May 15, 2011

Position Analysis: Defensive ends look to apply pressure

Last season, Texas saw its sack totals drop from a national-best 47 in 2008 and 44 in 2009 (second-best nationally) to 29 (31st nationally), led by Sam Acho, who had 9 sacks, and Eddie Jones, who had 6.

Those two have now moved on.

There were several factors behind last year's drop in sack totals, starting with the fact that teams didn't have to throw the ball as much against UT in 2010. Teams were playing ahead or even with Texas most of the season, so opponents could keep the ball on the ground and weren't in obvious passing situations trying to play catch-up.

This spring, Texas started to form a two-deep at end that should bode well for the future. Sophomore Jackson Jeffcoat, who had 2.5 sacks in 2010, is back on the right side, rushing the passer, where he lined up last season when Sam Acho would line up inside at defensive tackle on obvious passing downs.

On the left side in the spring was Alex Okafor, a five-star talent out of Pflugerville, who was moved inside to tackle during the 2010 season. Manny Diaz, Bo Davis and Oscar Giles all decided Okafor would be more valuable outside.

"We would rather have Alex be in a position where we think he can be really special instead of a position where he's trying to feel his way," Diaz said.

Okafor, who hovered around 270 last season, is down to 260.

The backups figure to be Reggie Wilson and Dravannti Johnson.

THE GILES FILES:It's hard to believe Oscar Giles has been at Texas now 7 seasons. He replaced Dick Tomey as defensive ends coach in 2005 and helped UT win a national title in his first year (talk about timing). He has coached Brian Orakpo, Brian Robison, Tim Crowder, Sergio Kindle, Lamarr Houston and Acho.

Texas went six seasons without a double-digit sacker after Aaron Humphrey posted 10 in 1999. But the Longhorns have had a player post double-digit sacks in three of the past five years:

2006 - Tim Crowder 10.5
2007 - Brian Orakpo 5.5
2008 - Orakpo 11.5; Sergio Kindle 10
2009 - Sam Acho 10
2010 - Sam Acho 9

I liked Giles' answer when asked what his biggest moment in coaching has been:

"You can go back to the National Championship Game and a bunch of big games here at Texas, but the biggest moment is seeing those kids at the White House walk up those steps with different backgrounds, but they earned it together," Giles said. "They worked for it, and it's emotional for me, because the greatest thing is seeing kids get the reward for hard work."

Did you know?

After Giles led Texas in sacks in 1988 (6.5) and 1989 (7.0) and helped Texas go 10-2 in 1990, he played linebacker and defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons before going to the Canadian Football League and helping the Toronto Argonauts win the Grey Cup in 1996.

Here's a look at how the defensive end position looks coming out of the spring:

JACKSON JEFFCOAT, SO, 6-5, 253 - To say there are high expectations on Jeffcoat would be an understatement. The pass-rush mantle has been passed from Robison, Crowder, Orakpo and Acho to Jeffcoat. He has great body lean and lower body flexibility. He's a natural pass rusher, and it's no surprise when you look at his dad (sack artist Jim Jeffcoat). Jeffcoat had 2.5 sacks in 2010 and will be counted on to increase that number dramatically. In Manny Diaz's pressure-crazy defense (he brings a lot of zone pressures), Jeffcoat should have a chance to shine.

ALEX OKAFOR, JR, 6-4, 260 - It's time to see what Okafor can do. He's had to wait his turn behind the likes of Sam Acho, Sergio Kindle and Eddie Jones. Then, he was moved inside to DT. All the shuffling is done. Okafor has the long arms that drive tackles crazy because he can get his hands on players and lock on. Kyle Hix said Okafor is going to be a star. But we have to see it. We know Okafor has the work ethic. Now, it's time to see if he has the burning desire to be a playmaker that drove the likes of Orakpo and Kindle. Four sacks in the spring game is a good start.

REGGIE WILSON, SO, 6-3, 252 - Wilson will have to show he can play the run to get into the rotation. He's got the physical tools. Now, he's got to make things happen play in and play out. Wilson had a good spring ? including 2.5 sacks in the Orange-White game - and took some major steps forward.

DRAVANNTI JOHNSON, JR, 6-2, 235 - Johnson is getting stronger, which will help him shed the blocks required to be both an outside linebacker and hand-on-the ground defensive end. He figures to back up Jeffcoat. Posted 6 QB hurries and 1 sack in limited action last season. Had three tackles in the spring game.

CHRIS WHALEY, SO, 6-3, 250 - The move we've all been waiting for has finally happened. Now, we'll see if Whaley can have the same kind of success Henry Melton had in moving from running back to DE. There needs to be patience. The good news is Whaley has three seasons of eligibility left on defense. Melton only had two years to figure things out. But he did it. Even though there's plenty of competition ahead of Whaley, there's always room on the field for an impact pass rusher, if he can become that.

FINAL ANALYSIS: There's reason to be excited about this group because of all the promise. Could Jeffcoat be a double-digit sack guy? Yes. But it may not be this year.

There just isn't much in the books yet to go by. So we are still projecting. But if Jeffcoat and Okafor are as good as we think, then this position could end up being a strength of the defense.

Whaley and incoming freshman Cedric Reed (6-6, 240) are wildcards. Getting something out of them this season would be a huge plus. Reed certainly has the frame and the genes to get on the field as a freshman. (His dad, Lierick, played football and basketball at Prairie View A&M.)

Diaz plays a style of defense that calls on the D-line to stop the run on the way to the quarterback. It demands a lot of the ends to be good run stoppers.

That's why Okafor's move back to end is such a big deal. Coaches feel Okafor can excel at getting off blocks and grabbing ball carriers with those long arms.

There is concern right now because we haven't seen these guys do it game in and game out. But there's also a lot of reason to believe this group will not only make a positive impact in 2011 but also could produce some team leaders (Okafor and Jeffcoat).

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