Defensive line is a position where the Texas Longhorns have excelled year after year and if it plays out how the coaches think it will, it will be no different in 2015.
Head coach Charlie Strong spoke highly of a number of players - especially those tasked with the job of replacing first-round pick Malcom Brown, the standout defensive tackle who anchored the line last season with his gap-penetrating ability.
Since Desmond Jackson has returned from his foot injury, he worked mostly with the two's until recently, when his play surged enough for him to earn the starting job. The fifth-year senior the most experience not just on the Texas defensive line but the whole Texas defense with 41 career appearances and 16 career starts and is accustomed to making plays. Take the West Virginia game in 2013 -- in replacing an injured Chris Whaley, Jackson recorded career highs in tackles (eight), tackles for loss (three), and sacks (two).
Working next to Jackson to open the game against Notre Dame will be one of the big depth chart surprises from Monday -- sophomore Poona Ford, a staff favorite who beat out junior Hassan Ridgeway to earn that role. Ford was one of two big National Signing Day defensive tackle pledges in 2014 who played sparingly as a freshman, but has a reputation for using his hands well despite checking in at under six feet.
As a result, junior Paul Boyette is now running alongside junior Hassan Ridgeway with the second team after flashing at times in 2014.
Another player that has caught the defensive staff's eye since he arrived is Fox end Charles Omenihu. Listed third on the depth chart at the position, Omenihu won't be starting on Saturday in South Bend, but he could be a contributor, something not a lot of Texas fans expected. Omenihu, a high three-star recruit out of Rowlett, has played far above that. Omenihu even got singled out by Strong, who noted that "Omenihu has been a pleasant surprise." Measured in at 6'5 and 236 pounds, according to the school, other media outlets are saying that's on the small side.
If Omenihu can continue to develop his game and grow his frame, he could grow into a prototypical strong end. While Omenihu was more known for his recruiting game coming into Texas, both defensive end positions are held down by players that have been in the spotlight since the day they signed their National Letters of Intent.
Senior Shiro Davis, who was once commited to LSU, and Derrick Roberson, Texas' gem of the 2014 class, are players getting the majority of snaps at Fox end. Neither of these players have had the greatest start to their college careers, with Davis even saying, "I don't want anyone to say ‘I was a bust." Roberson redshirted and then had to work through rehab after undergoing shoulder surgery.
For Davis, getting one more chance, is all he has left with one year of eligibility remaining and he'll need to put all of his flashes together to make for a big lightning bolt off of the edge. For Roberson, his situation isn't quite as urgent, he has been in front of or slightly behind sophomore Naashon Hughes since his return.
Roberson was the highlight of a Strong comment saying he could be a breakout star for the Horns in 2015 and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford adding that he could be an "outstanding" pass rusher. Roberson, like many redshirt players, has the ‘out of sight out of mind' fandom when it comes to Longhorn Nation. But his skill and talent can bring him right back into the lights.
Now we've talked about every projected starter, pretty much all the immediate depth, what else is there to talk about? Well, a lot. Strong said that he agreed with defnesive line coach Brick Haley that the rotation they could go as deep as 13 though that was before junior defensive end Caleb Bluiett moved back to tight end for the third time in his career.
So there are obviously plenty more players to discuss, like junior Bryce Cottrell, who flashed in the Orange-White game, but will have to become more consistent to displace the hungry Davis. For starters, Bryce Cottrell, he had flashes of good play last year but will need to be more consistent to take Shiro Davis' job. Cottrell shouldn't have to do much, barring an injury or suspension, but the coaches need him ready for anything.
The rest of the DL crew shouldn't put their money down that they play too much. Junior Quincy Vassser, redshirt freshman Jake McMillion, redshirt freshman Chris Nelson and junior Alex Norman are all on the bottom of the pecking order. But with Strong, anything can happen and each of those players could hear their respective numbers called at any time.
Such is life in Charlie Strong's meritocracy.