Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESS
There is no certainty that leading-tackler Jordan Hicks will be out Saturday, but if he is, his absence leaves a gaping hole on a defensive unit that is already lacking for depth.
Hicks is the lone returning starter at the linebacker position and has been instrumental in getting the right defensive calls communicated to his teammates, as well as covering for his inexperienced running mates. Senior safety Kenny Vaccaro will likely fill the communication void if Hicks is out with his hip pointer, but his replacement at linebacker is a much stickier situation.
Alongside Hicks for the first three games have been first-year starters Steve Edmond and Demarco Cobbs. Edmond has proved his worth and has improved on a weekly basis. Cobbs, on the other hand, has had a very tough time adjusting to his role and has been repeatedly burned by opposing offenses.
That leaves Texas in a tough position as far as getting the best talent on the field. Tevin Jackon, Kendall Thompson and Dalton Santos will probably all see playing time, but some players will have to play out of position in order to get the right mix on the field. For example, both Edmond and Santos play middle linebacker, so one of them will have to move over to make room for the other.
This position switching could cause some confusion, especially among the more inexperienced players like the freshman Santos and Cobbs. This is especially problematic if J.W. Walsh is the starter because dual-threat quarterbacks place added pressure on opposing linebackers to keep an eye on the backfield.
The other solution to this issue is for Texas to play out of its nickel package more often, which would allow safety Kenny Vaccaro to play closer to the line of scrimmage. In this scenario, one of the formidable backups, Josh Turner or Mykkele Thompson, would take Vaccaro's spot at safety. Vaccaro is capable of playing inside and is a very good blitzer for a DB, so we could see a lot of this if the linebackers continue to struggle.
The best-case scenario is that Hicks is in the lineup, but it seems like the 'Horns are preparing for him to be on the sideline. The measures are in place and the bye week certainly helped this team prepare for Hicks' absence, though whether this team can adjust without him remains to be seen. After all, this defense struggled mightily against Ole Miss after he got hurt.