After the graduations of stalwarts Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho, junior Jordan Hicks has big shoes to fill as the top linebacker for the Texas Longhorns. He seems ready to answer the bell.
Hicks has logged time in every game since he arrived on campus in 2010, earning himself a starting job last season. Now he will be looked at as a leader of this defense that the Longhorns are hoping to ride back to the top of the conference. This is especially true since Hicks is the only proven talent at linebacker and will be depended upon to take charge of the position.
Read on to get to know this key member of the Texas defense and see what he has to do this season for the Longhorns to reach their full potential.
Ranked as the top linebacker for the 2010 class, the Ohio native Hicks arrived on campus as one of the best out-of-state recruiting recruiting coups that Mack Brown has pulled off in his Texas career. This season should be the full realization of Brown's efforts.
At 6'2" and 235 pounds, Hicks is almost tailor-made for the linebacker position with long arms and sideline-to-sideline speed. Injuries have been tough on Hicks since his arrival on campus, but there is no doubting the talent he possesses. Just check the tape from his 11-tackle performance in the first game he saw heavy action as a freshman against Nebraska.
Hicks earned himself a full-time starting position last season after his honorable mention for Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in his debut season.
There were certainly some up-and-down moments last year due to injury, but Hicks still had a solid year that was highlighted by a breakout performance (8 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU) in the Holiday Bowl.
Now that Hicks has had a full, injury-free offseason, this ticking time bomb of talent is set to go off on the Big 12 this season in full force.
Though he had some very solid moments last season, it was very clear that Hicks was not at full-speed for much of the season and it showed in his performance.
After suffering a hamstring injury in the Iowa State game, Hicks went from a tackling machine to basically an afterthought for the Big 12's best defense. It could not have been more obvious than in the Oklahoma game, the first game after suffering the injury, in which he only registered one single tackle after averaging six in the previous four.
Hicks knows it too, telling the reporters at the Big 12 media day, "I could've taken a few games off."
Luckily for Hicks, last season he had teammates in Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson who could cover up his mistakes, as well as experienced safeties Blake Gideon and Kenny Vaccaro. Hicks will not have that support this season with Acho and Robinson both gone and two new starters filling the void.
Hicks is a major difference-maker when he is healthy, so let's hope for the sake of this team's success in 2012 that he finds a way to stay healthy. Otherwise, the rest of the defense will suffer tremendously.
With Steve Edmond and Demarco Cobbs both newly-minted starters filling the void for departed NFL talent, the pressure is on Hicks this season to step up and be a leader for the linebackers.
Just as Robinson and Acho covered for his mistakes last season, so too will Hicks have to cover for those made by the inexperienced Edmond and Cobbs. This is not to say that these two are not capable defenders, but there is a significant drop off in game experience as neither player has yet to start a game in the burnt orange.
Basically, he cannot afford to lay an egg like he did in the Oklahoma game last season.
Not only will Hicks have to cover for his new running mates, he will also be the one tasked with implementing the calls from the sideline. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has over 100 blitz packages that Hicks must understand and relay to his teammates on the fly in order for this attacking-style defense to be successful.
The transition from basically being a role player to becoming a full-fledged leader is no easy task, but Hicks has the brains and the talent to do it. The sooner he makes that transition, the better off both he and the defense will be in the upcoming season.
For Hicks, the time for him to rise up and become a star for this defense has arrived. Will he answer the bell?
Expectations could not be any higher for Hicks. He was the top-ranked player at his position when he was recruited, he is expected to be a main cog for a defense that is supposed to be among the best in the country, and he is the only returning starter at linebacker.
Plus, he has been placed on the watch lists for the Lombardi and Butkus Awards that recognize the best linebacker in the country.
The good news for Hicks is that he is surrounded by All-Big 12 both along the line and in the secondary that will make his job much easier. The line will keep opposing blockers occupied while the defensive backs lock up in coverage, and he has ball hawk Kenny Vaccaro ready to clean up after him.
Also, Hicks is healthy and has had a full offseason for the first time in his career, which means we will see more of what we got in the Holiday Bowl and less of what we saw against Oklahoma.
All things considered, Hicks should have a very good season for this Longhorns team. First off, he should have no problem, in this scheme, with racking up about 100 tackles on the season.
However, my eye is on what he will do in the backfield as a blitzer. His length will allow him to disrupt passing lanes, and his speed will make him very dangerous as a pass-rusher.
If Hicks can put up 100 tackles and add in a handful of sacks, there is no reason to think that he will not make the All-Big 12 second team. And if he has a few games that are reminiscent of his performance against Cal, he could find himself up there with the first-teamers.