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The typical play for top defensive programs is to stockpile as many athletes as possible and then rely on the culture and process to round them into shape as a cohesive and fast playing unit. That’s been the name of the game for some time now but things are getting tougher these days with the game becoming increasingly about skill and recognition on the field. Orlando figured out how to (finally) leverage Texas’ superior athleticism in 2017 but he did it while leaning on some skilled veterans that knew how to set the table for the younger guys on the field.
The 2018 class figures to be one of the more athletic groups that Texas has ever signed on defense with multiple bluechip DBs coming aboard. These guys should provide Texas with some amazing options for matching up to the skill and speed across the Big 12 but that still leaves the other part of the equation, the guys who can do the grunt work that sets the table. In particular, the middle of the defense where athleticism often takes a back seat to recognition and toughness. Examine the better Texas defenses of this decade, and there have been a few really good ones, and they all had tough, experienced veterans up the middle (nose, inside-backer, free safety) that set up the perimeter athletes for success.
The 2011 unit had Kheeston Randall protecting Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson with Blake Gideon and Kenny Vaccaro holding up the back end. The 2014 squad had Malcom Brown holding the point for Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond while Quandre Diggs and Mykkele Thompson roamed the middle of the field. Finally the 2017 squad had Poona Ford up front shielding Malik Jefferson and Gary Johnson while DeShon Elliott patrolled the middle. Hopefully it’s not three years before Texas can man the middle again with strong upperclassmen again at all three levels.
But it will be three years or so before these guys take their turn and I took in a few full games from some of the guys that figure to play in the middle from the 2018 defensive class to see how they might do when their time comes.