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Texas Longhorns 2013 Spring Practice Storylines: Defense

Brendan Maloney – USA TODAY SPORTS

Earlier in the week we took a look at a few of the spring practice storylines on the offensive side of the ball as the Texas Longhorns start spring practice, including the back-up quarterback “controversy”, the need for a pass-catching tight end, and a legitimate second deep-threat at wideout.

There are a few major storylines on the defensive side of the ball that immediately jump off the page — especially given the Texas defensive unit — as a whole — was one of the worst in Division I football in 2012.

Where do we begin?

The linebacking unit must rise from the ashes and prove they can be depended upon.

Sure, it had plenty to do with injuries last season, but the Longhorns’ 2012 linebacking unit looked for like swiss cheese than a steel curtain. It certainly didn’t help that the unit’s emotional and vocal leader, Jordan Hicks, suffered an early-season hip injury that caused him to miss the remainder of the fall’s games — eventually deciding to apply for a medical redshirt from the NCAA to gain an additional year of eligibility.

In spite of the situation at the Alamo Bowl and the damage it caused to his reputation, it’s reasonable to assume Hicks will again be called on to be an emotional leader in 2013, and those around him must rise to the occasion and bring their play to his level.

Specifically, Steve Edmond and Kendall Thompson must prove they can be productive linebackers at the Division I level. Both showed brief flashes of brilliance in 2012, but were also largely responsible for missing open field tackles that led to so many of the long runs which gashed the Texas defense.

Texas fans should expect both Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens to have much more substantial roles at the position in 2013 if the play of Edmond and Thompson do not improve. Manny Diaz has to play the guys at the position who are productive and disciplined — in essence, his job will depend upon it.

Due to lack of depth at defensive tackle, those available must stay healthy.

For a reason many Texas fans are still struggling to understand, the Longhorns failed to earn a commitment at defensive tackle from a single 2013 recruit. Not a one.

Given this, what you see is what you get in the trenches, and although it’s something that isn’t directly controllable, the fact still remains – the defensive tackles must stay healthy.

Well, Kris, you’re thinking: How in the world can Texas ensure that? 

What depth is there must all play at a high level and ensure that all parts are interchangeable to keep fresh legs on the field and reduce the chance of fatigue leading to the worst case scenario. While Ashton Dorsey and Desmond Jackson are the nominal leaders of the unit, guys like Malcom Brown and even possibly Paul Boyette will be expected to rise to the occasion and be contributors. It’s already been seen from Brown in bits and pieces, it’ll need to be there on every down.

Who will be the first-tier playmaker in the secondary?

In the recent history of Texas football, there has always been a big-time, NFL caliber playmaker in the defensive secondary: Aaron Ross, Quentin Jammer, Earl Thomas, Aaron Williams.

You get the drift.

While the Texas secondary was solid in 2012 in large part — with Quandre Diggs, Carrington Byndom, Kenny Vaccaro and Adrian Phillips playing well as a unit — the big-time, game-changing plays weren’t there.

Can Diggs be the guy? Can Bynom take things to the next level? Can a guy like Duke Thomas — who coaches are raving over — be the one to rise from the background into the foreground?

DBU is DBU for a reason and the Texas defense will desperately need big plays from their most coveted and well-known defensive unit if things are going to turn around in 2013.

In general, there are more questions than answers for the Texas Longhorns this spring and we’ll be here throughout to break them down.

Kris Hughes is the College Football Network Manager for Rant Sports. You can follow Kris on TwitterGoogle and Facebook