If there’s any unit that elicits concern from those who follow the Texas Longhorns closely, it’s the defensive line. In spite of a solid corps of linebackers and a secondary trying to re-earn the DBU gloss, the line will depend on guys who have yet to rise to the occasion to do so in 2013 for pressure to become common for opposing quarterbacks and for the second-level to not have to be as involved as they were as a group in 2012.
For Texas, it all begins with the ends, especially uber-talented senior Jackson Jeffcoat. Jeffcoat tore a pectoral muscle during the 2012 season and played sparingly, but will be looked upon to be the vocal leader of the unit this fall. Jeffcoat has NFL potential without a doubt and could be one of the nation’s most impactful players at the position.
Jeffcoat’s pectoral issues have precluded him from working on his upper-body during the off-season so that strength is a concern, but when healthy, it hasn’t stopped him from using an arsenal of moves that more often than not leave opposing offensive linemen in the dust. If the son of former pro star Jim Jeffcoat can stay healthy this fall, an All-American nod is certain to be in his future.
Junior Cedric Reed is tasked with the difficult job of replacing All-American and NFL draft pick Alex Okafor, who was arguably one of the best DEs in Texas history. Reed is experienced, however, in his replacement of Jeffcoat last season opposite of where he will lineup in 2013. Reed is valuable both as a pass-rusher and adept and swimming offensive tackles to get pressure in the backfield with consistency. If he can become a greater pass rushing threat opposite a healthy Jeffcoat — who is certain to see the lionshare of attention from opposing offensive coordinators — the future could be very bright for Reed, and in fact anyone else who lines up opposite of Jeffcoat, including Reggie Wilson and Zeke Riser.
Reggie Wilson / Zeke Riser
Where Jeffcoat and Reed are penciled in as starters, Senior Reggie Wilson and graduate transfer Zeke Riser should compete for leftover playing time at the position. Wilson is the most-frustrating player on the Texas roster both for fans and for a coaching staff who has seen moments of brilliance from him compounded by extended periods of zero production and a disturbing tendency to take plays off and disappear when it can be afforded least.
Wilson has all the big-play athleticism in the world but it will be tough for the Texas coaching staff to play him in much more than a “rest the starter” role until that athleticism is combined with technical ability. As a Senior, this isn’t too promising.
Former Houston Cougars starter Zeke Riser enters the program with one year of additional eligibility and is for all intents and purposes on the roster just in case of emergencies. Riser put up some decent numbers at Houston but would only be used in a situation where injuries to the starters, Wilson and perhaps even a trio of young players would demand it.
Caleb Bluiett / Bryce Cottrell / Torshiro Davis
Between them, redshirt freshmen Caleb Bluiett and Bryce Cottrell and sophomore Torshiro “Shiro” Davis are a very talented trio that could see some time on the Forty Acres. Bluitt and Cottrell were both highly recruited in the 2011 class and have spent time learning the Texas system and the position behind Okafor, Jeffcoat and others.
Davis is perhaps the best athlete on the Texas roster with metrics that are off the charts, but there is lingering concern about his technical ability which will need to be shored up before his role expands. Bluiett and Cottrell are the exact opposite. With strong understanding of schemes, they are more likely to see some time in a third-string role but need work on the physical side to be someone Manny Diaz would look to with consistency down the road.
In short, the collective hope is that Cedric Reed and Jackson Jeffcoat stay healthy and can play the majority of the snaps in 2013 at defensive end. Beyond them, there is talent, but enough question marks that an expectation of contributions from guys any further down the roster may be short-sighted, and troublesome at best.