2010 Texas commit Jordan Hicks is part of a group that hopes to take the linebacker position in Austin to a level never previously attained.
Once upon a time, in the deep, dark era a dozen moons BB (Before Boom), the Longhorns struggled to find linebackers in the great state of Texas. It was a time of bloodletting -- not of opponents, but a simple purging of the self for Texas, seemingly the only major criterion to a chance at glory on the gridiron. Tall, slow, and unathletic did not disqualify a candidate from such a position. Nor did undersized kamikazeness, nor a deep and enduring love for cheap penalties of the personal foul variety. Particularly of the face-rape. Simply bleed for the program. No talent necessary.
The Legion of Boom does not accept just any candidates. Only prototypes need apply.
Consider this -- Roddrick Muckelroy was the first Longhorn linebacker drafted since Derrick Johnson and Derrick Johnson was the first Longhorn linebacker since Winfred Tubbs in 1994. In fact, Johnson and Tommy Nobis are the only linebackers in the history of the program drafted in the first round. Only two others, Robin Seindlein and Bruce Scholtz, went as high as the second. Texas is not exactly Linebacker U. Or hasn't been, at least.
It's not exactly a coincidence then that the position most significantly bearing Muschamp's fingerprints is the one he coaches -- linebacker. When Aaron Benson -- 6-1, 220 chiseled pounds -- is the lightweight of the six taken in the 2010 and 2011 classes, it's obvious that change is afoot.
As much as the proliferation of spread offenses, particularly in the Big 12, has changed the paradigm of linebacking play in college football, this group of players represents a conscious return to a physical, smash-mouth brand of football without compromising speed. Mack Brown repeatedly talks about his defense needing to face a strong running team in practice after struggling at times to stop power-rushing attacks in the 'Horns' last two bowl games and there's no question that Will Muschamp shares a similar philosophy, one apparent in his recruiting decisions.
They're also playmakers -- as good as Muckelroy was in his career, he didn't pick off many passes or force many turnovers. He was steady. This group seems to have a better nose for the football as a whole and the ability to finish plays with interceptions or by forcing fumbles.
Here's the breakdown:
Jordan Hicks (class of 2010) -- The Butkus Award winner given to the top linebacker in the country, it wasn't a great stretch when his high school coach Larry Cox called him the best prospect in Ohio's history. ESPNU thought him the fourth-best player in the country last season. The fact is that there's nothing to dislike about Hicks -- size, speed, instincts, playmaking ability, it's all there.
The scheme at Lakota West was identical to that run by Will Muschamp and as long as he can hold up physically -- he needs to add some weight to survive the grind of a college football season. However, Hicks should contribute on special teams and could even break into the rotation if he's able to pass players like Ryan Roberson and Tariq Allen, hardly a stretch.
Tevin Jackson (class of 2010) -- Even if there are more physically imposing players on the team during his time at Texas, Jackson is probably still the guy to get off the bus first because he just looks mean and backs up that with his physicality on the football field.
Jackson is a big rangier than Sergio Kindle was coming out of high school, but the comparison has some accuracy because both were physical, downhill players who excelled at striking around the line of scrimmage and coming on the blitz. The growth of 7-on-7 has benefited Jackson, who didn't have much of an opportunity to play in coverage in high school before a strong showing at Gridiron Kings last season, which greatly helped his stock.
Aaron Benson (class of 2010) -- Being the undersized player in this group is no real knock on Benson -- he's far from a safety masquerading as a spread linebacker. After adding between 10 and 15 pounds following his senior season, Benson is now close to physically ready to play in college, though any role as a freshman would most likely be on special teams.
A cousin of former star Texas running back Cedric, the Cedar Hill product has the pedigree and the sideline-to-sideline speed to make plays on Saturdays. All the tools are there -- he can move quickly through the wash, changes direction well, reads quickly, and is a threat off the edge. The only concerns about his game are his lower-body strength, which could cause him problems when he has to take on offensive linemen in the hole, some issues over-pursuing plays, and refining his skills in pass coverage.
Steve Edmond (class of 2011) -- Some players are workout warriors and have all the measurables but don't produce on the football field. Edmond is the exactly opposite. He still has some baby fat on his frame and he doesn't always look fluid in practice, but when he puts on the pad, everything transforms. He could add the weight to play the Buck position or defensive end, but his value is as a linebacker, where he's a crunching, downhill force in Daingerfield's 3-3 stack defense -- all the cliches about Edmond simply being a football player apply here and more.
At his best in the playoffs last season, when he was forcing fumbles, picking off passes, and making plays behind the line of scrimmage, Edmond is also a tremendously physical tackler who asked his coaching staff if he could play on the coverage units in an attempt to reach 200 tackles this season after registering 185 a year ago.
Kendall Thompson (class of 2011) -- The debate with Thompson is all about whether or not he will end up at the Buck position in college and that debate mainly exists because his body is essentially college-ready entering his senior season of high school at around 6-2 and 225 pounds, with the frame to reach 240 without a problem. The thing about Thompson is that he's fluid and quick in coverage and has experience at Carthage as a middle linebacker who can make plays down the seam in Cover-2. Like Edmond, he's a flat-out playmaker on Friday nights and 200 tackles isn't out of the question for him either as the Bulldogs seek to win their third consecutive state championships.
Chet Moss (class of 2011) -- Let's be real here for a second -- after the Scott Derry Era (a complete and abject disaster), there is a stigma at Texas against white linebackers. It happened to Dustin Earnest as well, a player considered a questionable take by many several years ago who justified his scholarship last season with some strong play.
Moss is more athletic than most give him credit for -- he has range to the sideline and has the straight-line speed to play in a nickel defense. In fact, he's more athletic than Earnest and holds up well when compared to his national peers. Combine that with his playmaking ability and toughness and it becomes more understandable why Moss received his scholarship offer over a player like Trevon Randle, a smaller, perhaps rangier linebacker who is not the physical presence of Moss. Moss has to work on his hip fluidity and ability in coverage -- the positive is that he will have plenty of time to develop those skills before he's asked to contribute.
An underrated part of assembling a class is making sure all the pieces fit together. The take of one player cannot be seen in a vaccuum, but rather as a part of the larger class. Since the Longhorns targeted several top players like Edmond and Anthony Wallace, they needed a program player as well, someone who would remain in the program and provide quality depth. That's Chet Moss, who has already helped hold the class together by staying in communication with many of the commits and providing a group of them a place to stay during the June summer camp.