A handful of Texas Longhorns seniors will help determine how quickly the youth movement spurred by the 2015 signees takes place and linebacker Peter Jinkens is one player who looks determined to make the most of his last opportunity.
With 11 starts over his first three seasons, the Skyline product has been in and out of the starting lineup since 2012, but struggled to find playing time in 2014 when Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond emerged to take most of the linebacker snaps in head coach Charlie Strong's base nickel defense.
Now Jinkens, listed at 6-0 and 230 pounds, is ready to take on a leadership role and part of that is becoming more vocal in practice:
Know I had to do the Rick Flair one time pic.twitter.com/SLzfiGnywY— BTP ENT!!!! (@RIPS_SHIRT_OFF) August 19, 2015
So far so good, even in the view of defensive coordinator Vance Bedford.
"He's another guy that's been in the program for a while and it's time for him to grow up and do a little bit more," Bedford said last week. "He's doing that for us right now. He's taken a leadership role for us and I'm excited to see what he's done for us so far. I'm counting on him to continue to do those things for us."
Bedford cited another recent practice when Jinkens was getting other players fired up, an energy level that the defensive coordinator believes the team needs because the younger players are waiting for someone to take that role and lead them.
Part of it is becoming a physical presence in practice to set the tone for the younger players:
Texas LB Peter Jinkens does a hell of a number on Gaston Davis. pic.twitter.com/K3PIT3RvsC— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) August 12, 2015
So far so good, at least this fall. In the past, Jinkens wasn't always willing to mix it up in traffic.
"Here's a kid that is out of Dallas Skyline and Dallas boys are supposed to be tough, physical football," Bedford said. "It's good to see that from him. We didn't see that from him last year."
Another important next step for Jinkens is filling the roles that Hicks and Edmond held in lining up the defense and making the right checks. In an effort to expose him to that role, the coaches have been playing him at multiple positions instead of just strongside linebacker, the position that often comes off the field in when the team plays nickel personnel.
"I feel like I can be that guy that can be the commander in the middle that makes all of the right calls and all of the right checks," Jinkens said on Tuesday. "I think I can be the playmaker that we need."
Since Jinkens now has 39 career appearances to his credit and a year in Strong's defense, it's not hard to imagine him controlling the defense, but becoming a playmaker will represent a much bigger step for the former consensus four-star prospect -- he only has one forced fumble and one interception in his career.
He also only managed to record 23 tackles last year when some of his biggest contributions came from his six special teams tackles, which tied for the team lead.
Undersized at 6'0, Jinkens has had difficulties beating blocks from offensive linemen because he's more comfortable working in space on the strong side, a skill he isn't able to use as much since the nickel is essentially the base defense in Big 12 play. But Bedford said that he's a likely starter at one of those positions now, with his running mate or mates yet to be determined.
Fortunately, the Texas defensive line is deep and talented and should be able to control the point of attack enough to keep the linebackers clean. Given room to operate, Jinkens could finally turn those occasional, tantalizing flashes of his talent into more consistent production to replace Hicks and Edmond.
"Right now, we miss both of those guys," Bedford said of his departed linebackers. "It's a new day and a new opportunity for someone and a new opportunity as a coaching staff to get the right guys on the football field."
Lemme get two claps and a Ric Flair for that.