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Texas LB Anthony Wheeler could be a surprise player, says Charlie Strong

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The second-year player has an abundance of natural ability.

NCAA Football: Texas at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Among the Texas Longhorns sophomores who typically receive a lot of buzz, linebacker Anthony Wheeler isn’t high on the list. Yet, when head coach Charlie Strong was asked about potential surprise players in 2016, he was quick to point to the second-year Dallas Skyline product, as defensive coordinator Vance Bedford did during the spring.

Currently at 6’2 and 228 pounds, Wheeler has demonstrably been an impressive prospect physically since at least 2013. And probably a lot longer.

anthony wheeler Wescott Eberts (SB Nation)

Now Wheeler is competing with junior Fox end Naashon Hughes for middleweight titles in the “Battle for the Belts” and unsurprisingly still looks like a guy who could be one of the first off the bus for the ‘Horns in the coming years.

A 2016 Under Armour All-American and surprising recruiting win over Oklahoma, Wheeler took advantage of the opportunity at linebacker last season, playing in every game and starting against Kansas State and Baylor.

Overall, Wheeler had 36 tackles (22 solo), one tackle for loss, one fumble recovery, and one pass break up.

Against the Bears, he played better than the other linebackers available (Tim Cole, Breckyn Hager, and Edwin Freeman), in turning in his best game of the season with six tackles (four solo), his pass break up, and his fumble recovery, which led to an early touchdown drive on the hit that knocked out Baylor quarterback Chris Johnson.

In Wheeler’s other start, he made that tackle for loss against the Wildcats.

After playing defensive end during his early high school career, the Metroplex product made some big strides as a more traditional linebacker as a senior, collecting 137 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, seven sacks, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

As a result, he vaulted up the rankings with a good week in Orlando, finishing as the No. 73 prospect nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

However, once Wheeler arrived at Texas, he experienced a lot of issues common for young players — properly scrapping, plugging, identifying plays, and reducing missed tackles.

During the Orange and White game, though, Wheeler generated a tackle for loss by doing his job and being sure with his finish:

Moving forward, Strong wants to continue to cover up Wheeler at the same weakside linebacker position he played last year to take advantage of his athleticism and lack of size to play middle linebacker.

The challenge is for Wheeler to prove his head coach correct and demonstrate more consistent fundamentals on the field like he did on the above play to back up his natural ability and upside, which are both unquestionable.

Now Wheeler has to prove that he can take the right coverage drops, understand the defensive scheme in general to know if he is scraping or plugging, and show that overall technical growth that is necessary.

The flashes are there and the talent is there, like so many young players. Time to start putting it together, just don’t be surprised if it happens — Strong may know something here.