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Texas needs 2016 DT signees to contribute as true freshmen

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After years of misses or taking undersized players, the Longhorns finally have some beef to add to the trenches.

Jordan Elliott
Jordan Elliott
Student Sports

The challenge is out from defensive coordinator Vance Bedford to the five defensive tackle signees in the 2016 Texas Longhorns class -- show up in Austin ready to get on the field and contribute against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the season opener.

Last Wednesday, Bedford was direct in his assessment of the current situation, which includes only four scholarship defensive tackles on campus after the departure of Hassan Ridgeway to the NFL a year early.

"Tell them to get ready to play," Bedford said. "If you are 300 pounds, you are going to play for us this next season coming in as true freshmen."

In the last several seasons, finding defensive tackles during the recruiting process has been difficult -- in 2013, Texas didn't sign a single player at the position following the late decommitment of A'Shawn Robinson to Alabama. In 2014, head coach Charlie Strong had to salvage the class with National Signing Day pledges from Poona Ford and Chris Nelson. In 2015, lone defensive tackle tackle signee Du'Vonta Lampkin failed to qualify.

The Longhorns have also had to face another obstacle with the guys they did manage to land over the stretch, as Bedford pointed out.

"Whether you are big or not, we are trying to develop guys to become big," Bedford said. "If you look at our defensive line right now, most of those guys were not naturally big guys. Poona [Ford] is not a naturally big guy, we had to put weight on him. Chris Nelson is not a naturally big guy, Jake [McMillon] is not a naturally big guy."

In fact, despite the fact he is 5'11, Ford was the biggest of those three coming out of high school at 288 pounds. McMillon was recruited as a strongside defensive end out of Abilene and weighed 240 pounds. Nelson weighed 280 pounds as a raw prospect out of Florida.

As a result, those players all needed time in the weight room and at the training table to reach competitive masses. After two years in the program, Ford is now 313 pounds, McMillon is 294 pounds, and Nelson is 301 pounds. As Bedford put it, the coaches had to make sure that they put a lot of food in front of those guys.

The 2016 defensive tackle class, on the other hand, looks a lot different already.

"We are now bringing in guys here that are naturally big," Bedford said. "They are already at 310 or 315 so because of their weight. They can hold a point."

In fact, three of the five signees are already bigger than that -- Jordan Elliott (322 pounds), Chris Daniels (328 pounds), and Gerald Wilbon (327 pounds). Daniels is working on dropping some weight so that he can play some outside and maintain the quickness that made him such a special athlete in high school, but Elliott recently said that he bested his impressive shuttle time from the Nike camp last year and Wilbon is a pure nose tackle who played at that weight as a senior and was extremely effective.

Of those three players, Elliott was the one Bedford mentioned by name as a necessary contributor for the Longhorns.

"He has to play as a freshmen," said the Texas defensive coordinator. "He needs to give us 20 good snaps a game."

A 2016 US Army All-American, Elliott should be able to accomplish that task because of his quickness and proven production ability at the high school level -- as a junior, he recorded 78 tackles, 31 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, two fumble recoveries and nine forced turnovers.

With Ford adding some mass, McMillon working hard as a technician, and Nelson flashing, according to Bedford, the Longhorns don't need the young defensive tackles to instantly emerge as starters, they just need to establish an effective rotation to keep players fresh against the spread offenses that populate the Big 12.

"For my expectation of those guys, probably 20 snaps a game," Bedford said, echoing his expectations for Elliott.

"I am not talking about the fourth quarter. I am talking about the first quarter, second quarter. You are going to go out there and play. We need you today. We don't need you six weeks from now. We don't need you the next year. We need you to come play for us right now."