When Demarco Cobbs got to Texas, it wasn't clear where he would end up playing -- fast enough to have a shot at running back or wide receiver, but with the frame to eventual play at 230 pounds, Cobbs was the very definition of an athlete. A high school quarterback who did everything at Tulsa Central in Oklahoma, Cobbs got reps at running back last fall as a true freshman before switching to safety and saw some action, mostly on special teams.
Playing at the position with perhaps the most veteran experience on the Texas defense, Cobbs didn't look slated to receive significant playing time in a mix including prospective four-year starter Blake Gideon, senior Christian Scott, junior break-out candidate Kenny Vaccaro, and junior Nolan Brewster coming off a redshirt season.
So Cobbs spun down to the linebacker position this spring and has quickly made an impact for the Longhorns. With new defensive coordinatorintent on getting the best 11 defenders on the field -- which may or not result in many nickel packages for a team still searching for cover corners -- Texas needs a versatile SAM linebacker who can fill a variety of roles.
Like the nickel position in Will Muschamp's defense, the SAM linebacker will fill some of the same roles this season for Texas, ableit in a slightly different capacity. Diaz will ask his SAM backer to blitz effectively, provide run support, blow up the screen game to opposing wide receivers, and take some drops in coverage.
The major differences will be a heavier emphasis on blitzing for the SAM versus the nickel position Aaron Williams manned so capably during his three seasons at Texas, but the key to the SAM position, like the nickel, is undoubtedly versatility.
Even before the Longhorns lost Jordan Hicks to a fractured foot that ended his spring, there was some buzz around the speedy and aggressive Cobbs, which only continued late last week in media availabilities.
Fellow linebacker Emmanuel Acho has taken notice of Cobbs' speed, saying that he can "chase anything down." Indeed, Cobbs reportedly ran a 10.6 100m in high school, an exceptional speed for a defensive back, much less a linebacker. While Cobbs may not be quite as fast now with some added weight, there's no question that he has the speed and versatility Diaz is looking for at his position.
On Friday, Diaz sounded pleased with his newest linebacker, noting that Cobbs has taken advantage of his opportunity. There will be a developmental curve for Cobbs in learning the intricacies of the position and there's no question that at his size he might have some trouble taking on offensive linemen and getting off blocks. However, Diaz focuses on putting his players in a position to play fast and without the hesitation that comes from having to think on the field.
From the sound of it, Cobbs is letting his natural athleticism go to work and if the focus is mostly on flying to the football, he can ably fill that role. Seniors Acho and Keenan Robinson are currently entrenched in the MIKE and WILL positions, respectively, so there's an open spot either at the SAM position or in the nickel that Diaz is looking to will.
Clearly, Robinson and Acho would fill the two linebacker positions in a nickel defense, but there aren't any strong candidates besides Kenny Vaccaro right now to play nickel. In fact, in the 2011 defense there may be little difference between the positions anyway and Cobbs has established himself as the top candidate to play at strongside linebacker.
If his rise continues throughout the final week of spring practice and into the fall, the Longhorns may have found a potential contributor in a player who was likely to receive only a handful of game reps at safety.
Welcome to the linebacker position, Demarco Cobbs.