Texas Longhorns: Peter Jinkens

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 will take 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.

[+] EnlargePeter Jinkens
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesPeter Jinkens has yet to start in more than three consecutive games for Texas.
No. 19 Peter Jinkens
Junior linebacker


Recruitment rewind: Texas A&M was in the lead for Jinkens, an ESPN 300 OLB from Dallas Skyline, until Texas offered during his junior day visit. He committed on the spot, joining Skyline teammate WR Thomas Johnson (who went on to sign with A&M) in the class and giving Texas the state's top linebacker prospect. The Under Armour All-American racked up 125 tackles as a senior and also put up 11 rushing TDs in his final two seasons.

Career so far: Jinkens has played in all 26 games of his career so far and earned starts in nine, including six games in 2013. As a freshman he recorded 29 tackles and an interception in the Alamo Bowl vs. Oregon State. Jinkens was solid as a sophomore, with 49 tackles, two TFLs and a forced fumble.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Because Texas' defensive needs tend to change week to week in the Big 12, and in part due to his inexperience, Jinkens yet to hold down a starting job for more than three consecutive games. He's been plugged into the lineup a number of times and rarely disappoints. His ambition this season should be starting 13 games and proving to the rest of the league he can be one of the Big 12's most exciting linebackers.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Texas has an intriguing collection of linebackers, and a ton of them have starting experience. But depending on how Strong approaches playing defense in this league, there's a chance you only see two on the field at a time for most of this season. That's just how it goes in the Big 12. And if you go by experience, that might continue to mean a lot of snaps for Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks and not so many for Jinkens. He must prove he provides things as an athletic pass rusher that the rest of his competition do not.

Future expectations: Hard to believe Jinkens is already a junior, isn't it? He's put on something like 20 pounds of good weight and muscle since joining the program and has the look of a future NFL linebacker. He just doesn't have the resume yet. Nobody would be surprised if Jinkens blows up in a big way in Strong's defense, but he needs a big start to his 2014 season if he wants that opportunity.

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.
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.

Week 15 helmet stickers

December, 8, 2013
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WACO, Texas -- Three Longhorns stood out in Texas’ 30-10 loss to Baylor on Saturday night:

RB Malcolm Brown: He’s rushed for more yards before -- against Oklahoma State in 2011 -- but against Baylor, especially in the first half, might’ve been the best Brown has run in his whole career. The junior rushed for 131 yards on 25 carries and also caught Case McCoy’s lone touchdown pass in the loss. He was an absolute workhorse in the first two quarters, racking up 118 yards and repeatedly finding cutbacks up the middle for big gains. One of the unsung heroes of this offense, Brown finishes the regular season with 774 yards and nine touchdowns.

LB Peter Jinkens: Where’d this performance come from? Texas was essentially down to two linebackers this week and that meant lots of snaps for Jinkens, the athletic sophomore whose season has been a bit disappointing. But on this night, he was all over the place. Jinkens finished with 12 tackles and was spotted throwing guys around a few times. He’s coming on strong late, just as he did in 2012.

DE Jackson Jeffcoat: The stat book says Jeffcoat had a solid night on Saturday, with 11 tackles and two sacks. As a senior, though, all he cared about was the win. Jeffcoat did surpass Kansas State’s Ryan Mueller to finish with a Big 12-leading 12 sacks in 2013. He was the only Texas player to sack Bryce Petty, though, and Texas logged just three QB pressures. Jeffcoat was good; he just needed more help.

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.”

What losing Hicks means for Texas

September, 22, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The good vibes and positive momentum Texas got from a much-needed win on Saturday just took a big hit.

Texas beat Kansas State 31-21, but the cost of that victory was significant. Starting linebacker Jordan Hicks will have surgery to repair a ruptured left Achilles tendon and is done for the year.

[+] EnlargeJordan Hicks
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesTexas linebacker Jordan Hicks has been productive when healthy.
Of all the starters Texas has sidelined with injuries right now, this was the guy the Longhorns could not lose, especially when you think back to the effect that losing Hicks in 2012 had on the defense.

Last year, Hicks went down with a hip injury that supposed to keep him out a few weeks. He missed the rest of the season, and Texas missed him badly.

That injury, suffered in the nonconference finale against Ole Miss, came before a four-game gantlet of Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Baylor. The results for Texas’ defense were ugly.

In those first four games without Hicks, Texas gave up 197 points and 2,320 yards. The defense lost its confidence and couldn’t stop the run, allowing 266 yards per game on the ground. By the end of that stretch, Texas had a Big 12-leading 76 missed tackles.

This year could be a different story for a few reasons. The imminent schedule is a bit more favorable now -- 11 days off, then a road trip to play an 0-2 Iowa State team, then eight more days to prepare for Oklahoma.

Plus, losing Hicks last year meant former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had to throw several linebackers into the lineup. A total of seven earned starts on the year, which means that group is now more experienced and better prepared for Hicks’ absence this time.

Now that Texas is getting into its Big 12 schedule, where it will face many more spread offenses, defensive coordinator Greg Robinson can get away with playing two linebackers in most games.

Some combination of Steve Edmond, Peter Jinkens and Dalton Santos would likely make the most sense right now, though Edmond can’t play in the first half of the Iowa State game due to a second-half targeting ejection against KSU. Texas likes the experience it has in veteran backups Tevin Jackson and Kendall Thompson.

Missing Hicks for 10 games last season means Texas will be ready for this scenario, but that doesn’t make it any less of a big loss. Hicks was one of the respected leaders of Texas’ defense and established himself as the team’s best linebacker.

He was playing some of the best ball of his career on Saturday, with seven tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss against the Wildcats. It appears Hicks could be eligible to apply for a medical redshirt and a sixth season of eligibility.

Texas played the run better against Kansas State, holding KSU to 115 yards on the ground, but it’s still one of this defense’s weaknesses and Big 12 foes will surely try to exploit it.

Another lapse in confidence and execution like the one the Longhorn defense had without Hicks a year ago would spell trouble. There’s not much margin for error right now with a team that’s already lost two games.

Simply put, Texas is better prepared to play without Hicks than it was a year ago. But that doesn’t mean this will be easy.

Texas depth chart preview: Defense

August, 21, 2013
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We’re 10 days away from the season opener and Texas hasn’t released its official 2013 depth chart. That should be coming soon, but why wait?

Yesterday, we projected how the Longhorns offensive depth chart will look entering the Aug. 31 opener against New Mexico State. Today we’re assessing how Texas’ defensive depth is shaping up. Here’s where the Longhorns appear to stand with only a few days left in fall camp.

Defensive end

Jackson Jeffcoat, Cedric Reed, Reggie Wilson, Shiro Davis, Bryce Cottrell

Everything we’ve heard this summer and fall suggests Jeffcoat is healthy and back with a vengeance. Nobody will be surprised if he has a big season. Reed has been locked into the other starting job throughout, and Wilson is earning confidence as the No. 3 guy. Davis and Cottrell lead a group of young ends who could make a splash as pass rushers and seem far more poised to contribute as second-year guys. Of all the guys on this defense, Cottrell might be the one who ends up being a surprise stud.

Defensive tackle

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
John Albright/Icon SMIWith players like Jackson Jeffcoat returning to full health, Texas' defensive depth looks stronger in 2013.
Ashton Dorsey, Chris Whaley, Malcom Brown, Desmond Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway

The two we’ve bolded here is essentially meaningless. It could be Brown and Whaley, Brown and Dorsey, Dorsey and Jackson or any number of other combinations. Bo Davis has the luxury of rotating those four and will do so plenty. Whaley had stepped up in camp, but it’s hard to call him a surprise starter considering he also won a starting gig at the end of camp last year. Is Ridgeway the No. 5 man in this group? Time will tell, but he has the tools to eventually be a difference-maker.

Outside linebacker

Jordan Hicks, Peter Jinkens, Tevin Jackson, Kendall Thompson

No surprises here. You knew Hicks was going to be a surefire starter when he got healthy, and Jinkens has made a big impression on everyone this offseason. He’s often praised for bringing a strong dose of energy to the rest of the lineup. Texas likes what it has in Jackson and Thompson, and they’re still in line to see solid playing time. Right now, it's hard to picture former starter Demarco Cobbs reemerging as an impact contributor once he's healthy.

Middle linebacker

Steve Edmond, Dalton Santos

This was supposed to be one of the Longhorns’ best position battles, but the drama fizzled quickly. Edmond is in firm control of the job and has made a big comeback after an up-and-down 2012. Players say he’s truly a sideline-to-sideline player now that he’s dropped 30 pounds and more of a playmaker than ever. After all the premature hype surrounding him last year, it sounds like Edmond is the real deal now. Santos will still get his, especially as a special teams enforcer.

Cornerback

Quandre Diggs, Carrington Byndom, Duke Thomas, Sheroid Evans, Bryson Echols

Longhorns coaches and players have remained as vague as possible when it comes to discussing Diggs’ role. Don’t be shocked if he plays more nickel and dabbles in some safety this year, but the fact remains he’s still one of Texas’ two best corners. Byndom seems much more confident as a senior. Manny Diaz recently said Thomas is as good a DB as Texas has right now, which is really saying something, and Evans has a chance to be a sneaky good weapon in that secondary. Don’t sleep on freshman Antwuan Davis, but Texas is in nice shape in terms of depth at corner.

Safety

Adrian Phillips, Mykkele Thompson, Josh Turner, Adrian Colbert

We know Phillips is better and could be one of the real surprise players on this Texas defense as a senior, but it’s still hard to peg if Thompson is the answer at the other starting spot. The coaching staff is still confident in him. Turner has been sidelined throughout camp so it’s hard to know what to expect of him, but Colbert has been flashy in practices. Again, if Diggs or Byndom chips in at safety, that sure couldn’t hurt.

Punter

William Russ, Anthony Fera

Tough call here, but we’ll go with Russ because it seems more feasible that the Longhorns would prefer to keep Fera fresh and not give him both placekicker and punter duties. Coaches say a healthy Russ is now booming his punts and made this a legitimate battle. And let’s not forget Nick Rose, who will continue to own the role of booting kickoffs. Mack Brown frequently praised Rose as a freshman, and he might be even better in year two.

Opening camp: Texas Longhorns

August, 5, 2013
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Texas is the next Big 12 team who'll begin preseason camp. Let's have a closer look at the Longhorns.

Schedule: Texas will have its first practice Monday after players reported on Sunday. In a somewhat surprising decision, the Longhorns will host three open practices for fans at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. They'll all be this week, beginning with Thursday and Friday's 7:30 p.m. ET practice and followed by an 8 p.m. ET practice on Sunday.

Setting the scene: It's no understatement to say this season could define Mack Brown's tenure at Texas. If the Longhorns turn the corner and find themselves in a BCS game come January, he'll have successfully turned around Texas. He'll have a strong team returning in 2014 and an uptick in recruiting that signals greener pastures ahead and a more placid end to his career in Austin, whenever that happens. If we see an 8-9 win season or worse, an amazing run in the 2000s will have led to a post-Colt McCoy downfall and Brown likely won't be around to coach those 2014 and 2015 recruits. It'll color how he's remembered and this season will have a huge impact on what the next three to four years look like at Texas.

All eyes on: The defense. We're not going to learn anything about David Ash in preseason camp, but the defense has to show signs that it's capable of bouncing back from last season's nightmare that gave up more rushing yards than any team in Texas' history. Manny Diaz stuck around, and the Longhorns brought back 2004 defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to analyze film and do other tasks to help out, mostly from his home in Los Angeles. The personnel is there with the return of Jordan Hicks and stars Jackson Jeffcoat and Quandre Diggs, but this unit has a lot to prove. We'll get an idea of their progress in camp.

Key battle: Offensive tackle. Sophomore Josh Cochran (right) and junior college transfer Donald Hawkins (left) both turned in good efforts a year ago, but Cochran missed the spring with a broken leg. Junior college tackle Desmond Harrison has finally joined the team and could complicate that race. Texas may shift some guys around, like the versatile Trey Hopkins, but the battle for the tackle spot should be one to watch over the next month.

On the mend: Jeffcoat (pectoral) and Hicks (hip) are finally both healthy and ready to go, and the best news of all for Texas is Hicks being given a medical redshirt. That makes him a junior again this season and means he didn't waste last season when he missed 10 games. Jeffcoat has dealt with pectoral injuries in consecutive seasons as well as a high ankle sprain as a freshman. He's got to stay healthy.

Breaking out: Peter Jinkens. The sophomore linebacker had a big finish to the season after grabbing his first start against Iowa State. He had three tackles for loss and a sack against Kansas State, and nine tackles and a pick against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl win. He's got a lot of speed at 6-foot-1 and 218 pounds roaming the outside, and earned playing time at both weak and strongside.

Outlook: Texas has the potential to be better than any team in the Big 12 with a talented defense, experienced quarterback, deep stable of running backs and a physical, experienced offensive line. Still, all you have to do is look at games against Oklahoma and Kansas a year ago for a healthy, fair dose of skepticism. That's how a team that won nine games a year ago and returns 19 starters gets picked fourth in the Big 12 by the league's media. These Longhorns have a ton to prove, and a bit more experience and talent to do it than they've had in any year since 2010.

Quotable: Brown, on the struggles over the past few years. "We're a quarterbackdriven league, and if you just look at the last ten years, this league has been known for the best quarterbacks in the country and the best passers and the best offenses. So the fact that we've struggled at quarterback for two years on and off is a true fact that we've struggled as a team some because he touches it every time. ... So when you think about the importance of that player at all levels of our game, it is really, really key, and that's why we're so excited to have David with experience, with maturity, with confidence not only in himself but in his team. He's leading the team much better, and they believe in him right now."

The 2013 all-OU-Texas team 

July, 18, 2013
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What if you combined the 2013 rosters of Oklahoma and Texas? Who would start? Who would ride the pine? SoonerNation and HornsNation have teamed up to answer that question:

OFFENSE

QB: Blake Bell, Oklahoma

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas has 19 starters returning, a two-deep no longer as shallow as the Pedernales River, a coach who has been pointing to this year during the tumult of the last two and a team that's been as high as No. 4 in some of the preseason rankings.


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AUSTIN, Texas -- Rare is the time when a coach singles out players from others.

Football, after all, is a team sport. And Texas likes to take that concept to a new level. Take, for instance, any question about a quarterback from the two previous seasons. Almost every answer was started with "Both those guys," not putting one above the other or either above the team.

But Texas has turned the page and in a new era of accountability and, in an effort to applaud individual efforts, Texas coach Mack Brown dispensed with the regular lumping together of players when asked about who has stood out to him. Instead, the veteran coach had no problem pointing fingers at those individuals who have excelled, thereby also possibly pointing one at those who need to pick up the pace.


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Question of the Week: Faith in Diaz 

June, 13, 2013
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At some point in Oregon State’s five-play, 47-yard drive, when all the plays were runs and yet another gap was missed by a linebacker, one had to wonder if things would ever change for the Texas defense under Manny Diaz.

That the defense briefly did change in the second half was more the result of a Herculean effort by one, now departed, senior, Alex Okafor, and a completely depleted Oregon State offensive line.

Now the time has come to see if Diaz, in his third season at Texas, will make any permanent changes to what was the worst defense in program history. He has lost his two most productive and best players, Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro. But he does return nine starters, including linebacker Jordan Hicks, who was injured in the third game last season. So there are some reasons for optimism. Texas coach Mack Brown pointed out that Diaz led a unit that ranked No. 11 in defense in 2011, and he didn’t forget how to coach.


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During the summer, HornsNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Texas roster -- excluding the Longhorns' 2013 recruiting class -- in our Burnt Orange Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1 Mike Davis, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 19 Peter Jinkens
Sophomore linebacker



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Colleague Travis Haney ranked his list of the nation's top 10 "most talented" teams Insider, and a certain burnt orange team you might have heard showed up at No. 2 on his list.

It's an interesting approach to ranking teams, and Haney looked at NFL draft lists, colleague Mark Schlabach's top 25 and the past four years of recruiting rankings to put together his list.

A lot of the ranking is thanks to those recruiting rankings, where Texas' class averaged a ranking of 6.5 among players currently suiting up for the Longhorns.

I agree that Texas is the Big 12's most talented team by a long way, but what does that really mean, besides more pressure on Mack Brown? The Longhorns beat a rebuilding Oklahoma State team in September that was a shell of the team it became late in the season, and did so narrowly with J.W. Walsh making his first career start for the Pokes. You've got to take all that into consideration, and when you look back at the last two years, Texas' best win was either its Alamo Bowl comeback against Oregon State or a road win against Texas Tech, who ended the season tied for fifth in the league.

A pair of embarrassing blowout losses to Oklahoma are the biggest reason for skepticism surrounding the Longhorns, who plenty of folks will pick to win the Big 12 in 2013. They've certainly got talent. Look no further than super recruits like DE Jackson Jeffcoat, DT Malcom Brown, and running backs Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray for evidence of that, not to mention defenders like CB Quandre Diggs and linebackers Peter Jinkens and Jordan Hicks.

The Longhorns have talent all over the field, and that has been the case the past three seasons, which have featured just 22 wins. Now, though, that talent has experience and Texas is preparing for it to pay off.

On paper, it should. Texas has every reason to be one of, if not the, Big 12 favorite. Still, the Longhorns have got to prove it on the field, and it takes a lot of big wins to make that happen. Texas has been short on those wins of late.
2012 record: 9-4
2012 conference record: 5-4 (third in the Big 12)
Returning starters: Offense: 10; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners: QB David Ash, RB Johnathan Gray, WR Mike Davis, WR Jaxon Shipley, LT Donald Hawkins, RT Josh Cochran, G Mason Walters, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, LB Jordan Hicks, CB Quandre Diggs, CB Carrington Byndom

Key losses: P Alex King, S Kenny Vaccaro, DE Alex Okafor, WR Marquise Goodwin

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Johnathan Gray* (701 yards)
Passing: David Ash* (2,699 yards)
Receiving: Mike Davis* (939 yards)
Tackles: Kenny Vaccaro (107)
Sacks: Alex Okafor (12.5)
Interceptions: Quandre Diggs* (4)

Spring answers:

1. Under center: Texas has finally ended all the debate about its quarterback situation and settled on David Ash. While Ash has yet to be stellar in his first two years at Texas, the junior has steadily improved -- he was top 25 in pass efficiency rating in 2012 -- and has won the trust of new quarterbacks coach Major Applewhite. Applewhite believes Ash is the quarterback best suited to run the new up-tempo, spread attack.

2. Loaded at linebacker: One year after being the worst tackling team in the Big 12, Texas went into the spring looking to shore up its linebacker position. And it had plenty of options. Texas has seven linebackers who have started at least one game. Included in that group is Jordan Hicks, who is back after missing 10 games last year because of a hip injury. Hicks will team with true sophomores, Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens for what should be a much faster and aggressive unit in 2013.

3. Along the lines: While there were a sprinkling of injuries along the offensive line this spring (Josh Cochran and Trey Hopkins), Texas appears to have finally solved the depth riddle at that position. Tackle Kennedy Estelle was able to get quality snaps and should prove to be a solid backup and Sedrick Flowers finally emerged as an option at guard. While Texas returns all five starter from a year ago along the line, the Longhorns know that in the new up-tempo offense it will have to lean heavily on these backups.

Fall questions

1. Speed thrills: Texas wants to move the ball fast. So fast that the offensive players were even taught how to quickly get the ball back to the official so that they could put it down and Texas could line up and run the next play. But Texas only decided it wanted to play this way in mid-December when there was a change in playcallers from Bryan Harsin to Applewhite. So Texas has only had a handful of practices to get up to speed. With a schedule that has Texas at BYU for the second game of the season there doesn’t appear to be much time to get things perfected.

2. Safety dance: Texas’ defense was the worst in school history and that was largely due to the play of the back seven on defense. And now the best player in that back seven, Kenny Vaccaro, is gone. He was a first-round draft pick. That has left Texas wondering who will step up and make some stop at the safety position. Adrian Phillips takes over for Vaccaro, but he was inconsistent last season. The coaches blamed a shoulder injury and the fact he missed the spring. Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner also missed their share of tackles but both are being called on to be possible starters.

3. Receiving praise: Texas has not had a 1,000-yard receiver since Jordan Shipley in 2009. Mike Davis had 939 yards last year and appears poised to break the 1,000-yard mark this season. But to do that he will need help. And right now there are some questions as to where that help will come from. Texas wants to go with four wide receivers but two of the four players expected to fill those roles -- Cayleb Jones and Kendall Sanders -- are currently suspended because of legal issues. Both will probably be back. But even then, Texas is very thin at wide receiver and needs some other players to step up to help take the double teams away from Davis.

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