Defense wins championships, the saying goes.
Last season, the Texas Longhorns suffered quite a bit on the defensive side of the football, as did most of the Big 12. But that isn't to say the 'Horns are without their cornerstones.
With positive reviews coming from the offensive camps, the spotlight will mostly flood the defensive stages. After fielding the statistically-worst defense in the history of Longhorns football, how can Manny Diaz shake things up and instill some development? And without Kenny Vaccaro and Alex Okafor?
There are few surprises in the top five, but there are a number of under-the-radar types who could begin making names for themselves.
The offensive players were ranked recently, but now we will take a gander at Texas' top defensive stoppers.
Stats from mackbrown-texasfootball.com
Honorable Mentions: Desmond Jackson, Adrian Phillips, Peter Jinkens
Jackson gets a slight snub, but he will be a big player along Texas' interior defensive line this season. Jackson's seven tackles for loss in 2012 groups him with Cedric Reed, Brandon Moore and Ashton Dorsey as far as production. And with Moore having jumped to the NFL, the defensive tackle rotation should see plenty of Jackson this season.
Phillips was often the center of some scapegoat discourse last season, with poor tackling efforts splattered across the transcript. But despite his shortcomings for much of the season, Phillips' performance did, in fact, improve late in the year. With Kenny Vaccaro in the NFL, Phillips immediately becomes the most experienced safety on the roster, which can be good or bad depending on which Phillips shows up in 2013.
Jinkens was a pleasant surprise to the linebacker corps last season, but one can only wonder how he failed to see the field earlier in the season. The linebackers acquired some much-needed experience after Jordan Hicks missed most of the season, but there still are not many who jump off the page. Jinkens did some good things late in 2012, and if that continues into the 2013 season, the 'Horns could have a bright star in the making.
Junior defensive end Cedric Reed gets the slightest of nods over Desmond Jackson, and Reed's great increase in production from 2011 to 2012 gives him that edge.
Reed is the favorite to start opposite Jackson Jeffcoat, and while Reed is far from the consistent producer in Alex Okafor, he is expected to thrive with a heavy dose of playing time.
Following a strong Alamo Bowl performance, where he recorded 1.5 sacks and 3 TFLs and bested only by Okafor, Reed has already set the stage for a special 2013 season. Does he have enough as a starter?
2012: 13 gms, 46 tkl, 8 tfl, 2.5 sack, 1 fr, 13 qbp
2011: 7 gms, 3 tkl
Hicks returns to the linebacker fold as still the most experienced and most veteran player of the group. The Ohio native missed nine games with a hip injury, forcing the Longhorns to live with inexperience in the middle of their defense.
Hicks' transition back into the defense should be monitored closely, as many of Texas' defensive struggles last season stemmed from the linebacker positions. Will his return spark some progress among a group of still-young backers?
Without the likes of Kenny Vaccaro and Alex Okafor, Hicks returns as one of the identified leaders of the defense. Can he stay healthy and put in a strong, comeback campaign?
2012: 3 gms, 23 tkl, 3 tfl, 1 qbp
2011: 13 gms, 65 tkl, 1 sack, 4 tfl, 1 qbp, 1 fr
2010: 12 gms, 23 tkl, 1 sack, 1 tfl, 1 qbp
Carrington Byndom has let his numbers speak for him, and he has quietly become one of the more consistent performers in the past few seasons for the Longhorns.
Since entering the fold as a freshman, Byndom has been a durable and reliable defender in coverage. He may lack the flash and the showmanship that Vaccaro effortlessly displayed, but his consistency will be a cornerstone for a Texas defense that has to improve.
Byndom's ability to hold down the fort has been critical in the development of other defensive backs that will have significant contributions for this season and down the road.
2012: 12 gms, 55 tkl, 3 tfl, 1 sack, 3 int, 6 pbu, 1 ff, 2 blk
2011: 13 gms, 58 tkl, 8 tfl, 2 int, 15 pbu, 1 ff, 1 fr
2010: 12 gms, 20 tkl, 1 pbu, 1 ff, 1 blk
Widely regarded as the Longhorns' top NFL prospect, offense or defense, for the 2013 season, Jackson Jeffcoat will also be returning from offseason surgery for the second straight year.
Jeffcoat's 2011 season hinted at great things in 2012, but further injury troubles curtailed those opportunities. After the departure of Alex Okafor, Jeffcoat becomes the go-to horse on the defensive line as the Longhorns will expect a standard of performance from the senior Jeffcoat.
Jeffcoat jumped out to a strong start last season, recording four sacks in the first five games, and anything close to that to begin 2013 could lead to even bigger results down the stretch.
2012: 8 gms, 15 tkl, 6 tfl, 2.5 sack, 1 fr, 7 qbp
2011: 13 gms, 71 tkl, 21 tfl, 8 sack, 9 qbp
2010: 6 gms, 31 tkl, 11 tfl, 4 sack, 2 ff, 1 fr, 6 qbp
If we are talking about Texas' best defenders, Quandre Diggs tops the list.
Jeffcoat has the seniority, but Diggs has consistently been a force in the Longhorns' defensive backfield and could be the strongest pound-for-pound defender.
He has also shown durability in his two seasons in Austin, never missing a game. Diggs is expected to slide into the nickel role, a responsibility that the Longhorns placed on Kenny Vaccaro last season.
The emergence of Sheroid Evans at corner plays into Diggs' versatility, diversity that will have Diggs all over Texas' secondary this season.
2012: 13 gms, 59 tkl, 4 tfl, 1 sack, 4 int, 7 pbu
2011: 13 gms, 51 tkl, 4 tfl, 4 int, 15 pbu, 2 ff