When defensive coordinator Will Muschamp made his debut on the 40 Acres last season, the Texas defense regained the tenacity that had been missing through the 2006 and 2007 seasons.
The Longhorn defense held opponents to an average of 18 points a game last season, down from 25 in 2007. Texas also improved in total defense, giving up 342 yards a game, down from 378 in 2007.
The run defense was impressive as usual, holding opponents to 83.5 yards a game on the ground, good for third in the country. Though the Big 12 has developed in to a pass-happy conference, that is still a very impressive number.
The defensive line was perhaps the most significant asset to the Longhorns' resurgent defense.
Brian Orakpo (11.5 sacks in 2008, first team All-American), winner of the Lombardi, Nagurski, and Hendricks awards, spearheaded the defense and was one of the premier pass rushers in the country.
However, the Longhorns will not have Orakpo's services this season as he graduated and was drafted 13th overall in this year's NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins.
Also departed are defensive tackle Roy Miller (All-Big 12 in 2008) and defensive end Henry Melton (four sacks in 2008).
The Longhorns now find themselves in a bit of bind along the front four. With only one starter from last year's dominant line returning, defensive tackle Lamaar Houston, many of the younger players will have to step up and produce immediately.
Houston's presence, however, will be key to developing the younger linemen. After switching from defensive end to tackle last off-season, Houston was able to make major contributions in stuffing the run up the middle.
As good as he is, Lamaar Houston serves more as complementary player to more powerful defensive tackles, none of which have surfaced so far.
Senior Ben Alexander will be charged with aiding Houston in the middle. At 6'1" 310 pounds, Alexander has a lower center of gravity and is able to push larger offensive lineman off the line of scrimmage. However, he does not possess the explosive power need in a starting defensive tackle.
Sophomore Kheeston Randall, 6'5", 275 pounds, is an incredibly talented player, but is inexperienced thus far and will have to prove he can be a consistent anchor in the middle before he is given consideration for the starting job.
Mack Brown recently secured the commitments of defensive tackles Taylor Bible and Ashton Dorsey, ranked No. 1 and 2 respectively on the ESPN Top 150 List. Both will be major contributors in 2010.
Defensive end is a very different story.
While the loss of Brian Orakpo and Henry Melton will hurt, there is talent in position to make it yet another strong year along the front line.
Sergio Kindle (All-Big 12 in 2008, 10.5 sacks) has taken on a "slash" role for the defense. Because of his incredible size and speed combination, he will play at both outside linebacker and at defensive end.
Will Muschamp made it clear that he wants to blitz Kindle from all over the field in order to keep the potent spread offenses of the Big 12 guessing.
Kindle will be a sure-fire All-American candidate if he has the same success as he did last season.
Texas fans are eager to witness the development of juniors Eddie Jones and Sam Acho. Acho has already proven he can make plays in limited action, but if Jones can step up and be productive the defensive end rotation will be deadly yet again.
Freshmen Dravaanti Johnson (RS) and Alex Okafor will be significant pieces in the rotation as well.
Johnson made the switch from linebacker to end during his redshirt year and coaches were happy with his spring practices.
Okafor, the No. 1 defensive end in the country coming out of high school, will be counted on the provide solid depth at the position, if not more this season.
If Okafor bulks up a little more in the weight room he will be a force to be reckoned with. The coaching staff has been pleased with his progress so far and they are expecting big things from him going forward.
If Texas' defensive line recovers from the loss of three starters early on, look for the defense as whole to be one of the best in the country.
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