When defensive line coach Chris Rumph came to Austin, he inherited a unit that appeared to be poised for perfection.
Although the group lost 2013 Ted Hendricks Award winner and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat, it still contained a variety of options to fill Jeffcoat's void, most notably Cedric Reed.
At least that's how a lot of the public viewed the unit.
But was the instant hype real or was it just the way outsiders perceived the group?
Rumph's answer would fall under the latter, especially when it pertains to Reed.
"I don't think he had a very good spring," Rumph said of Reed. "If it were someone else, I would say, 'That guy had a good spring.' But I was expecting more from him. And I think he was expecting more from himself. If you were to ask him, and he was honest, he would probably say he didn’t have the spring that he should have had."
Some may be wondering what Reed did, or did not do, to cause Rumph's disappointment. Was it his motor? Toughness? Leadership? All of the above?
"Maybe it was his coaching," said Rumph. "I just wanted to see more mental toughness, more hustle, more leadership, more passion. I wanted to come out there and coach him in flip-flops. I shouldn’t need to come out there with a whistle to coach him.”
This quote may catch some Texas fans by surprise, especially considering the strides Reed made in 2013, which helped him place as the projected No. 1 senior defensive end for the 2015 NFL draft by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.
But Reed agrees with his coach.
"It was just a learning experience for me," Reed said of his spring performance. "I was getting caught between trying to learn too much at one time. I was playing in a totally different scheme and I was just trying to understand the defense, and I think it made me take a step back because I wasn’t playing my greatest. I was more reacting instead of playing to my ability."
Learning a new scheme is not something new for the Longhorns defense, which is on its third defensive coordinator in four seasons, but that did not make it any easier to learn immediately.
However, the slow learning period may be a thing of the past for Reed and the defensive line.
"I think Ced Reed is a guy who has really stepped it up," Rumph said. "He's really coming on now. He's starting to look like the type of player I expected."
Reed is just one of the many talented faces the Longhorns have on the line. Defensive tackles Malcom Brown and Desmond "Tank" Jackson have the ability of being one of the better tackle tandems in the Big 12.
Rumph is particularly pleased with the leadership he has seen from Jackson.
"Tank brings it every day," said Rumph. "He's everything you want in a player. He plays with toughness. He plays with great effort. I'm really pleased with him."
Defensive ends Shiro Davis and Caleb Bluiett are battling for the starting position opposite of Reed, which Rumph refers to as the "fox" position. Davis has been taking many first-team reps, but that could change at any moment.
"We don't have that written in pen yet. It's more written on a dry-erase board, not in permanent marker," Rumph said. "Shiro plays the run a little bit better than Bluiett, and I think Bluiett rushes the passer a little bit better than Shiro. If we could combine those guys into one, we would have a special player right there.”
Although Rumph still needs to determine which guy will fill the fox role, the defensive line appears to be in a prime spot heading into the 2014 season.
But how will this line be any better than recent years if it still features many of the same players?
That's where Rumph's track record comes into the conversation.
|Rush Defense Comparison|
During his three seasons coaching at Alabama, Rumph's defensive line held its opponents to an average of 84.9 rushing yards per game and gave up a total of 21 rushing touchdowns. During that same time frame, Texas' rushing defense allowed an average 156.9 yards per game and 65 rushing touchdowns.
Some may argue that comparing the defensive numbers is not relevant because Alabama had one of the best defensive fronts in college football, and that might be a valid point.
But coaching had a lot to do with the Crimson Tide's success.
Rumph has a way with words that makes his coaching style relatable and effective. His focus is on building a fundamentally sound group, and he has been very direct with what he demands from his players.
"You have to be tough. You have to play hard and have a great motor. You have to be able to strike and take on blocks. You have to be able to take blocks and rush the passer. You have to be able to move," said Rumph. "I want it all.”
It's evident he has high standards for his defensive linemen. Brown said a common quote he hears from his coach is, "Play each play like it has a life of its own," which is just one of the many clever sayings Rumph uses to coach his team.
The positive news for Texas fans is it sounds like the group has bought in and fully understands the expectations Rumph has set for the defensive line.
"Right now, I think a lot of guys are mentally focused and know exactly what they’re doing," Reed said. "I’m one of those guys. I know a lot more about the defense than I did in the three years I played in the last defense that we had. I think we will come out and surprise people.”
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.
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