Anyone remember that Jeffrey McCulloch is still a member of the Texas Longhorns football program?
The blockbuster National Signing Day addition in 2016 has seemingly faded into the background after the B-backer position he’s been playing was largely phased out by defensive coordinator Todd Orlando in favor of six defensive backs in the so-called Lightning Package. All that magnified by the fact that he suffered a high ankle sprain that cost him three games late in the season.
On the season, McCulloch’s production decreased to 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks after recording 23 tackles, two tackles for loss, and one sack during his freshman season.
Now the 6’2, 241-pounder is heading into an important spring practice as he attends to break out during his junior season, potentially at a new position. With Naashon Hughes departed to graduation, McCulloch is a contender to start at B-backer, but he could also see reps this spring at a new position — middle linebacker, according to The Football Brainiacs.
Anthony Wheeler is now a senior and started eight games last season, moving back into the starting lineup when Malik Jefferson wasn’t available for the Texas Bowl against Missouri. However, Wheeler’s growth has been less than optimal — he still doesn’t show a lot of natural instincts for the position and tends to miss his assigned gaps.
Sure, there was some definite production from Wheeler with 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, along with a highlight-reel fumble recovery for a touchdown in Houston. It’s just that Orlando clearly wants improved play, and McCulloch could provide it.
The concern is that McCulloch doesn’t have much experience playing at the second level — he was largely an edge player in high school and has spent most of his time at Texas playing the Fox/B-backer position.
Can he read his keys and make the proper fills? Can he beat blockers climbing to the linebacker level? Does he have the sideline-to-sideline speed necessary to excel in the spread-focused Big 12?
Those are all questions that he’ll have to answer during the spring in order to have a shot at beating out Wheeler.
If McCulloch fails, a move back to B-backer wouldn’t be a disaster since he was so productive in basically the same role as a freshman. Nor would it be the first time that some spring tinkering from Orlando at middle linebacker ultimately resulted in failure — a similar move with Breckyn Hager last spring never worked out.
The difference, hopefully, is that since McCulloch does have a higher comfort level moving in space and is one of the smartest players on the team, he can transition to the role more successfully.
Just one of many intriguing storylines to follow once the Longhorns start practicing next week.