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Texas LB Malik Jefferson: Youth led to misalignment, lack of defensive chemistry in 2015

"Wait, where am I supposed to line up?"

David Purdy/Getty Images

The loss of key defensive starters like cornerback Quandre Diggs and linebackers Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond from the 2014 Texas Longhorns team came with a big cost in 2015, as numerous young players were forced into action without always knowing what exactly they were supposed to be doing. Or even where they were supposed to line up.

The results on the field were not pretty and the story behind the scenes, according to sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson, was just as ugly.

"I think a lot of guys were older and they were defensive guys on the field, and trying to balance that out was kind of frustrating for the older guys because they knew we didn't know exactly what to do every play," Jefferson said. "It was frustrating because we'd be all mixed up and there wouldn't be any chemistry on the field at all."

Indeed, linebacker Peter Jinkens and cornerback Duke Thomas were the two players tasked with helping the younger players align before plays, but the inexperience of those players and the hurry-up, no-huddle offenses employed by virtually every team in the conference combined to create some major issues for the Longhorns.

Injuries didn't help either -- senior middle linebacker Dalton Santos was unavailable for the entire season, senior cornerback Sheroid Evans also missed the 2015 campaign, redshirt freshman linebacker Edwin Freeman suffered a shoulder injury against Cal that limited him for months, and Jefferson himself missed the final game against Baylor, forcing fellow freshmen like Anthony Wheeler and Breckyn Hager into extensive playing time.

Now Texas is going against that same type of pace in practice, which will once again present those same challenges that the 'Horns encountered last fall.

"What's said more than anything is that guys have to get aligned, and we have to get lined up," said head coach Charlie Strong. " It will be a different attack for us and now that you see it, as I told our guys on defense, you have to get the calls in and we have to hurry up and get going, because I want to see the up-tempo and I want to see us move around."

However, the difference is that Strong has the ability to stop practice during teachable moments, and he's perfectly willing to do so.

"With that said, if we have to stop the practice I'll blow the whistle and we'll stop," he said. "But I want to make sure that we can get things accomplished the right way where it just doesn't turn into guys all over the place and looks unorganized just because we can't get aligned."

With the maturation of the younger players and the experience gained from going against Sterlin Gilbert's offense in practice, the Longhorns should be able to significantly improve upon those alignment difficulties in 2016.

"I don't know if you can say if we're a young team anymore because you had enough guys that have played a lot of football," Strong said.

And so there will be no more excuses as Texas attempts to improve upon the porous defensive showing last season.