After losing linebackers Roddrick Muckelroy and Sergio Kindle, Will Muschamp and the Longhorns will simply reload with more elite talent and highly sought after recruits.
Texas already has enough talented players to fill the void left after the 2010 Draft, although there are some questions.
At the first outside linebacker position, we have junior Keenan Robinson, a preseason All-Big 12 selection who recorded 57 tackles as a sophomore last year, including ten against Nebraska and seven against Alabama.
Robinson looks to continue off his strong sophomore performance and possibly become the leading tackler on the defense. (In addition, we share a first name, giving him bonus points in my already obnoxious pro-Texas bias)
At the other outside linebacker spot sits the second of two Acho men in Emmanuel Acho, who recorded 49 tackles, two sacks, ten tackles for loss and one interception as a sophomore. With his good speed, he has the ability to be effective in pass coverage, an important skill for a linebacker in the Big 12's multiple spread offenses.
If both Achos can play up to their level of expectation, then Texas should have no problem repeating as a defensive force in 2010.
The biggest question in the linebacking corps looks to be the inside linebacker spot.
Dustin Earnest, a senior who has seen limited playing time as a Longhorn, looks to be the primary choice for starter. For Texas to have the same level of run defense that they had in '09, Earnest has to pick up where Roddrick Muckelroy left off.
Although Earnest has only started one game in his career, he will be looked on to be a reliable run-stopper for the Longhorns and help them to again rank number one in rush defense.
In reserves, senior Jared Norton will likely see a lot of playing time, if not competing for the inside linebacker job outright. The only problem with Norton is that he missed nearly the entire 2009 season with a shoulder injury suffered against UL-Monroe, meaning he hasn't played really competitive football for nearly a year (if you can consider UL-Monroe competitive).
This lack of playing time over the last season may keep him from breaking through to the starting lineup.
Another reserve, and one that has many Texas fans excited, is Jordan Hicks, a true freshman from Ohio who has the closing speed of a defensive back to go along with sure tackling and good pass rushing ability. A 5-star recruit coming out of high school, Jordan might be the best prospect out of a recruiting class filled with elite talent.
He likely won't compete for a starting job yet, but watch out for Jordan - he'll be a star in Austin.
As a whole, the outside linebackers look pretty strong. The only question really is the talent level at inside linebacker—will Dustin Earnest be a strong run-stopper like Muckelroy?
Will Jared Norton be a better fit for the Texas defense?
We know that Robinson and Acho will be stars. It's up to the rest to step up and play like stars as well.
If you haven't already, check out my Longhorns defensive backs preview and my Longhorns defensive line preview.
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