In addition to their defensive back factory, the Texas Longhorns have been steadily producing NFL-caliber defensive linemen.
The current stable of defensive linemen heading into the 2013 season has that similar kind of talent, but after losing a big piece in Alex Okafor, how much different will the front four look in the fall?
In continuing the position breakdowns for the Longhorns, we move to the defensive side of the ball where strength and size matter most.
Talent litters the depth chart on the defensive line. But with a very limited number of sure-fire NFL-type linemen at the moment, which players can have an impact early and often? With just 10.5 of 35 sacks returning this season, one can only wonder who will step up.
Experience at End
Jackson Jeffcoat, Cedric Reed and Reggie Wilson are the veterans at defensive end.
The senior Jeffcoat is coming off pectoral surgery for the second consecutive offseason, but is expected to be ready for the start of the season. Jeffcoat will have to turn in a career season, much like the way Okafor flipped his script during his final year in Austin.
Jeffcoat's importance to the defensive line cannot be understated.
Reed, a junior, appears to be the favorite to start opposite of Jeffcoat ahead of the senior Wilson. A strong spring following a solid outing in the Alamo Bowl has some buzz surrounding Reed as he is in position for a breakout campaign.
Wilson, meanwhile, has forever been overshadowed by Jeffcoat and Okafor before him. While he has proven to be a solid playmaker in his own right, consistency at the point of attack has kept him as a backup to this point. He will get his looks this season, as depth is not favorable at defensive end.
Behind the Scenes
Apart from the three front-runners at defensive end, the Longhorns do not have a ton of experience backing them up.
Shiro Davis, who will serve as a backup to Jeffcoat, will be a name to remember after a mere glimpse of him in the Alamo Bowl victory.
The bottom of the depth chart reveals two relative unknowns to the casual Texas fan: Bryce Cottrell and Caleb Bluiett.
Cottrell wass a late addition to the 2012 recruiting class, and Bluiett is still developing behind the older, more experienced ends. While both have made some noise this spring, it's nothing too great to unseat any of the top four at this point.
A strong showing this summer could easily change that, however.
Talent and Size at Tackle
Much like at defensive end, the 'Horns defensive tackle position is laced with prime talent and good size. But as this point, none of them have taken the reins as a dominant force.
In what should be a heavy rotation of players, Malcolm Brown, Ashton Dorsey, Chris Whaley and Desmond Jackson will all see significant time throughout the season.
Dorsey and Whaley are the seniors of the group, but will concede plenty of looks to the sophomore Brown and the junior Jackson. Although no single player has developed a nasty disposition, collectively, the four have the combined skill set to issue some damage.
Stopping the run at the point of attack has been an issue in the past, a problem not helped by poor play at linebacker. So gap control will be a huge talking point as the 2013 season looms nearer.
The Up and Comers
Mere footnotes on the defensive tackle depth chart, Hassan Ridgeway (a DE convert), Alex Norman and Paul Boyette all bring distinct attributes to the table. Ridgeway and Boyette are very sizeable, listed nearing 6'4", 300 pounds each, while Norman's slighter 275-pound frame allows for more athleticism in the trenches.
The three of them are quite a ways from making an impact, but defensive tackles coach Bo Davis has not been shy about plugging in his younger players.
Ridgeway is expected to make a bang sooner rather than later, but his move to the interior could delay that come up.
Time will tell with this group.
The Bottom Line
The Longhorns know very well what they are getting with their two-deep along the defensive line. Beyond that is a number of talents, though none have seen significant looks to project big impacts this season.
Also keep an eye on linebacker Steve Edmond, who could drop to a three-point stance at some point this season. Manny Diaz's third-year defense likes to be multiple, and with the right personnel developments, Edmond could become an intricate piece of an improved defense.
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