Let's talk about the defense, shall we? Rather than an evaluation of the Alamo Bowl as an isolated event, let's take a look - group by group - with where we stand, who's leaving, who's returning, coming in, etc. Including the coordinator.
We'll spend a lot of offseason time on this, so I won't even try to get as in depth as we need to later on. This is our starting point.
Leaving: Tim Crowder, Brian Robison, Tully Janszen
Key '07 returnees: Derek Lokey, Roy Miller, Aaron Lewis, Brian Orakpo, Frank Okam
Potential new contributors: Eddie Jones, Ben Alexander, Brian Ellis, Lamarr Houston, Henry Melton(?)
2006 performance: Kind of a mixed bag for this year's group, though far more good than disappointment. The only real problem, I thought, was a lack of coherence. Just as Derek Lokey started coming on very strong, he suffered a season-ending injury. Okam never seemed fully recovered from his nagging injuries until returning to play A&M after two weeks of rest. Robison's ankle injury docked his strength for a stretch of games.
In sum, everyone had good stretches, which made the line play, on the whole, quite good. But the unit was never -quite- at full strength, which meant we never really saw a dominant game from this group - not against above average competition, anyway.
Brief 2007 outlook: Losing Robison and Crowder hurts, of course, but Texas isn't exactly hurting for depth on the ends. Lewis gave the 'Horns valuable minutes this year, and figures to be a prominent part of next year's rotation, if not a starter himself. Orakpo, meanwhile, is on the verge of greatness. He's already one of the best third down pass rushers on the end that Texas has ever had, and he's getting better and better in other down and running situations. Expect great things next season.
The young guys are, by all accounts, ready to contribute. By next season, many of these guys will be Longhorn household names.
Key '07 returnees: Rashad Bobino, Robert Killebrew, Scott Derry, Roddrick Muckelroy, Drew Kelson
Potential new contributors: Jared Norton, Jeremy Campbell, Sergio Kindle
2006 performance: Eek. This was an uninspiring group all year, though each individual had their moments. The shine on Robert Killebrew is really starting to fade - he just isn't making plays and hurts this team. Scott Derry certainly had a nice out-of-nowhere season, but he's not an elite player. Still, who knows just how bad things would have gotten if Derry hadn't emerged as a solid contributor. Bobino, meanwhile, was wildly inconsistent this year. His angles to the ball are particularly disappointing, though he's showing some improvement as he gains experience.
Drew Kelson just sort of disappeared this year, and it's tough to figure what, exactly, happened. He suffered an injury just before Ohio State, and never really made it all the way back to his '05 level, which was quite good. Can he get back to being a strong player for this team? Muckelroy, meanwhile's, got a ton of potential; he should be at full strength by spring camp.
Brief 2007 outlook: Bring in the reserves!! Killebrew's days may be numbered, Derry is solid (but limited), and Bobino needs to be more disciplined. With the play of this group in 2006, there's every opportunity in the world for guys like Jared Norton, Jeremy Campbell, and, yes, Sergio Kindle, to log big minutes. The high ankle sprain to Kindle, really, may have been one of the biggest setbacks to this 2006 team. I don't know that he could have jumped in right away, but this group seriously lacked playmakers all year. A huge question heading into 2007.
Leaving: Aaron Ross, Michael Griffin, Tarrell Brown
Key '07 returnees: Marcus Griffin, Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum
Potential new contributors: Deon Beasley, Chykie Brown, Robert Joseph, Ishie Oduegwu, Erick Jackson
2006 performance: Eek, again. Ross and Griffin are Sunday players, but the secondary as a whole struggled this season. As has been discussed previously, a good bit of that comes down to the extra compensation for the poor linebacking play, but it doesn't explain away many of the struggles. If you're new here, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are Ryan Palmer and Brandon Foster - both struggled mightily in the first half of the season, when they earned their nicknames.
I'm done throwing these guys under the bus too much, though. These are national title winners, and I wish them nothing but the best. They've been great Longhorns.
Brief 2007 outlook: Performance-wise, the group can't exactly regress. The 'Horns finished - what - 115th in the NCAA in pass defense? So, there's that. The big question is how good the new guys can be, and how quickly. Will Texas land Christian Scott? Can he contribute right away? How will Chykie Brown and Deon Beasley do as starters? They'll be depended on heavily.
At safety, I have my doubts as to whether Marcus Griffin can be a starter at this level. Some disagree, but it was not an inspiring 2006. I'm convinced that Robert Joseph is going to be an enormous part of next year's defense. The guy can hit, can cover, is physical, and has great instincts.
Do we promote Duane Akina to the full time gig? I actually liked what I saw in the Alamo Bowl, for the most part. Akina was more aggressive than Chizik typically was, without being Carl Reese reckless. I'm fine with Mack handing him the keys and seeing what he can do, but if there's a true impact coordinator that's eager to come coach at Texas, I don't think Mack Brown would be unwise to sniff around. I do think, though, that hiring someone just to hire someone, is an exercise in futility. Bring in someone that can be a tremendous impact right away, or just go with Akina. Don't get cute.