Coaches talk about it all the time -- when one player gets injured, the next player in line has to step up to fill the void.
For the Texas Longhorns, the latest significant injury was to senior defensive tackle Desmond Jackson, who will miss the rest of the season after suffering a foot injury against UCLA that required surgery. Coin tosses may not have been his forte, but he was a critical piece along the defensive line for the Horns as the player most capable of taking on double teams.
Enter sophomore Hassan Ridgeway, the 6'4, 307-pound man-child who has flashed in spot duty and now has to take on a bigger role. Sophomore Paul Boyette will also rotate in at nose tackle as well to allow junior defensive tackle Malcom Brown to continue to play the three technique tackle position and wreak havoc against opposing guards.
The narrative surrounding Ridgeway for a year or more now has been the wait for the light switch to flip on for him.
"I think he the ability to be a special talent, he's gotten better every single week," defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said on Wednesday. "He is a guy that is growing, developing, he's learning how to play the football game and I think his future could be bright. Again, I'm talking about potential, not reality."
Bedford believes that it might be something as simple as Ridgeway just playing angry.
"One of these days Hassan is actually going to get mad," said Bedford. "He is one the nicest young people I've ever been around. If he ever gets mad, I'm going to be the first person to leave the room because he will hurt somebody. My man could be a beast."
Ridgeway may not actually be that far away -- he's currently tied for third in the Big 12 with three sacks, even though the Horns have only played three games so far. The North Texas game represented something of a coming-out party for the Mansfield product, as Ridgeway recorded two sacks among his five tackles. With four tackles, another sack, and a quarterback pressure against UCLA, the big defensive tackle made his presence felt in that contest as well.
After wearing No. 81 as a redshirt freshman, Ridgeway switched numbers this season, donning the No. 98 that was previously worn by star defensive end Brian Orakpo.
According to Bedford, that means that Ridgeway has some big shoes to fill.
"The biggest thing is this that I learned it from a guy named Lloyd Carr at the University of Michigan and from Bo Schembechler: When you're at The University of Texas, for each position, the expectation is for the position," said Bedford. "The expectation is for the position."
"There has been a guy who is an All-American at that position who wore your number maybe in 1935, so it's not about you -- you're representing a person who wore that number. A player has worn that uniform; that's where the expectation is. And I love our fans, but for the alumni that played here at The University of Texas -- that's where the expectation lies.That's what these young guys today have to understand."
Of course, expecting Ridgeway to become an edge-rushing terror is unreasonable. What isn't unreasonable is to expect Ridgeway to fulfill his significant potential in the same way that Orakpo was incredibly dedicated to wringing the most out of his own skill set.
Nothing new here, but if Ridgeway can manage to even scratch the surface of his potential, he could be an All-Conference performer. Perhaps even an All-American like Orakpo.
The tools are all there.
"The thing about Ridgeway is he's so strong, so powerful, and he's big and strong where he can get off blocks and make plays, and you just see him go at people and just throwing back and just reach over to get sacks," head coach Charlie Strong said on Monday. "But he's playing very well, just love his whole attitude."
Ridgeway now faces two major challenges -- playing more snaps and adjusting to a new position.
The conditioning hasn't always been there for Ridgeway, who appears to visibly tire at times when he has to play a series of snaps without a break. If he's still not in ideal condition, it could exacerbate the second challenge.
At 6'4, playing with proper pad level is much more difficult than it was for the 6'0 Jackson, who was naturally underneath the pads of opposing linemen simply because of his height. So Ridgeway will have to overcome that disadvantage while taking on double teams.
Despite possessing a massive lower body, Ridgeway isn't as strong as Jackson, who was probably the strongest player on the team, which could present problems anchoring when going against guards and centers at the same time.
Nose tackle isn't the natural position for a player with the gap-penetrating ability of Ridgeway, so ideally he would be at the three-technique, where he will probably play next season after Brown declares for the NFL Draft, a possibility that is quickly becoming inevitable with his strong play.
Until that time, Ridgeway will try to put it all together playing over the center.
If the Texas defensive coaches are lucky, someone will make him mad in the process.