- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series takes a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from him. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.
No. 55 Dalton Santos
Recruitment rewind: An ESPN 150 linebacker and Under Armour All-American out of Van, Texas, Santos was actually Oklahoma State's first verbal commitment for the 2012 class back in October 2010. He reopened his recruitment after eight months with OSU and ended up choosing Tennessee over Texas A&M. But he stayed on former Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz's radar during his senior year, and Diaz extended an offer in late January -- just weeks before signing day -- after the departure of the Vols' defensive coordinator had Santos rethinking his plan. The lifetime Longhorns fan flipped to Texas at the end of January after a visit.
Career so far: After promising he was "bringing hell with me" when he arrived in Austin, Santos played in 13 games as a true freshman in 2012. Santos was a thrilling player as a gunner, leading Texas in special teams tackles with 10 and unleashing some memorable hits. He earned one start at linebacker that year, then started seven more games last fall at inside linebacker. Santos was Texas' fourth-leading tackler with 74 stops, had 10 tackles-for-loss and broke up five passes in 2013.
Best-case scenario for 2014: Santos is healthy now after offseason hip surgery and will be given every opportunity to win a starting job in the middle of this Texas defense. If he plays his cards right in fall camp, Santos could set himself up for a season in which he starts nearly every game and racks up 100 tackles. He has steadily improved in his first two years in the program, despite playing for a new linebackers coach every year, and brings unmatched intensity to the front seven.
Worst-case scenario for 2014: It is possible the new Texas coaching staff will consider Jordan Hicks, Steve Edmond and Peter Jinkens its three best linebackers and prepare its defensive schemes accordingly. That is the big unknown here -- how are Strong and Vance Bedford going to line these guys up? And how can they best utilize Texas' surplus of linebackers? Santos might have to fight for his spot in three- and four-linebacker sets if everyone else gets healthy and stays healthy (which we definitely didn't see in 2012 or 2013).
Future expectations: It is kind of crazy to think Santos will already be down to his final season in 2015. What he makes of his final two seasons with the Longhorns will be fascinating, because he has always flashed big playmaking potential. He is a physical, fiery player who should develop into a real thumper at inside linebacker. And after what his mother went through this spring, you know Santos wants nothing more than to make it in the NFL so he can provide for his family back in East Texas. Santos could be a guy who takes his game to the next level this fall and sets himself up for a huge senior year.