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Texas commit Morice Blackwell is a modern LB for Chris Ash’s defense

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Blackwell’s range could make him an effective Will linebacker, but if he grows in coverage, he could find some more multiple roles.

NCAA Football: Boston College at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Without the benefit of spring football, the greatest insight so far into how new Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Chris Ash wants to approach the linebacker position as he transitions from the Big Ten to the Big 12 is the move of junior DeMarvion Overshown from safety.

“I love the way he runs,” Ash said of the 6’4, 215-pounder. “I love the way he hits. I think he’s got a great positional versatility that he could do a lot of different things. And at the end of the day, we’ll figure out what position fits his skill set best.”

The same descriptors apply well to Arlington Martin outside linebacker Morice Blackwell, who committed to Texas on Sunday over offers from Alabama, Baylor, Georgia, Notre Dame, and others.

At 6’1, 195 pounds, Blackwell possesses a rangy frame with room for growth and the run-and-strike ability that is so important to survive the spatial demands of playing linebacker in the Big 12. With the state struggling to produce bigger-bodied linebackers who can impact passing lanes on coverage drops, players like Blackwell are increasingly in demand.

And that’s even the case for SEC schools like Alabama and Georgia.

On film, it doesn’t take long to understand Blackwell’s appeal to Nick Saban and Kirby Smart — he’s not just a physical tackler. There’s an explosiveness in his lower body with legitimate stopping power that suggests some untapped athleticism as he gets more fluid with his hips in space and gains strength.

The force that Blackwell plays with combines with a strong tackling radius that should make him an early contributor on special teams, but it also makes him a prospect with higher upside than his rather modest current ranking just inside the top 500 players nationally. This is a guy who not only makes statement tackles, he simply racks them up overall with 240 total in the last two seasons, along with 23 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles.

Blackwell also possesses some potential positional versatility — Martin lines up him at safety at times and he has three interceptions in his varsity career. With Ash labeling the nickel cornerback role the Spur position in his defense and practicing those players with the linebackers, it’s possible that that Blackwell could play there if he shows a knack for playing in coverage, ends up at 210 or 215 pounds instead of 225, and Ash wants to line up more closely to how he used the Spur at Ohio State.

On the track, Blackwell hasn’t performed as well as he’s appeared to run in games — his personal best in the 100m is 11.60 — so it’s worth wondering where the tradeoff will be in sacrificing eventual top-end speed for extra mass. The good news is the cause for optimism that Blackwell is versatile enough to fit somewhere in Ash’s defense no matter how he develops physically.

With Blackwell’s addition to the 2021 Horns recruiting class, Texas is also on the way to a strong recruiting class at the position position — New Caney’s Derrick Harris Jr. is a top-150 prospect and already pledged, while the Longhorns seemingly remain in strong position to land Pearland Shadow Creek’s Terrence Cooks to round out the group.