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Addressing weak spots in the Texas defense for 2017

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Todd Orlando will have a strong group of safeties and linebackers, but the defensive line and cornerback positions are thin.

NCAA Football: Texas at Texas Christian Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando told the Austin American-Statesman on Sunday that he will be seeking out 18-20 players who can be consistently relied upon on defense.

The question remains — does Texas have 18-20 consistent defensive players?

Though Orlando has a bevy of talented linebackers and safeties, defensive line could be a thin spot for the defense.

The departure of Jordan Elliott has been well documented, primarily because he would almost surely be included in that group of players who can be frequently utilized. Marcel Southall also transferring didn’t help.

Tom Herman may have called out the defensive lines’ effort in the spring, but Texas should still have some reliable options up front.

At defensive end, sophomore Malcolm Roach is also a preseason All-Big 12 selection and started five games as a freshman, recording 8.0 tackles for a loss. Junior Charles Omenihu, who has seven career starts, will be a more than worthy back-up.

Senior nose tackle Poona Ford is a preseason All-Big 12 selection heading into 2017, while redshirt junior defensive tackle Chris Nelson started eight games last season.

The starters on the line are stout, but the back ups are far less proven. Still, there’s reason to be optimistic about the defensive line depth.

Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Chris Daniels has cut down 35 pounds to become more mobile. Redshirt freshman D’Andre Christmas is a former four-star recruit who could work into the mix at defensive tackle after playing in nine games and making five tackles last season.

No one would’ve expected a year ago that corner could be a weak spot for Texas in 2017. After the 2015 season, Holton Hill and Davante Davis both were awarded All-Big 12 Honorable Mention Honors as freshman.

Hill and Davis, however, both hit major sophomore slumps last year and were part of the reason Texas was No. 105 in the nation in passing yards allowed (258.5 yards per game).

The ‘Horns also have experience in hard-hitting corner Kris Boyd, but the junior is another often unpredictable commodity.

“We’re pretty thin,” Herman told 247 Sports last week. “We’ve got three guys I feel halfway decent about putting in a game right now.”

While Texas doesn’t have much experience at corner, the team does have some numbers. Redshirt freshman Eric Cuffee and true freshman Josh Thompson were both four-tar recruits, and at the very least could provide depth for the ‘Horns. Herman could also move back-up safeties over to corner if necessary, including senior Antwuan Davis and junior John Bonney.

* * *

Texas could field a solid group of starters and have some depth at every position with a completely healthy team. The concern is that at the defensive line and corner spots, however, the Longhorns are only an injury or two away from having to throw an unproven player into the line of fire.

As it stands, I think Orlando can definitely field a group of 20 contributors out of the defense.

Let’s look at each position to see how Texas can get to 20 contributors. Starters in bold, while players who are in my opinion “unproven” have asterisks.

Defensive Tackles

Poona Ford and Chris Nelson should be highly-effective starters, but the duo will clearly need other players to come in and be able to relieve them.

  1. Poona Ford
  2. Chris Nelson
  3. D’Andre Christmas*
  4. Gerald Wilbon*

Defensive Ends

Texas should feel good about the defensive end spot. The ‘Horns even have some more options behind Omenihu, such as highly-touted freshman Taquon Graham.

  1. Malcolm Roach
  2. Charles Omenihu
  3. Andrew Fitzgerald*
  4. Taquon Graham*

Linebackers

The group underperformed in 2016, but I don’t think there is any concern about depth here.

  1. Malik Jefferson
  2. Anthony Wheeler
  3. Naashon Hughes
  4. Gary Johnson*
  5. Breckyn Hager
  6. Edwin Freeman
  7. Jeffrey McCulloch
  8. Demarco Boyd*

Cornerbacks

I think Orlando needs at least four reliable options, with a fifth player being able to step in if necessary.

  1. Davante Davis
  2. Kris Boyd
  3. PJ Locke
  4. Holton Hill
  5. Eric Cuffee* or Josh Thompson*

Safeties

Texas is in good shape here.

  1. DeShon Elliott
  2. Brandon Jones
  3. Jason Hall
  4. John Bonney
  5. Antwuan Davis