The linebacker position appeared to be last season's scapegoat for an underwhelming defensive performance by the Texas Longhorns, and they have some similar uncertainties going into the 2013 campaign.
Experience and youth were huge issues with Jordan Hicks missing 10 games with a hip injury, and Texas was hardly able to gather its feet.
The 'Horns were forced to live with the growing pains from players like Steve Edmond, Kendall Thompson and Peter Jinkens. But while those aches encumbered Texas' defensive efforts last season, they could provide some serious dividends for 2013.
Although spring football is over for the Longhorns, it is still very much the offseason. In the continuation of position breakdowns, we take a glance at a position that was undoubtedly Texas' weakest link last season.
Despite the sustained weaknesses and uncertainties at linebacker going into the 2013 season, the Longhorns will probably field plenty of nickel and dime packages against the pass-heavy Big 12 offenses.
With two- and three-linebacker looks, probably more of the former than the latter, Texas will see a helping of six players in a rotation of rangy athletes.
Hopefully returning to full health this fall will be juniors Hicks and Jackson, both of whom saw respectively limited action this spring, but are expected to be ready for the start of the season.
Hicks was seriously missed last season on the weakside, and his leadership will have to be a catalyst for improved defensive efforts in 2013. Barring any setbacks, Hicks appears to be a big anchor point for a defense that has to be better this season.
The battle at middle linebacker will be under the spotlight going into the regular season.
Dalton Santos came into spring ball at a reported 21-pounds below his playing weight last season, a telltale sign of the position battle to come between him and the incumbent Edmond.
With both Santos and Edmond receiving some praise this spring, the starting job is far from decided. Expect both to have to prove their worth early this season.
Elsewhere, Kendall Thompson and Peter Jinkens were young come-ups last season, especially late in the year. Inconsistency and mental lapses were not uncommon from the duo in 2012, but both became bona fide options at linebacker deep into the season.
These six linebackers, when healthy, figure to share the vast majority of playing time, but there are others who could chisel into the rotation if the top dogs do not hold up to the new standards.
Outside Looking In
Unfortunately for Demarco Cobbs, his injury troubles and inability to play at a consistent level has pushed him out of the rotation.
Still one of the best athletes at linebacker, Cobbs does have an upside to his play, but it may only be seen in limited and specific scenarios.
Going into his senior season, there is not a ton of experience behind him, which hardly plays in his favor considering the younger, more proven options in front of him.
If Cobbs is healthy, he could provide a decent spell option behind the top six. But for now, he is still very much on the outside looking in.
Redshirt freshman Tim Cole and true freshman Deoundrei Davis are at the bottom of the chain at linebacker, and it appears more likely that these two will have to wait at least another year before getting their looks.
Both bring athleticism and range to their play, but have not been through the gauntlet that those in front of them have encountered. On that note, there are some upsides to their games, but with so much relative experience ahead of them, they will have to play the waiting game for a little longer.
The Bottom Line
Texas still has some question marks heading into the season.
Will Hicks be healthy? How will the middle linebacker position play out? Will Jinkens and Thompson transform into the team's best linebackers?
Linebacker was the weak link of the Texas defense last season, and it will have to see some much-improved play from its constituents. Who will step up?
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