Texas Longhorns 2013 Spring Football: Linebacker Preview

The return of Jordan Hicks couldn't come sooner. - Erich Schlegel

The Texas linebacking group looks to recover from a difficult 2012 season. There are plenty of options that could be answers, and a lot of talent to boot, but the key may be in defensive coordinator Manny Diaz's hands.

Departures: None

Additions: Deoundrei Davis, Naashon Hughes

Projected depth chart:

Position

No.

Player

|

No.

Player

|

No.

Player

Strongside LB

19

Peter Jinkens

|

11

Tevin Jackson

|

7

Demarco Cobbs

Middle LB

33

Steve Edmond

OR

55

Dalton Santos

Weakside LB

3

Jordan Hicks

|

35

Kendall Thompson

Storyline: Heading into the 2012 season, the storyline for Texas linebackers was simple: do the promising young talents step up to replace productive seniors Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho? A year later, the answer is a definitive "no". The problems were numerous and glaring. After just two games, the most experienced and consistent linebacker, then junior Jordan Hicks, was injured and lost for the year. Middle linebacker Steve Edmond showed a combination of tentative play, discomfort on the field, and poor execution as a result of playcalling. Strongside linebacker Demarco Cobbs showed poor aptitude for the position and failed to capitalize on his tremendous raw abilities. The opportunities provided to young players like Kendall Thompson, Tevin Jackson, Dalton Santos, and Peter Jinkens were met with mixed results.

The single biggest question mark for this Texas team is whether or not the linebackers can turn it around. Arguably, the linebackers were the unit that struggled the most in 2012. 2013 spring ball is their opportunity to start fresh and rewrite their narrative. Manny Diaz's job at Texas likely depends upon whether or not he can develop a very raw crop of linebackers and if he can get them to execute on the field.

Battle to watch: After mulling this one over for some time, I'm going to have to give the cop out answer. The biggest "battle to watch" for the linebackers is...well, all of them. Sometimes coaches say all positions are open, and its lip service. When discussing the Texas linebackers, its not. Aside from Jordan Hicks, presuming he returns healthy and ready to play, its difficult to pencil in the other 2 starters at LB. Even then, Hicks' position isn't written in stone. Ultimately, the battle to watch is Diaz's philosophy. Does he continue to play a true middle linebacker, which will feature Steve Edmond or Dalton Santos being flanked by the crop of athletic linebackers? Or does he opt to get more speed on the field, moving Hicks to middle linebacker as Keenan Robinson did and add another speedy linebacker to the field?

Overview: The discussion starts with where Manny Diaz goes after last year, and he begins by building the group from the inside out. Serious consideration should be given to shuffling the linebacking group, and whether or not the defense is best served by sticking Jordan Hicks right in the middle of it. In this humble blogger's opinion, the Texas linebackers would best be prepared for a Big 12 schedule by putting its defensive leader, and most talented linebacker, in the middle. With Jordan Hicks manning the middle, Kendall Thompson builds on a solid late 2012 to fill in the weakside backer position. And, as head of the Peter Jinkens fan club (currently accepting all applicants), I think Jinkens steps in and becomes everything Texas fans wanted Demarco Cobbs to be: a fast, athletic, and instinctive field linebacker that can cover slot receivers, blitz QBs, and cover wide ranges of space. Tevin Jackson is an additional weapon at linebacker who came on late as a situational, speedy edge rusher.

The other option available for Diaz? Stick to the 2012 plan and hope you can develop the linebackers. Keep Steve Edmond at middle linebacker, teach him better technique, and hope increased repetition and comfort with the position lets him play fast and instinctive. Hope a healthy Jordan Hicks can clean up any misses from the weakside. Line Peter Jinkens up to the field and let him fly. While this is technically the "safer" option because it's a less dramatic shift from last year, I'm not convinced the Texas linebacking problems of 2012 doesn't necessitate dramatic change.

I think we can tell a lot about what the Texas defense will look like when it rolls out the first defense in the annual Orange and White game. Does the defense roll Hicks - Edmond - Jinkens, or does it mix up Thompson - Hicks - Jinkens? The answer, and its results, could go a long way towards answering whether or not Manny Diaz keeps his job at Texas.

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