Texas Longhorns: Dalton Santos

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
Junior linebacker


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.
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

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.

Texas spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
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A recap of what we learned about the Texas Longhorns following their first spring with new head coach Charlie Strong.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. Strong isn’t messing around. From his high-intensity practices, to his willingness to stop and restart practice if the vibe isn’t right, to demanding players walk the half-mile uphill to the fields, the first-year coach is out to bring back a toughness that went missing with the Longhorns in recent years.

2. Texas will have two play-callers and, potentially, a handful of playmakers on offense in 2014. Offensive Joe Wickline and assistant head coach Shawn Watson will call plays, and Watson gets the final say. They know what they have in RB Malcolm Brown and WRs Jaxon Shipley, Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders, who all earned good reviews this spring.

3. Defensive line will be the strength of Texas’ defense, led by a pair of All-Big 12 caliber veterans in DE Cedric Reed and DT Malcom Brown. Senior Desmond Jackson is holding down the other interior spot, and Shiro Davis is emerging as the replacement for Jackson Jeffcoat. Depth behind them still a question mark, but those four starters are the real deal.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Quarterback. Duh. The foot fracture David Ash suffered before the final week of spring ball only amplified the scrutiny of this spot. Tyrone Swoopes had a few flashes and also some struggles in the spring game. Don’t be surprised if former USC QB Max Wittek joins the program in May and makes this a real competition, along with freshman Jerrod Heard.

2. The linebackers remain a source of uncertainty exiting spring ball, with Jordan Hicks among the three veterans at that spot who missed spring practice. DC Vance Bedford should feel good about Steve Edmond (his play, not his words), Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens back there, and Demarco Cobbs is back from injury, but who’s starting by the end of August?

3. Wickline comes to Austin with a reputation for being one of the nation’s top offensive line coaches. He’ll have a nice challenge finding his best five this fall. Center Dominic Espinosa might be the only lock among the Longhorns’ potential starters up front, and Wickline could choose from any number of lineup combinations for the opener.

One way-too-early prediction:

Presuming that Texas gets its quarterback affairs in order, this has the look of a nine-win team coming out of spring ball. How the Longhorns players buy in this summer and into fall camp will go a long way toward raising (or lowering) those expectations. Three of Texas’ first six games in 2014 come against likely preseason top-10 teams, so the Horns have to get a lot better between now and then.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Dalton Santos made his plea Sunday afternoon. By Monday afternoon, his family's prayers had been answered and then some.

The Texas linebacker took to Twitter to ask his fans and followers for help raising money for his mother's open heart surgery. The initial goal was $5,000. The response was immediate and overwhelming.



According to her page on the website YouCaring.com, Mary Vista Santos was diagnosed with a thoracic aortic aneurism that will require open heart surgery to be repaired. A family friend who set up the donation page, Malinda McKnight, wrote that the mother of three does not have insurance that will cover the operation.

On the site, McKnight wrote: "We need to raise money to help her during this time. Even if you can only donate 5 dollars it will help ease the burden. The stress of finances should not be something our friend worries about during this time."

And so the Santos family and its friends went online, asking for the support of the hard-hitting inside linebacker's friends and fans. Santos' initial Twitter post has been retweeted more than 250 times and more than 260 donations have already come in.

The donation total passed $5,000, and then it kept going. It surpassed $10,000 by Monday afternoon, and more than $12,000 by the end of the day.

"We feel truly blessed and honored to be a part of such a caring football family," Dalton's father, Albert Santos, told ESPN.com.

Donations to the family are not a violation of NCAA rules, according to Texas' official Twitter account.


Who to watch in spring: Steve Edmond

February, 27, 2014
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Editor's note: This is the fourth part of a weeklong series taking a closer look at Texas players worth watching when the Longhorns begin spring practices in three weeks.

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.

[+] EnlargeSteve Edmond
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsSteve Edmond made significant strides in his second season as a starter for the Longhorns.
Jean-Mary gets to work with a veteran group that might be three-deep at each spot. He gets at least four seniors -- Jordan Hicks, Steve Edmond, Tevin Jackson and Kendall Thompson -- who know what they're doing and can lead the underclassmen. He gets the hard-hitting Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens, now juniors, and another third-year player in Timothy Cole who contributed in 2013.

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.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: LBs

February, 25, 2014
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As we await the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the linebacking corps going into the spring:

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
William Purnell/Icon SMIDominique Alexander was a star as a true freshman and leads a loaded Oklahoma linebacking corps.
1. Oklahoma: After a couple of lean years, the Sooners are loaded at linebacker again. Dominique Alexander was the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, Frank Shannon led the defense in tackles as a sophomore, and Eric Striker is budding into the most ferocious blitzing linebacker in the country (just ask Alabama). Jordan Evans played extensively as a true freshman, too. This is an athletic group that can cover, stop the run and get to the quarterback.

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.

Season report card: Texas

January, 13, 2014
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As bad as things got for Texas in 2013 -- and they did get bad -- the Longhorns played for a Big 12 championship on the final day of the regular season after rallying following a horrible nonconference slate. Nonetheless, 8-5 isn’t going to get it done in Austin, Texas.

Offense: C

The Longhorns offense was average in pretty much every area except running the ball. UT was third in the Big 12 with 196.2 rushing yards per game thanks to a deep group of ball-carriers. Johnathan Gray is one of the Big 12’s top running backs and his injury against West Virginia was a bigger loss than most realize as the Longhorns lost three of their final four games after his injury. They had won six straight games before Gray was hurt. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are solid runners in their own right and give the Longhorns quality running back depth.

UT’s quarterback play was terrific at times, like the Red River Rivalry win over Oklahoma, and horrible at other times, like the Longhorns' blowout losses to Baylor and Oregon. Case McCoy brought confidence and moxie but was too confident at times and hurt his team with some of this poor decision-making and throws. Outside of Jaxon Shipley, UT’s receivers struggled to be consistent and explosive for much of the season.

The Longhorns' offensive line was solid, allowing a sack just 3.6 percent of the time quarterbacks dropped back to pass, ranking second in the Big 12, and paving the way for their bevy of running backs.

Defense: C

Much like the offense, the defense wasn’t great at much of anything with the exception of getting to the quarterback. Texas finished first in the Big 12 with 39 sacks thanks to 23 combined sacks from Big 12 co-defensive player of the year Jackson Jeffcoat (13) and his opposite defensive end Cedric Reed (10).

[+] EnlargeJoe Bergeron, Will Smith
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsJohnathan Gray and the Longhorns finished the 2013 season 8-5 after losing to Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
The defensive line was great at times and subpar at other times. The lack of consistency killed the team and made the entire defense just as inconsistent. When its defensive front played well, however, the defense was much tougher to handle. Safety Adrian Phillips, linebacker Dalton Santos and linebacker Steve Edmond all finished among the top five on the squad in tackles and were active defenders. But the Longhorns didn’t seem to have many difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball.

In UT’s five losses the defense allowed 36.4 points per game, 497 yards per game, 6.3 yards per play, and 2.4 points per drive. Ugly numbers for a team with the talent the Longhorns possessed. Injuries played a role in the defense’s struggles but talent wasn’t the issue as it was clear the unit improved when Greg Robinson took over and simplified the system.

Special Teams: B-

Anthony Fera was the clear bright spot among an average group of special teams units. He handled the place kicking and punting and did both well for the Longhorns. Daje Johnson was a scary threat on kickoff and punt returns with his speed but didn’t rank among the Big 12’s best in either category.

Overall: B-

The Longhorns won eight games and competed for a Big 12 championship during a season that will be remembered for its faults. They could have, and should have, been better but they did dominate an OU team that defeated Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and had one of the Big 12’s most impressive stretches of the season during their six-game win streak. It was a disappointing season but it wasn’t the complete disaster that some would like to believe.
With the 2013 season officially in the books, we’ve begun looking ahead to identify potential breakout performers for 2014.

This morning, we took a look at 10 Big 12 offensive players to watch in 2014. Now it’s time to spotlight 10 possible breakout defenders.

As a reminder, these lists include players who can take that step into greatness next season, much as Baylor’s Ahmad Dixon and Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert did in 2013. Players who have earned first-team or second-team All-Big 12 honors from either the coaches or the media were not eligible for this list, as the focus is limited to guys who have yet to make that leap. In other words, players such as TCU's Chris Hackett or Oklahoma's Eric Striker weren't eligible, as they were both second-team selections this year.

Below are 10 players to watch on the defensive side of the ball in 2014 (in alphabetical order):

[+] EnlargeDante Barnett
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsDante Barnett had four interceptions as a sophomore.
Kansas State S Dante Barnett: The last couple of years, Ty Zimmerman was the anchor of the K-State secondary. With Zimmerman out of eligibility, Barnett appears ready to take over. Barnett had a banner sophomore season, leading the Wildcats with four interceptions and finishing third with 75 tackles. He was especially impressive in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, delivering a team-high eight tackles and a 51-yard interception return that proved to be the exclamation point. Barnett is one reason why the Wildcats should be better defensively in 2014.

Texas DT Malcolm Brown: Often confused with the Texas running back with the same name, Brown was a force in the middle as a sophomore. With more improvement, the former blue-chipper who was the No. 2 DT in the nation coming out of high school has a chance to be Texas’ first All-Big 12 defensive tackle since Roy Miller in 2008.

Oklahoma State DT James Castleman: The last two seasons, Castleman has operated in the shadows of All-Big 12 DT Calvin Barnett. With Barnett – and virtually the rest of the Oklahoma State defense – gone, Castleman will be the Cowboys’ top returning defensive player next season. Castleman has the talent to be an all-conference tackle, and will need to be for the Cowboys to avoid a significant defensive drop-off.

Oklahoma DE Geneo Grissom: Last year, Grissom was so dubious on his prospects of making the rotation at end that he asked to play tight end. That experiment failed, and the Sooners have to be glad that it did. The switch finally flipped for Grissom in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. In that game, he played like a man possessed and finished with two sacks and two fumble recoveries. He returned the second eight yards for a game-clinching touchdown. Grissom has only year left, but it could be a special one if he plays the way he did against Alabama.

West Virginia S Karl Joseph: After starting every game at safety as a true freshman in 2012 and leading the team in tackles, Joseph didn’t make the kind of leap the Mountaineers hoped he would as a sophomore. Still, there’s no denying the talent here. Joseph has the skill to be an all-conference safety, something that might need to happen for West Virginia to avoid another disappointing season in the Big 12.

Iowa State LB Luke Knott: Knott started five games as a redshirt freshman this year before suffering a season-ending hip injury that should keep him out of spring ball as well. But if he can make a healthy return, look out. Knott came to Iowa State as a quarterback but has made a seamless transition to linebacker, showing plenty of instinct with 11 tackles in Iowa State’s 31-30 loss to Texas. His older brother Jake was an All-Big 12 linebacker for the Cyclones. As long as that hip doesn’t get in the way, Knott could become one an all-conference selection as well.

Baylor DE Shawn Oakman: The Penn State transfer has the tools to become a dominant player in the league. Oakman had his moments as a rotation player in 2013, finishing sixth in the Big 12 in tackles for loss. But the potential is there for so much more from the 6-foot-9, 275-pound Oakman. If he can put it all together in 2014, he could become one of the league’s most disruptive defenders.

[+] EnlargeDalton Santos
David Purdy/Getty ImagesThe new Texas coaching staff will have to find the best position for Dalton Santos.
Oklahoma State CB Kevin Peterson: While All-American Justin Gilbert deservedly received the accolades this season, Peterson quietly had a very stout sophomore season on the other side of the field. Peterson, who flipped his commitment from Oklahoma to Oklahoma State in recruiting, had two interceptions and was solid in coverage all season in Glenn Spencer’s aggressive, man-to-man defense. With Gilbert gone to the NFL, Peterson will be Oklahoma State’s No. 1 cornerback in 2014. So far, he looks up to the challenge.

Texas LB Dalton Santos: After Jordan Hicks went down with yet another season-ending injury, Santos elevated his game at linebacker. The sophomore finished fourth on the team with 74 tackles, including 10 for loss. It will be interesting to see what happens with the Longhorns at linebacker. The entire group of linebackers will return, including Hicks. But the way Santos played late in the year, the new Texas regime will have to find a way to get him on the field.

Oklahoma LB Frank Shannon: Even though injuries plagued Shannon the second half of the season, he still led the Sooners with 92 tackles as a sophomore. In Shannon, blitzer extraordinaire Eric Striker and Big 12 defensive freshman of the year Dominique Alexander all back, Oklahoma might have the best linebacker corps in the country next season.
New Texas coach Charlie Strong has plenty of catching up to do when it comes to evaluating his returning talent. The former defensive coordinator should like what he has on defense.

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.

Defensive End
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.

Defensive Tackle
[+] EnlargeMalcom Brown
John Albright/Icon SMIMalcom Brown had a solid sophomore season at defensive tackle.
Malcom Brown, junior
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.

Defensive Tackle
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.

Defensive End
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.

Weakside Linebacker
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.

Strongside Linebacker
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.

Middle Linebacker
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.

Cornerback
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.

Free Safety
Mykkele Thompson, senior
Adrian Colbert, sophomore

[+] EnlargeDuke Thomas
John Albright/Icon SMIDuke Thomas made three interceptions in 2013.
Could Thompson’s future be at cornerback? It’s worth considering, especially since he’s not much of a hitter. He started 12 games in 2013 and must finally put it all together in his last season. Colbert is a thumper who could fight his way into the lineup.

Strong Safety
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.

Cornerback
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.

Punter
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.

Army Bowl combine notebook 

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
10:48
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SAN ANTONIO -- The day before the U.S. Army All-American Bowl featured several athletes who could be playing in the 2015 rendition of the game. The U.S. Army National Combine took place Friday, and several ESPN Junior 300 athletes, as well as rising 2015 and 2016 standouts, gave the Alamodome crowd a small taste of what to expect throughout the spring circuit of various camps and combines.

What we learned: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
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FORT WORTH -- Where exactly are we supposed to begin? The list of what we learned about the Longhorns after their 30-7 win over TCU is a long one. Here's a start:

1. No game, no problem

Think back to Sept. 7, when Texas got a late kickoff in Provo, Utah, due to a severe weather delay of 1:50. The defense played flat, Daje Johnson got hurt immediately, David Ash got hurt later, and BYU was flat-out more physical than Texas. This time, Mack Brown, his staff and players faced a game delay of more than three hours and were perfectly fine with the setback. Texas held onto and built upon its lead entering that long break, without giving up any more TCU scores. Players killed time with meetings, listening to music and eating, but once the game resumed it was same old Texas.

2. Front seven setting the tone

To heap all the praise on the defensive line wouldn't be too fair when you recognize how well these Texas linebackers are playing and how far they've come. Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond were both treated like scapegoats for the rest of the defense's troubles but are playing some great football right now. Together, they made life difficult for Casey Pachall in only the second career Big 12 start he's made. That Texas defensive line is playing lights out right now, and that'll need to continue over the final stretch.

3. Here comes Swoopes

Well, here we go. Texas burned the redshirt of the former four-star recruit with less than 5 minutes left against TCU. The results were more than modest -- 29 total yards on the eight plays he ran -- but what this means for the future is significant. We'll delve more into this on Monday, but just believe they wouldn't be taking this step if they didn't think he could help, and that he could use all the bonus snaps he can get. What does this mean for David Ash's long-term health? Brown isn't going into it other than to say Ash won't play against Kansas next week. But one thing is for sure: If that's the only time we see Tyrone Swoopes this season, it's a real shame for all involved, especially those who wholeheartedly believed Swoopes should redshirt.

Big 12 unsung heroes: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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Here are this week’s unsung heroes:

Linebacker Eddie Lackey, Baylor: Overshadowed by Bryce Hager’s 18-tackle performance, Lackey had a solid game in the Bears’ 35-25 win over Kansas State. He finished with 10 tackles, including eight solo stops, and a forced fumble. His active play is one of the reasons the Bears’ defense is playing better in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJarvis West
Jerod Foster/Icon SMIJarvis West's efforts on special teams provided a major boost for Iowa State.
Receiver Jarvis West, Iowa State: The Cyclones’ wideout helped keep his squad in the game with his special teams’ prowess. He had a 95-yard kickoff return for a score and added 46 punt return yards including a 38-yarder. West finished with 177 all-purpose yards, more than 100 yards more than the next best Cyclone.

Cornerback JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas: Shepherd did it all in the Jayhawks’ 27-17 loss to TCU. He had seven tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was a terrific performance in his return home for the former Mesquite (Texas) Horn standout.

Running back John Hubert, Kansas State: An overlooked aspect of Daniel Sams’ explosive day was Hubert’s increased production. The senior had 15 carries for 90 yards to provide a solid 1-2 running punch alongside Sams. Hubert clearly becomes a more productive player with a running threat at quarterback.

Linebacker Frank Shannon, Oklahoma: The sophomore had the quietest 16-tackle performance in recent memory. Shannon continued to be a consistent playmaker on OU’s defense, recording those 16 tackles and forcing a fumble in the Sooners’ 36-20 loss to Texas. He’s proving to be a player the Sooners can count on, week in and week out.

Linebacker Dalton Santos, Texas: The Longhorns were stout against the run in their 36-20 win over OU, and Santos played a key role. The sophomore made plays from sideline to sideline and was consistently around the football. He finished with six tackles including 1.5 tackles for loss. Santos has helped offset the loss of Jordan Hicks for the Longhorns’ defense.

Running back B.J. Catalon, TCU: Catalon continues to be a playmaker for the Horned Frogs, accounting for a team-high 122 yards. The sophomore averaged 9.38 yards per touch in TCU’s 27-17 win over Kansas. On an offense searching for playmakers, it seems like the Horned Frogs can’t get the ball in Catalon’s hands enough, particularly if he can take better care of the football.

Running back Sadale Foster, Texas Tech: One of three Red Raiders to rush for more than 80 yards, Foster averaged 9.7 yards per carry in Tech’s 42-35 win over Iowa State. He had nine carries for 87 yards and one touchdown. He averaged 14.8 yards per carry on first down (five carries, 74 yards), including a 38-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

Note: Oklahoma State and West Virginia did not play in Week 7.

Ten things Texas must do to beat OU

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
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AUSTIN, Texas – Texas is a two-touchdown underdog against a No. 12 Oklahoma outfit with a hard-earned undefeated record and a three-game winning streak in the Red River Rivalry. What must the Longhorns do to change all that?

This is hardly a comprehensive blueprint of what they must achieve on Saturday. It’s sorted more by chronology than priority. There’s plenty that has been left out -- like the coaching matchup, special teams, the possibility of some McCoy magic – and this checklist might mean almost nothing after the clock strikes 11 a.m. at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.

But if you’re throwing the rivalry’s recent history out the window and are feeling truly optimistic about Texas’ chances, here are 10 things that probably have to happen for this team to emerge victorious.

1. Wake up and start fast

Texas went three-and-out on all three of its first-quarter drives in 2012 and did not have a possession of more than four plays in the first half. It’s easy to fall behind 34 points before halftime when your offense is that inept. The Longhorns have taken 10-0 leads to start each of their games in the last two weeks. Can Texas overcome the fact it hasn’t played a single morning or afternoon game this season and actually begin this one with momentum on its side?

2. Be the physical team

Oklahoma has been the more physical team in its three consecutive Red River victories. Mack Brown admits that. This should start with the Longhorns offensive line, an inconsistent group that needs its finest performance yet on Saturday. This is also about the Texas defensive line, which has NFL-caliber talent and must force the OU offense to go off schedule. It’s going to be a long day if Blake Bell feels no pressure.

3. Run Gray all day

[+] EnlargeDalton Santos
David Purdy/Getty ImagesWith Texas bulking up at linebacker, Dalton Santos will need to be a sure tackler against Oklahoma.
Texas is 4-1 when Gray gets more than 15 carries in a game. He needs to be involved early and often. He’s the most reliable cog Texas has on offense, and the Sooners just lost their best linebacker in Corey Nelson. Texas is averaging a stunning 1.6 yards per carry in its last two Red River losses (68 carries, 110 yards).

4. Second down and short

The problem isn’t just three-and-outs. It’s putting Case McCoy in third-and-long situations that handcuff Major Applewhite’s play-calling ability. This season, the Longhorns are getting 6 or more yards on 40 percent of their first-down plays. Against OU last year that number was a little more than 20 percent.

5. Minimize mistakes in space

Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond better be ready. Starting two bulkier middle linebacker-types is risky against this stable Oklahoma backs, and gap responsibility is a must. This goes for the entire defense, though. Greg Robinson says the key is minimizing missed tackles. Texas learned the hard way last year -- Damien Williams’ 95-yard run, Trey Millard’s 164 total yards -- that bad things happen when the first tackle gets missed.

6. Win (or survive) the second quarter

Texas’ offense hasn’t produced a second-quarter touchdown against Oklahoma since … 2008. The Sooners won the second quarter 23-0 last year and 28-7 in 2011, all but ensuring victory by halftime. In those quarters, Texas had a combined five first downs and -17 rushing yards (seriously). Dig a hole that deep once again and the results won’t be any different in 2013.

7. Contain Bell, respect his WRs

Texas’ defensive line needs to be smart when playing Bell or he’ll turn well-covered pass plays into first-down scrambles, just as Sam Richardson did for Iowa State a week ago. The more time Bell can buy with his feet, the more dangerous his collection of fast receivers gets. Texas’ safeties must step up.

8. Swing the momentum

There’s not a better indicator of success for the Longhorns in recent years than when they win the turnover battle. They’ve lost that battle against OU by a combined margin of -6 the past two years. To keep this game close, Texas must to create momentum-changing opportunities and capitalize.

9. The wild cards

Expect Applewhite to play every card in his hand this week. That means a lot more Daje Johnson, who can score any time he touches the ball and is healthy again. Don’t overlook Kendall Sanders, either, considering the attention Johnson, Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley will draw. A defender due for a big game -- perhaps Quandre Diggs or Cedric Reed -- will need to rise to the occasion as well.

10. Play pissed

This is self-explanatory. Embrace the underdog role, take chances and don’t fold when this game gets tough. There’s no question the Sooners have the mental edge in this rivalry right now. The Longhorns will need to do whatever they can to get their groove back.

Do all these things and it will at least be a four-quarter ballgame, which hasn’t been the case the past two years. It’s possible Mack Brown would only have a few of these bullet points on his own version of a top-10 list. But it’s a start.

It’s safe to say the most glaring omission, the No. 11, would be obvious considering how this team has been ravaged by injuries and misfortune through five games. Texas also needs some old fashioned good luck on Saturday.

Planning for success: Texas

October, 3, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- When the news came out Monday that all three linebackers of Texas’ 2012 recruiting class are now starting, the collective response from Dalton Santos, Peter Jinkens and Timothy Cole was universal: This is going to be fun.

If the celebrating the trio has done on their Twitter accounts is any indication, it’s safe to say the second-year linebackers are more than up to the challenge Thursday night at Iowa State (6:30 p.m. CT, ESPN). This week, their contributions should be critical.

[+] EnlargePeter Jinkens
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesPeter Jinkens is part of an all-Class-of-2012 starting linebacking corps that Texas will unleash against Iowa State.
Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson was looking for a spark in the wake of losing the Longhorns' most talented linebacker, junior Jordan Hicks. His season-ending torn Achilles was the last thing Robinson needed in his quest to repair the run defense.

The Longhorns defense fell apart without Hicks last season during its toughest five-game stretch. His absence opened the door for others, and a total of seven linebackers earned starts in 2012.

Yet Robinson didn’t chose any of the remaining six to take over for Hicks. He picked Cole, a redshirt freshman from Brenham, Texas, who’s spent nearly all of his debut season on special teams.

“Tim did a tremendous job against Kansas State on special teams, and because of that and practice the last four days, Greg Robinson is convinced he wants Tim out there as a starter,” Texas coach Mack Brown said.

There’s the benefit of getting a fresh set of eyes on Texas’ linebackers. Cole wasn’t in line to contribute much to that unit before Robinson took over for Manny Diaz last month.

A four-star prospect who came to Texas last year with best friend Malcom Brown, Cole makes up for non-prototypical size (he’s listed at 6-foot-2, but that’s generous) with a strong football IQ and a knack for leadership.

When Texas was recruiting him, Brenham coach Glen West vowed that Cole would end up being a team captain for Texas. His new coaches don’t doubt that, and teammates recognized what made Cole unique early on.

“Since he got here, he was different than a lot of other guys,” defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “I knew he was a little more mature than other guys. His football game has come a long way since he first got here, but he looks good. He knows he has to step up and play well, and I think he will.”

He’ll team up tonight with Jinkens and Santos, two high-energy sophomores coming off strong finishes in Texas’ win over Kansas State. Steve Edmond will likely have some role in the game, but he can’t play in the first half after receiving a targeting ejection in the second half against KSU.

Juniors Tevin Jackson and Kendall Thompson were the presumptive favorites to step into the lineup in Hicks’ place, but the Longhorns’ young trio won over their new position coach.

They’ll have to reward his faith with a stout showing against the Cyclones, who got a 137-yard rushing performance out of newcomer Aaron Wimberly last week vs. Tulsa.

In their first three game without Hicks last fall, Texas’ defense let opposing running backs produce games of 199, 207 and 167 yards, respectively. That can’t happen again, not if the Longhorns are hoping to turn the season around after a 2-2 start.

What matters more to Brown, though, is the leadership void that Texas must fill now that Hicks won’t be on the field. Jeffcoat said he’ll take on the responsibility along with defensive tackle Chris Whaley and defensive backs Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips.

Simply having more seniors to rely on this time around means more accountability across the board.

“That’s a lot of guys who can keep their positions up and make sure guys don’t start slacking off and guys pick up the slack from what was lost with Jordan,” Jeffcoat said.

The sophomores are doing their part, too. Of the 25 members of Texas’ 2012 class still on campus, Cole is about to become the 13th to earn a start.

While others broke into the starting lineup in year one, Cole was patient. He kept working and kept waiting for an opportunity. Here it is.

“He’s upbeat and positive and smart and never makes a mistake,” Brown said. “Greg Robinson said the other day, ‘Don’t tell him something that’s wrong, because he’s going to remember it and he’s going to do it.’ He just plays so hard. It’ll be fun to watch him on Thursday night.”

Film review: Five key plays from KSU-Texas

September, 24, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas' last five losses to Kansas State typically had been decided by turnovers and fourth-quarter mistakes. This time, the Wildcats were the ones making those miscues. This time, Texas capitalized.

After reviewing the Longhorns' 31-21 win over K-State on Saturday, here's a look back at five plays that helped decide the game and end the five-game losing streak.

1. Sams to the sidelines

[+] EnlargeDaniel Sams
AP Photo/Eric GayDaniel Sams had 48 yards in eight carries before leaving the game in the second quarter.
Daniel Sams had some early success stressing Texas' run defense, but for some reason he disappeared midway through the second quarter. On his final carry of the night, he rushed up the middle on a delay draw on second and 15. He gained five yards but wound up at the bottom of a pile under at least five Texas defenders and a few Kansas State linemen.

Did he get hurt? Bill Snyder doesn't divulge injury information, but that was the assumption Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson made. He thought Sams might've tweaked something on that rush. The TV broadcast proves inconclusive on this issue.

Whatever the reason, Sams didn't come back. Would he have changed the game had he stayed in? It's possible, but Texas had stopped him for no gain on his previous two carries, and he didn't attempt a single pass on the night. It's entirely possible that once Texas went ahead 24-7, KSU would've abandoned Sams and went with Jake Waters as its best bet to come back. We'll never know. But taking Sams out of the equation made life a little easier for Texas' defense, even if the plays he ran were predictable.

2. A key conversion

Mack Brown pointed out after the game that going ahead 17-0 late in the second quarter was huge for his team's momentum. He's right, and don't forget how Texas got there. After David Ash scrambled for eight yards on third and 10, Texas went with a surprising look on fourth down.

Instead of lining up in a power set, the Longhorns went four wide with Joe Bergeron lined up next to Ash. Presumably, a dive play was coming for Texas' short-yardage back. Instead, he motioned out of the backfield, a savvy move by the coaching staff to get K-State's middle linebacker to follow and cover him.

With the middle of the field wide open, Ash hit Jaxon Shipley on a quick slant for 10 yards to get to the 26. Two plays later, Johnathan Gray scored from 21 yards out. Getting aggressive on fourth down paid off big.

3. Ash leaves early

There's no easy way to pinpoint what went wrong here. We know very little about what happened to Ash on Saturday night or whether a specific play or hit caused his concussion-related symptoms to return. All we know is Brown is hopeful the issues are not serious.

But with 14 seconds left in the first half, Texas called a timeout. Ash was obviously wincing as he walked to the sideline. He took a sip of water and kept wincing and blinking. Then he went back on the field and threw incomplete on fourth down while trying his best to avoid being hit. He walked off the field with his head down, and his night was over.

To their credit, the Longhorns found a way to survive without him in the second half. But we won't know how important this moment was until we know how Ash is doing these days.

4. De La Torre's dash

You don't win games like this without seizing moments. The Longhorns scooped up a John Hubert fumble to open the second half but then faced a fourth down near midfield. They lined up in a punt safe formation, and fans started booing, which they would regret.

Two blockers lined up in front of Fera to protect him. One is lineman Garrett Porter, who snuck up to the line before the snap. The other is fullback Alex De La Torre, who took a direct snap and dashed downfield. Thanks to big blocks from Porter, Chet Moss and defensive backs Sheroid Evans and Leroy Scott, DLT picked up 19 to the KSU 29. Four more Johnathan Gray carries and Texas leads 24-7.

5. The fumble

I guess we're calling this a butt fumble, right? Jake Waters was about to put Texas in the danger zone. K-State was down 10 with a little more than two minutes left and was 7 yards from the end zone. KSU also had three timeouts left, in case its onside kick failed. If Texas allowed the score, it would be an interesting ballgame.

But Waters, on a delay power run right, stumbled behind lineman Cody Whitehair. The ball slipped out of his grasp when his right arm grazed Whitehair's behind. Dalton Santos quickly hit Waters and pounced on the fumble. He went crazy, as he is prone to doing, and Texas went to 2-2.

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