If defense wins championships, then the Texas Longhorns were far from one in 2012 as they recorded their worst statistical year in the program's history.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz took plenty of flak for some poor defensive efforts, but not everything was entirely in his control.
Injuries to Jackson Jeffcoat and Jordan Hicks took away two of the most experienced and talented players on the defensive roster. And without them, the Texas defense looked disorganized at times and undisciplined at others.
The 2013 season is right around the corner, and the Longhorns' defense is healthy.
The junior linebacker Hicks, however, is arguably the most important player to get back into the mix. And for more reasons than not, it may be Hicks who could influence Diaz's staying power come next season.
If you look at the numbers in 2011 and 2012, Diaz's first two seasons in Austin, the Longhorns fielded the 11th and 67th ranked defenses, respectively, in those years.
Two of the biggest pieces on that defense in 2011 were senior linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. Hicks was a sophomore just getting into the rotation.
Robinson and Acho were not the flashiest of players, nor did they possess the blazing speed that one would want from a Big 12 linebacker. Instead, buoyed by some steady pass defenses, the duo played with more instincts and intelligence than anything. Their presence supported the players around them and solidified the middle of the field with a good standard of play.
That is what Hicks will bring back to the table in 2013: organization, experience and presence of mind.
Hicks' presence was sorely missed last season when he missed 10 games with a hip injury, and now that he is healthy, fellow linebackers like Steve Edmond and Peter Jinkens may be looking at less pressure on their end.
Now, is that to say that a healthy Hicks would have made for a better defensive product? Not entirely, but the coaching staff will feel much better now that its best linebacker is back at full strength.
Help in the trenches
Texas' defensive tackle position has not been the most consistent group, but it does have immense talent that will be on display via a quartet of players.
Ashton Dorsey and Chris Whaley are the seniors of the group, with Whaley having the more impressive fall camp.
Desmond Jackson and Malcolm Brown—junior and sophomore, respectively—are very much in the rotation and bring great physical tools to the table.
The group struggled throughout the season, but with the gained experience and the versatility with the four up front, Texas could be looking at a much-improved effort at defensive tackle.
That said, any improvement up the gut will only help the linebackers hold the middle of the field more securely.
Hicks will lead the charge
The linebacker position is all Hicks.
The developments seen in Edmond and Jinkens have been well-documented, and even Kendall Thompson, Tevin Jackson and Dalton Santos will have their say this season. But those five guys know exactly who the top dog is at the position.
As the leader of the group and one of the leaders of the entire defense, Hicks will have to serve up plenty of accountability to some guys who are still looking to raise their levels of play.
The Bottom Line
When the Longhorns fielded their 11th-ranked defense in 2011, Acho and Robinson combined to post 118 solo tackles (237 with assists), 29 tackles for loss, four sacks and 31 quarterback hits.
It would be other-worldly for Hicks to reach those numbers individual, of course, but by holding up his end of the bargain as a veteran and significant contributor, Texas will already be much better off in 2013.
And that would be good news for Manny Diaz.
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