in the locker room. Coach Charlie Strong is optimistic that Hicks can return sometime in June, which would have him ready to go for fall camp in August.
That would be a boon for a defense that has sorely missed Hicks. After all the missed time of the past two seasons, who knows how good this defense could be if he’s on the field and at his best.
There will be consternation among Texas fans over how Gray should be utilized this fall.
Some will say he can team with Malcolm Brown to form one of the Big 12 and even one of the nation’s best rushing duos. Others will argue that, whether or not he’s 100 percent recovered from his torn Achilles, Gray should redshirt in 2014 and led Brown carry the load.
It’s an interesting conundrum for Strong and his staff as they construct their offense this offseason, and one that can be ignored for now with a wait-and-see approach. But we at least know what Gray can do.
Over a six-game stretch in the middle of last season, Gray rushed for 628 yards and four scores and was the workhorse of the post-Ash run-heavy attack. If he does return sometime next month, as Strong hopes, there will reason for hope that he can play in the opener.
Don’t underestimate this: Gray is an absolute freak of an athlete. Normal recovery times might not apply to him. Let’s see how he looks in August before making any predictions about his junior year.
3. CB Sheroid Evans
Evans’ time is coming. The junior cornerback showed serious promise entering the 2013 season and played in five games before being lost for the year to a torn ACL.
After sitting out the spring to recover, Evans should get thrown right back into the mix to serve as Texas’ nickel corner, a job that’s good for a lot of playing time against Big 12 spread offenses. Bryson Echols and Antwuan Davis should provide good competition, but Evans is too good to stay sidelined.
He’s got all the tools, especially with his long arms and track speed, to develop into a Big 12 starting corner. Just depends on how he recovers and how he responds to his two new position coaches.
4. RB Joe Bergeron
Bergeron was held out for the final weeks of spring practice for undisclosed reasons -- reportedly academic issues -- but Strong expects him to come back. And he’ll need him back.
Behind Brown, you have a bunch of questions at running back in addition to Gray’s injury. Jalen Overstreet remains an unproven former quarterback, and a trio of freshmen arrive this summer of varying readiness. It’s entirely possible all three redshirt.
That would leave Bergeron, a thumper of a power back with nearly 1,400 career rushing yards.
Fumbling issues put him in the doghouse for a while last season, but Bergeron can be a lot more than a goal-line back when playing at his best. And the guy still scored 16 TDs in 2012. Texas’ backfield needs him on board.
5. OG Kent Perkins
Might Perkins be able to find a starting job on this Texas offensive line? Shawn Watson might have hinted at that late in spring ball by acknowledging that the right tackle had moved inside to guard in practice.
But Perkins went down with a minor knee injury that required surgery at the start of April, a setback that raises questions about what he can provide this fall. He’s expected to be healthy for spring practice, and the former top-100 recruit should have a major role on this line regardless of whether he starts.
With veteran Sedrick Flowers fairly entrenched at left guard, it’s possible Perkins’ best shot at starting will be on the right side competing with Taylor Doyle and Rami Hammad. He proved in his only start last season he’s good enough to back up Kennedy Estelle at right tackle, too.
These lists won’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus yet. Rather, they will include only the players on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now.
On Thursday, we continue with the Texas Longhorns.
2. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown: Brown has looked like a future NFL player from the day he first stepped foot on campus, and he started playing like it in 2013. In his first season as a starter, Brown racked up 68 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two sacks and five pass breakups. He'll be a menace for opposing Big 12 linemen, and the former top-15 recruit has a chance to get even better under new defensive line coach Chris Rumph.
3. Running back Malcolm Brown: Texas is going to run the ball plenty under new coordinators Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson, and Brown enters his senior season with a chance to become one of the Big 12's premier backs. He finished sixth in the league in total rushing and surpassed 125 yards in each of his final three games. Brown is in even better shape today physically and has a chance to do big things in 2014.
4. Defensive back Quandre Diggs: Entering his fourth season as a starter, Diggs has the potential to make a huge impact in the new defense that Strong and DC Vance Bedford construct. He led the Longhorns with 10 pass breakups from his nickel spot and added 2.5 sacks, but no interceptions, in 2013. Whether he ends up at corner, safety or back in the nickel, Diggs is hungry and out to prove he's one of the nation's best at his position.
5. Running back Johnathan Gray: The big question mark is, when will Gray get back on the field? He's still recovering from a torn Achilles suffered last November and is hoping to be full strength by the start of fall camp. Even if Gray misses a nonconference game or two, Texas will have big plans for him upon his return. He's one of the conference's most dynamic backs and a critical cog in the Longhorns offense. Don't be surprised if Gray, a freaky athlete, is back in pads earlier than expected.
6. Wide receiver Jaxon Shipley: Shipley is probably underrated at this point, even if his 2013 season wasn't too sparkling from a statistical standpoint (team-high 56 catches, 589 yards, 1 TD). But no matter who's starting at quarterback this season, Shipley is going to be the go-to guy. He's been a starter since he first arrived in Austin, and Texas' new offensive attack will find ways to get him in space.
7. Quarterback David Ash: Should Ash be higher on this list? When he's fully healthy, yes, he's one of this program's most important pieces. The junior is back on the field this spring but won't take any contact. His early efforts have been encouraging, but he still has some rust to shake off, and Strong has been somewhat noncommittal when it comes to calling Ash his starter. If USC transfer Max Wittek joins the program this summer, Ash will have to fight to hold down the job. But when he was healthy in 2012, Ash was a top-25 passer in several key metrics and still has a bright future if he can avoid another concussion.
8. Linebacker Steve Edmond: We finally saw Edmond take a big step forward in 2013, with 73 tackles and two interceptions, but his junior season ended early because of a ruptured spleen. In this multiple defense, it will be interesting to see if Strong and Bedford experiment with playing Edmond down at defensive end or in some hybrid roles. Dalton Santos will push Edmond, too, but expect the senior to play a major role in Texas' new-look defense.
9. Linebacker Jordan Hicks: It's hard to justify ranking Hicks any higher after he's missed 19 games in his past two seasons. He is not competing in spring practice right now while he completes his recovery from a torn Achilles, but once he's ready to go, Hicks should be one of Texas' best linebackers and one of its leaders on defense. He only has one season left to play up to his five-star potential, but staying on the field is more important.
10.Wide receiver Kendall Sanders: Several other Longhorns could take this spot on the list and have more playing experience, but Sanders is definitely worth keeping an eye on this fall. A smooth, speedy athlete capable of game-changing plays, Sanders has one year of game experience under his belt and a chance to take over as Texas' top deep threat.
The Texas linebacker won’t get much opportunity for that this spring, but that should only add to the urgency. He’s been standing on the sidelines for far too long.
There have been flashes, a few moments, when we’ve seen just how good Hicks can be. When he’s playing up to his considerable potential, he looks like an All-Big 12 caliber linebacker. Entering his junior year in 2012, former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz considered Hicks one of his de facto seniors, a veteran who brought leadership and big-play potential.
Ever since then, the former five-star recruit has had a rough time. Hicks’ 2012 season ended after three games, with a hip injury at Ole Miss that would lead to a medical redshirt. Texas badly missed his contributions after he went down.
But 2013 was supposed to be the do-over, another junior season to make up for the year missed. And it started well, with a team-high 41 tackles through four games. But it ended with a freak accident, a torn Achilles suffered while running in coverage against Kansas State. Another season ended too soon.
So now Hicks is a senior, entering his fifth year in the program, and much has changed. He’s playing for his third linebackers coach in less than 12 months, for a new head coach and defensive coordinator who plan to design a scheme around their personnel.
Hicks will be a part of the plan, but he’ll take in spring practice from the sidelines and try his best to master what Charlie Strong, Vance Bedford and Brian Jean-Mary ask of him.
During the 19 games he’s missed, Texas coaches have tried all sorts of lineups of linebackers, plugging in new starters until something fit or another injury hit. Because of that, Jean-Mary has lots of options when it comes to experienced linebackers, and a few young ones who could push to see the field.
There will be competition, and Hicks will have to earn his spot back this summer. The next few months will get challenging, and no doubt he’ll do whatever he can to shed the label of “injury-prone” and start making up for lost time.
If he can put it all together in his final year, this Texas defense will be one significant step closer to becoming one of the Big 12’s best. All that potential and promise Hicks has shown is about to turn into pressure.
Brian Jean-Mary had to like what he saw the first time he glanced at the Texas roster for 2014.
The new Texas linebackers coach followed Charlie Strong from Louisville and inherited a situation that might best be described as favorable, maybe even ideal.
Good luck finding another first-year coach whose position group includes seven players with starting experience.
But that depth is also indicative of what Texas hasn't had from its linebackers in recent seasons: Consistency. Injuries are as much to blame as anything else, but the Longhorns have rolled out all sorts of linebacker combinations in the past two seasons.
How will all these linebackers adjust to the new defensive scheme in spring ball? That's an especially good question for Edmond.
After a disappointing first season as a starter, Edmond took a step in the right direction in 2013. He finished with 73 tackles, two interceptions -- including the game-clincher at West Virginia -- and five pass breakups, but missed Texas' final two games after suffering a lacerated liver against Texas Tech.
With Hicks out for the spring while he recovers from his ruptured Achilles, it's on Edmond to not only lead this group, but also outperform his peers. Don't be surprised if you see Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford experiment with Edmond at a few spots, maybe even on the defensive line. The spring is the best time to explore those options.
We don't know the ceiling of Edmond's potential, but this is his third position coach in three years. Can Jean-Mary get the best out of him? If so, and if Hicks can finally stay healthy, Texas could have the best linebackers in the Big 12.
2. Texas: This is the deepest linebacking corps in the league, with starters Peter Jinkens, Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond all returning off a unit that improved dramatically after the rocky nonconference start. After allowing a school-record 550 yards rushing to BYU, Texas had the Big 12’s fourth-best rush defense in conference games. Whether this group can take another step up will depend on what happens with Jordan Hicks, who enters his fifth year in the program after suffering season-ending injuries in back-to-back years. Hicks was the No. 1 linebacker in the country coming out of high school and has played well when healthy.
3. West Virginia: This will be the strength of the defense, as Brandon Golson, Isaiah Bruce, Jared Barber and Nick Kwiatkoski all return with significant starting experience. Kwiatkoski was West Virginia’s leading tackler last season, and Bruce was a freshman All-American the season before. Wes Tonkery and Jewone Snow also have starting experience, and Shaq Petteway, who missed last season with a knee injury, was a key rotation player the previous year. This level of experience and production with give the new defensive regime of Tony Gibson and Tom Bradley a foundation to build around.
4. Baylor: Bryce Hager is one of the best returning linebackers in the league. He was a second-team all-conference pick two years ago and would have earned similar honors last season had he not missed the final three games of the regular season with a groin injury. Grant Campbell, a three-star juco signee, is already on campus and will vie for the vacancy of departing All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Kendall Ehrlich and Aiavion Edwards are the only other players at the position with any meaningful experience, but Raaquan Davis, a former four-star recruit who redshirted last season, could be a factor.
5. Kansas: Middle linebacker Ben Heeney was a second-team All-Big 12 selection after finishing fourth in the league in tackles per game. His wingman, Jake Love, got beat out by juco transfer Samson Faifili during the preseason but took over when Faifili suffered an injury and was solid. As long as Heeney remains healthy, the Jayhawks will be solid here.
6. TCU: Projected to be the Achilles’ heel of the TCU defense last season, Paul Dawson, Marcus Mallet and Jonathan Anderson actually gave the position stability. Dawson led the Horned Frogs with 91 tackles, Mallet was third with 70 and Anderson was fourth with 66. All three will be seniors in 2014 and should give the Horned Frogs a solid, reliable linebacking unit again.
7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders and their 3-4 scheme graduate two very productive players in Will Smith and Terrance Bullitt. Smith was second in the Big 12 in tackles, and Bullitt led all Big 12 linebackers in pass breakups. Austin Stewart and Micah Awe go into the spring as the favorites to replace Bullitt and Smith, respectively. Two starters do return in Sam Eguavoen and Pete Robertson, who was honorable mention All-Big 12 thanks to his impact off the edge. Tech also has several intriguing young players, including Jacarthy Mack, Malik Jenkins and Kahlee Woods, who will all be second-year players.
8. Kansas State: The Wildcats lose two stalwarts to graduation in captains Blake Slaughter and Tre Walker. The only returner is former walk-on Jonathan Truman, who was second on the team in tackles from the weak side. The Wildcats will be hoping for big things from D'Vonta Derricott, an ESPN JC 50 signee who had offers from Miami and Wisconsin, among many others. Will Davis, who was Slaughter’s backup as a freshman last season, could thrive if he secures the starting role in the middle.
9. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are somewhat decimated here with the graduations of all-conference veterans Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey. The only returning starter, Ryan Simmons, could move inside, which would open the door for hard-hitting jucos D'Nerius Antoine and Devante Averette to start on either side of him. Seth Jacobs, who was a four-star recruit two years ago, should jump into the rotation, and the Cowboys could get an instant boost from freshman Gyasi Akem, who was an ESPN 300 signee. The potential ascension of this group, though, hinges on what Antonie and Averette accomplish.
10. Iowa State: The Cyclones graduate their defensive cornerstone in Jeremiah George, who was a first-team all-conference performer after leading the Big 12 with 133 tackles. Replacing George won’t come easy. There’s reason to hope that Luke Knott can become Iowa State’s next cornerstone at the position. The younger brother of Cyclone LB great Jake Knott, Luke Knott started five games as a freshman and quickly racked up 45 tackles before suffering a season-ending hip injury, which required surgery. If he makes a full recovery, Knott has the talent to become the next in a growing line of All-Big 12 Iowa State linebackers. Seniors Jevohn Miller and Jared Brackens, who combined for 19 starts last season, flank Knott with experience.
2010 was a banner year for the Big 12 in recruiting, as the league collectively landed 23 from the ESPN 150.
A few, such as Jackson Jeffcoat, Ahmad Dixon and Shaun Lewis, became stars. Others washed out before their careers ever got off the ground.
No. 2: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas – Though he never reached a high level of team success, Jeffcoat had a great individual end to his career, earning Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year honors and leading the league with 13 sacks.
No. 4: Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas – Hicks has been good when he has played. Because of multiple injuries, that hasn’t been often. Hicks missed most of last season with a torn Achilles, just a year after also being knocked out with a hip flexor injury. After getting a medical redshirt from his 2012 season, Hicks has one more year of eligibility remaining.
No. 13: Mike Davis, WR, Texas – Davis finished in the Big 12’s top 10 in receiving the last two seasons, compiling 200 career catches and 18 touchdown receptions.
No. 14: Taylor Bible, DT, Texas – Bible never played a down at Texas, leaving after his redshirt freshman season because of issues with grades. Bible ended up at Carson-Newman.
No. 15: Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor – Dixon had a tremendous tenure with his hometown school, earning All-Big 12 and All-American honors as a senior as Baylor captured its first Big 12 title in 2013.
No. 18: Demarco Cobbs, ATH, Texas – The Tulsa, Okla., native has appeared in 29 games on special teams and as a defensive reserve. He missed all of the 2013 season with a knee injury.
No. 20: Darius White, WR, Texas – After making just six catches his first two seasons, White transferred to Missouri. He caught just seven passes this season for the Tigers, but has another year of eligibility left.
No. 21: Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma – In his first season, Jefferson was the Big 12 co-Defensive Freshman of the year, and he was a three-year starter before leaving early to go pro.
No. 46: Ashton Dorsey, DT, Texas – After serving as a reserve throughout his career, Dorsey was projected to start this season, but he transferred out days before Texas’ season opener.
No. 48: Austin Haywood, TE, Oklahoma – After getting playing time as a third tight end early in his career, Haywood unexpectedly quit in the middle of the season, tried to earn his way back on the team, failed and ended up transferring to Central Arkansas. After getting suspended there, Haywood gave up football.
No. 62: Corey Nelson, LB, Oklahoma – Nelson shined early this season after finally getting a chance to be a full-time starter. That, however, was short-lived, as Nelson tore his pectoral muscle in an early October win over TCU and sat out the rest of his final season.
No. 65: Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma – The “Belldozer” starred his first two seasons as a situational, short-yardage QB. But in the preseason, Bell was beaten out by Trevor Knight for the starting job. Bell, however, still had his moments this season because of injuries to Knight. He led OU to a win at Notre Dame, then quarterbacked OU’s game-winning touchdown drive at Oklahoma State.
No. 72: Reggie Wilson, DE, Texas – He appeared in 51 games as a defensive reserve. Wilson had 19 tackles and a sack as a senior.
No. 73: Chris Jones, WR, Texas – Jones transferred out after one year, and never played.
No. 75: Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State – Lewis made an immediate impact, earning Big 12 co-Defensive Freshman of the Year honors along with Tony Jefferson. Lewis was a four-year starter and a big piece in Oklahoma State’s defensive turnaround this season.
No. 86: Tevin Jackson, LB, Texas – Jackson has been a backup linebacker for the Longhorns and will be part of the team’s great depth there in 2014.
No. 103: Adrian White, CB, Texas – Played in 17 games, then joined the mass transfer exodus from this Texas class.
No. 109: Ivan McCartney, WR, West Virginia – McCartney never became a No. 1 receiver, though he did contribute on West Virginia’s explosive offenses in 2011-12. He only had 12 catches this past season as a senior, however.
No. 114: Aaron Benson, LB, Texas – The cousin of former Texas running back great Cedric Benson has only been a contributor on special teams.
No. 122: Carrington Byndom, S, Texas – One of the few players from this Texas class to pan out. Byndom made 39 career starts and was a second-team All-Big 12 selection this past season.
No. 129: Brennan Clay, RB, Oklahoma – Clay proved to be a reliable and steady force in the OU backfield. He finished his career with 1,913 rushing yards, including 957 in 2013.
No. 134: Adrian Philips, ATH, Texas – Phillips settled in the Texas secondary, collecting 28 career starts there. He was second on the team this past season with 82 tackles.
No. 141: Trey Hopkins, OG, Texas – Hopkins became a stalwart up front, making 42 career starts along the offensive line. He was a two-time, second-team All-Big 12 selection.
No. 142: Justin McCay, ATH, Oklahoma – McCay transferred to Kansas after two years in Norman. He had nine receptions and a touchdown, which also was the first scoring catch by a Kansas wide receiver in almost two full seasons.
1. DE Cedric Reed, senior
Convincing the All-Big 12 defensive end to return for his senior season was one of Strong’s first major victories this week. The 6-foot-6, 258-pound end was a monster in 2013, racking up 79 tackles, 10 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. He considered going pro after his breakout season but comes back for what should be a significant role leading Texas’ defensive line. Reed made it no secret he wants to win the trophies and awards that Jackson Jeffcoat piled up this season, and he’ll be one of the Big 12’s best as his position next fall.
2. DT Malcom Brown, junior
Texas coaches believed they had a surefire future NFL defensive tackle in Brown when he signed, and he’s played up to those expectations through two seasons. The former top-15 recruit recorded 68 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two sacks and five pass breakups in his first season as a starter and was a handful for opposing linemen. He’ll only get better, and that’s a scary thing for the rest of the conference.
3. RB Malcolm Brown, senior
A finally healthy Brown finished 2013 strong and goes into his final season with plenty of confidence. He finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing yards with 904 and 11 total touchdowns this season and closed out his junior campaign with three straight 125-plus yard games. He’ll be one of the offensive leaders next year.
Gray is undoubtedly one of Texas’ three best players when he’s healthy, and he was on his way to a 1,000-yard season before suffering a torn Achilles at West Virginia on Nov. 9. While Gray is optimistic he’ll be back in time for fall camp, the Longhorn staff should proceed with patience. Whenever he returns, Texas will have one of the nation’s better rushing duos.
5. CB Quandre Diggs, senior
If we’re comparing career resumes, you’d probably have to rank Diggs higher on this list. He’s accomplished plenty during his time in Austin, enough that the defensive coaches trusted him to take on the nickel spot as a junior and play all over the field. He collected 58 tackles, a team-best 10 pass breakups and 2.5 sacks but no interceptions. With Carrington Byndom graduating, his role in this secondary is crucial.
6. WR Jaxon Shipley, senior
Shipley caught a team-high 56 passes, so it’s hard to call his junior season a disappointment, but he finished with 589 yards and one touchdown. He got targeted 82 times on the year and should see plenty more with Mike Davis graduating. Shipley’s the go-to guy and always has been.
7. LB Jordan Hicks, senior
Hicks might be ranked too high here, if we’re being honest. He’s missed 19 games in the last two seasons due to season-ending injuries, though in fairness his latest -- a torn Achilles -- was a freak accident while running in coverage. When he’s on the field, he’s one of Texas’ best and a trusted leader.
8. QB David Ash, senior
Not too sure where this guy belongs on the list, but he’s an important asset for whoever becomes Strong’s offensive coordinator. Ash missed 10½ games this season with concussion issues but was a top-25 passer in QBR and passing efficiency in 2012. Strong needs this guy back and better than ever.
9. LB Steve Edmond, senior
If you think Edmond should be ranked higher, you might be right. Edmond was enjoying a bit of a breakthrough as a junior, with 73 tackles and two interceptions, before a ruptured spleen suffered against Texas Tech ended his season. He’ll have to battle Dalton Santos for his spot, but he could be in for a strong final season if he embraces the coaching change.
10.WR Kendall Sanders, junior
Lots of players merit consideration for this final spot, most notably Daje Johnson, but we’re going to take a chance on Sanders breaking out in 2014. He caught 37 passes for 361 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore but has the full package of skills -- size, speed, long arms, good hands -- to become a big-time target in place of Davis.
On Tuesday, we brought you a look ahead at the 2014 offensive depth chart for Texas. Here's a breakdown of what the Longhorns are working with on defense. It's a unit that loses key starters but brings back considerable experience.
Remember, this is subject to change plenty in the coming months as Strong's staff shuffles the lineup and discovers new breakout players.
Cedric Reed, senior
Bryce Cottrell, sophomore
Once the new staff is in place, winning over Reed and convincing him to return for his senior season will be an absolute must for Strong. He finished with 10 sacks and 19 tackles for loss as a junior and was just as good as Jeffcoat for most of the season. Between Cottrell and Caleb Bluiett, who started in the Valero Alamo Bowl, Texas must find a significant contributor. Both are under a lot of pressure if Reed goes pro.
Hassan Ridgeway, sophomore
Brown has the makings of becoming an All-Big 12-caliber defensive tackle and maybe more. He’ll be one of the best players on the field for this defense in 2014. Ridgeway is still young and coming along, but showed flashes in limited stints this season. Big potential there.
Desmond Jackson, senior
Alex Norman, sophomore
Tank Jackson has 13 starts and plenty of experience. Norman and fellow redshirt freshman Paul Boyette disappointed in their first year of playing, but Texas is running low on depth here after taking some recruiting hits. Abilene’s Jake McMillon is the only DT pledge left. Strong will have to recruit this spot hard in the next month.
Shiro Davis, junior
Derick Roberson, freshman
There should be some fairly good competition to replace Jackson Jeffcoat, and nobody would be surprised if Davis wins the job. He’s a freakish athlete and speed rusher who flashed in 2013 and needs an expanded role. Roberson needs to put on weight, but he was a sack master in high school and is one of the gems of this class.
Jordan Hicks, senior
Kendall Thompson, senior
What is Texas getting in year five with Hicks? The injury-prone former five-star recruit went down with a torn Achilles four games into the season and has missed 19 games in the past two seasons. He’s a leader when he’s healthy. This is his last chance. Thompson and Tevin Jackson return to provide depth.
Dalton Santos, junior
Peter Jinkens, junior
It’s hard to know which direction Texas will go in at some of these spots, as both seem like obvious candidates. That’s the challenge with everyone coming back. The Longhorns’ next defensive coordinator has the luxury of several options with every UT linebacker slated to return next season.
Steve Edmond, senior
Tim Cole, sophomore
It’s entirely possible Santos takes over the middle next season, considering the way he finished this season, but don’t count out Edmond. He had a promising junior year before missing the final two games. Cole got a few opportunities in his debut year, but has work to do.
Quandre Diggs, senior
Sheroid Evans, junior
Diggs had a solid junior season and won’t be turning pro this offseason. He played all over the field in his nickel role, but with Carrington Byndom graduating, that likely means he’ll slide back to corner. The speedy, long-armed Evans has as much potential as anyone in this secondary, but suffered a torn ACL this season.
Mykkele Thompson, senior
Adrian Colbert, sophomore
Josh Turner, senior
Leroy Scott, senior
With Adrian Phillips graduating, this is presumably Turner’s spot to lose. He’s played in 37 games. Scott is sneaky good and made a few nice plays this season. It’s time to see what he can do with more responsibility.
Duke Thomas, junior
Antwuan Davis, redshirt freshman
Thomas took a few lumps in his first season of starting, but also led the Longhorns with three interceptions. Davis is a guy coaches would’ve loved to play in 2013, but they didn’t want to burn his redshirt. He’s in for a big-time debut both on defense and special teams.
Nick Rose, junior
Will Russ, senior
Texas should have a fairly open competition for Anthony Fera’s punting duties. Rose’s specialty is kickoffs, and Russ was hampered by injuries in the past but should be in the mix. So is walk-on Mitchell Becker.
1. TCU: The Horned Frogs have watched quarterback Casey Pachall and defensive end Devonte Fields, arguably their top players on each side of the ball, go down. Pachall (forearm) could return soon but Fields (foot) is lost for the season. It’s easy to imagine the Horned Frogs offense, which has looked lost and has averaged just 97.4 yards in the first half in the past five games, as much improved with Pachall under center.
2. Texas: Another team that has lost a major contributor on both sides of the ball, the Longhorns hope to get quarterback David Ash (head) back at some point this season and have lost defensive leader Jordan Hicks (Achilles) for the season. Add in nicks and bruises to playmakers Daje Johnson and Mike Davis and success has been much harder to come by for Texas.
3. Oklahoma: The Sooners lost linebacker Corey Nelson (pectoral) and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (back), two of their top defenders, in back-to-back weeks. Nelson's leadership is sorely missed and Phillips' strength in the middle is hard to replace. OU is still scrambling to replace the duo, which is a scary thought with Texas Tech and Baylor set to test the defense.
These Longhorns are, quite frankly, banged up. David Ash is certainly not the only injured player whose absence has ailed Texas in its 3-2 start to the season.
The quarterback's lingering concussion symptoms will keep him sidelined against Oklahoma, and if he returns to the lineup for the team's next game at TCU on Oct. 26, he will have missed more than full month of starts. But he's just one name on a long list of Longhorns who have dealt with injuries since fall camp began.
That long list includes top linebacker Jordan Hicks, whose season is over after he suffered a ruptured Achilles against Kansas State last month. Texas lost another defender for the season last Thursday at Iowa State, when cornerback Sheroid Evans' potential breakout season was cut short by a torn ACL.
Then there are two of the most important cogs in the Texas offense: Receiver Mike Davis and receiver/running back Daje Johnson. Both gave it a go at ISU despite ankle injuries. The one Johnson suffered had kept him sidelined for nearly three full games.
Let's run down the list of players who've dealt with injuries since August, a list that may well be missing a name or two:
- QB David Ash, concussion
- QB Tyrone Swoopes, hamstring
- RB/WR Daje Johnson, ankle
- WR Mike Davis, ankle
- WR Jaxon Shipley, hip
- WR Bryant Jackson, foot
- WR Marcus Johnson, knee
- WR Kendall Sanders, ankle
- TE Greg Daniels, foot
- TE Miles Onyegbule, leg
- OG Mason Walters, knee
- OT Josh Cochran, shoulder
- LB Jordan Hicks, ruptured Achilles, out for season
- LB Dalton Santos, leg
- CB Quandre Diggs, hip
- CB Sheroid Evans, torn ACL, out for season
- S Josh Turner, hip
- S Kevin Vaccaro, ankle
That doesn't include players with lingering injuries coming into the season. Former starting linebacker Demarco Cobbs and freshmen Deoundrei Davis and Erik Huhn continue to recover from knee injuries suffered a year ago, for example.
The list likely grows much longer, too, once you include players, such as running back Malcolm Brown, who are banged up but continue to play. Many of the aforementioned players have not missed games despite their ailments. But this does give a better indication of just how many Longhorns have recovered from injuries in the past two months or are still dealing with them.
To Texas' credit, its coaching staff and trainers have been transparent throughout these struggles. The school typically releases an injury report on the evening before game days and before kickoff. Many college coaches stubbornly treat this kind of information as classified, but Brown doesn't avoid questions about who's injured or how long a player will be sidelined.
What he can't answer is why this keeps happening to Texas. This offseason, he tried to dig up some possible explanations and solutions. But Texas doesn't practice any differently than its peers. There's nothing controversial about how the Longhorns train and lift. Often times, it's simply a matter of bad luck.
"We had a little bit of an injury bug early in the season," Walters said last week. "Hopefully that doesn't continue. I really think it gives some young guys an opportunity to step up and earn some trust from the coaches."
The burden has fallen primarily on second-year players. Sophomore Kennedy Estelle has filled in for Cochran at right tackle. Three members of his class are trying to fill the void left by Hicks at linebacker. Sanders and Johnson have stepped up at receiver, and Evans going down could mean more even work for sophomore starting corner Duke Thomas.
Brown talked up the amount of quality depth Texas has in the preseason. Now that talk is being put to the test, and Texas won't stand a chance against Oklahoma unless several of the fill-ins make major contributions.
While Brown has acknowledged the "perfect storm" of adversity that's shaken up his depth chart, he's not wasting any time griping about it. He knows that one thing hasn't changed: This is still a no-excuses season for the Longhorns, no matter who's on the mend.
Let’s lay out all the reasons why Iowa State can beat Texas on Thursday (6:30 p.m. CT, ESPN). It’s an exercise that’s easier than expected.
Texas is playing without quarterback David Ash, who didn’t make the trip to Ames while he continues to recover from a concussion. Texas is 1-6 when Ash’s replacement, Case McCoy, attempts 16 or more passes.
Texas is coming off a bye week, and the high-pressure Oklahoma game is a week away. A close victory over Kansas State has this team confident it’s about to turn the corner, but losing two of their first three games means the Longhorns don’t have the luxury of expecting easy victories from any foe.
“I think after our second and third game, we’re not going to overlook anybody,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “Our coaches aren’t going to allow that.”
Texas must also play without perhaps the most important cog of its defense, linebacker Jordan Hicks, after another season-ending injury. The defense never struggled more last season than in the first few games it played without him, and the Longhorns already had the seventh-worst run defense in the country statistically.
Iowa State, meanwhile, has a track record of winning these kinds of games. Paul Rhoads-led teams pull off one substantial upset every season like clockwork. Last year, it was a No. 15 TCU squad that would go on to beat Texas. ISU also notched a home win over Baylor, which ended the 2012 season as perhaps the Big 12’s best team.
In 2010, Rhoads bested Texas at home, which only furthered the Longhorns’ downward spiral toward 5-7. In 2011, No. 2 Oklahoma State came to Ames on a Friday night and went home stunned.
They’ve done this enough times to know that spending time talking about upsetting Texas won’t help much.
“Any kid in our program knows we’re capable of winning on any given Thursday, any given Saturday, any given et cetera,” Rhoads said. “They also know that a lot of hard work and preparation goes into that to lead to game-day execution.
“Those aren’t fairy-tale victories. Those aren’t games that are won just because it was time for a Cinderella team to do it. Those are games that are won because we played well and prepared well.”
And the Cyclones traditionally fare well in this setting. They’re 7-2 in Thursday and Friday games since 2008. ISU isn’t dealing with a short week this time, either, after playing another Thursday night game last week.
Add all that up and, well, Iowa State at least has a shot, right?
Brown and Rhoads both recognize that anything can happen in a year when the Big 12 is as wide open as ever. It’s a safe bet that each coach talked up the lessons learned from West Virginia’s upset win over Oklahoma State to his team.
That’s the Big 12 in 2013: Expect the unexpected. Doesn’t matter if Texas is 2-2, Rhoads and his players are respecting this opponent as if UT were 4-0.
“They’re probably hitting stride right now, and with 12 days of preparation, they’re a very scary outfit for us to prepare and play,” he said.
Texas senior lineman Trey Hopkins was on the 2010 team that lost to ISU. He’s helped defeat the Cyclones the past two seasons.
He fully recognizes that this season can be a different story, as it might be throughout the league. Hopkins has enough respect for what Iowa State does that he isn’t calling this a trap game.
“I think we all know that they’re a talented team,” he said. “They’ve come in here and played us tough every time. It’s a tough place to play and their fans are always in it and very loud and electric. Especially being a Thursday game, they’re going to be pumped. We really have to come prepared.”
Texas Longhorns Show Out On Pro Day
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
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