Ruminations on the Texas roster at the midpoint of the 2009 season. First up, the defensive line.
Each week when I get to the Defensive MVP section of the Post-Game React, I pause and consider whether I can omit Sergio Kindle, if only for diversity's sake. Each week I include him anyway, and it's never a hard decision. The physical gifts are no secret, but I find myself repeatedly writing about the energy and effort, which are otherworldly, as well. In terms of his future, his elite length, ability to change directions, and straightline speed make him a Top 10 NFL pick, and he's got the frame to add a needed 10 pounds of muscle to his upper body. Needs to work on using his hands to keep blocks off his knees, but that's about it; he's special.
Fellow senior Junior Sam Acho has been magnificent in '09 -- a smart, disciplined, and versatile player that gives Muschamp flexibility to strategically mix and match along the line. When he's on the end, he's doing a solid job rushing the passer and a superior job maintaining gaps and assignments; when he moves inside, there's not a quicker front four than Kindle-Houston-Acho-Jones.
Speaking of Eddie Jones, he's healthy and -- like Kindle a year ago -- is enjoying a breakthrough junior season. If he stays healthy, the former five-star prospect will be an All-Conference end for Texas as a senior; he's at 6-3, 260 now and if his shoulder allows it, can comfortably get that up to 275 by the combine. His strength is his, well, strength, and he's regularly abusing hapless tackles.
Freshman freakshow Alex Okafor is the last member of the regular rotation, and he's coming on fast. As if you needed another data point to confirm the great coaching being done on the defensive side, compare Okafor's play against Oklahoma with where he was in the team's opening two games against ULM and Wyoming; he's getting closer. At 6-4, 240 he's only a fraction of what he's going to be physically, but by way of comparison recall Brian Orakpo, who arrived at Texas at around 225 pounds. Okafor's got outrageous length and top-end speed/quickness; as he adds strength and experience, he's going to be a terror.
Looking ahead a year, while Tevin Mims and Dravannti Johnson are nominally in the mix, the big splash is the arrival of 2010 recruit Reggie Wilson and, hopefully, Jackson Jeffcoat. Wilson is perhaps the wilder physical specimen while Jeffcoat (terrific size as well) is as polished a high school end as you'll ever see.
If not for Nebraska's Suh and OU's McCoy, senior Lamarr Houston is First Team All-Big 12. He still might join them as a first round draft pick. He's playing with tremendous passion, quickness, and lateral movement. Has just one sack, but his 5 other tackles for loss result from his consistently excellent ball pursuit and terrific use of his hands to avoid engagement with blocks at the point of attack. His 17 QB Hurries trails only Sergio Kindle (18); no one else on the team has more than 8.
Problems at defensive tackle? What problems? Sophomore Kheeston Randall was the big question mark and he's more than answered the challenge. Though not exactly overflowing with closing speed, Randall has displayed terrific lateral agility and quickness, as well as quality burst at the snap. He's been terrific eating the inside gap and has been a key factor in both Houston and Muckelroy succeeding as they have.
The feel good story of the '09 team has to be the tremendous senior year contributions from Ben Alexander, a guy who clearly busted his ass in the offseason, shed some body fat, and committed himself to being as prepared as he could be to give the team important minutes. Through six games, Alexander's got 17 tackles, including 4 for a loss; if you aren't happy for him, you have no soul.
Finally, sophomore Tyrell Higgins and freshman Calvin Howell have been sprinkled into the rotation. Higgins has a ways to go with his body; Howell won't need his mama around to develop into a quality tackle by next fall. Freshman Derek Johnson is redshirting and working on his strength, but he's got the size to play starting next year.