junior defensive tackle

Junior defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway has big shoes to fill.

With departing defensive tackle Malcom Brown projected to be taken in the NFL Draft’s first round, the Longhorns are looking to replicate the production and leadership Brown brought to the defensive front.

“Replacing Malcom? I don’t know,” Ridgeway said. “It’s not about replacing him. It’s about stepping up and doing the job.”

Although Ridgeway won’t necessarily be replacing Brown, the Longhorns will need him to play a similar role. Ridgeway burst onto the scene last season while filling in for injured senior Desmond Jackson, and he immediately became one of Texas’ biggest playmakers, finishing second to Brown in sacks with six while recording nine-and-a-half tackles for loss.

If he can replicate, or even improve upon, his production from last season, Texas’ defense will be in good shape.

“He’s so strong, so powerful, and he can get off blocks and make plays,” head coach Charlie Strong said last season.

While Ridgeway stood out as one of the Longhorns’ defensive staples in 2014, he’s still looking to improve upon his weaknesses. He has the skill set to become a force on Texas’ defensive line, but he said he can work on the technical aspects of his position. 

“This year, that’s the one thing that I’m trying to focus on — to get my fundamentals down and get better at the little things that I didn’t do right,” Ridgeway said. 

If spring play is any indication, Ridgeway seems to be doing his job. Strong has recently used words such as mainstay and great to describe Ridgeway and his play through the offseason.

In Saturday’s Orange-White scrimmage, Ridgeway made only three tackles, but he was still able to cause disruption in the backfield and get pressure on the quarterback. Ridgeway’s play helped the entire defensive line control the trenches, and that is something of which he is especially proud.

“The defensive line is the one that always has to stand up,” Ridgeway said. “It’s always been up front. If you’re not good up front, the whole defense collapses.”

Ridgeway has led the unit with his play, but the next step is stepping into a leadership role in the locker room.

“I see Hassan Ridgeway leading the D-Line room,” senior cornerback Duke Thomas said.

While his coaching staff and teammates have shown confidence in him as a leader, Ridgeway envisions the entire team stepping up.

“You can’t do it by yourself, so everybody has to grow a little bit,” Ridgeway said. “In our positions, everybody has to take a little bit of leadership and step up on their own. We’re going to obviously have somebody lead it, but everybody has to grow up.”

Ridgeway has been persistent about the Longhorns improving this season. And with over three months until the Longhorns travel to South Bend, Indiana, to take on Notre Dame in the season opener, he and his teammates still have time to restore the defense’s dominant presence from last season with the same determination Ridgeway has shown so far. 

“We might be tired and barely making it, but we’re still going to keep going,” Ridgeway said. “We aren’t going to give up, and we aren’t going to bow down to anybody.”

Junior defensive tackle Malcom Brown hopes to increase his leadership role and continues to improve this year after a promising 2013 season. 

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

When the Longhorns hit the field Saturday, a few things will be different for junior defensive tackle Malcom Brown. 

Starting time and playing time are nothing new; the junior has played in 26 career games, starting in all 13 last season. The heat and hits won’t faze him either, thanks to a series of brutal two-a-days head coach Charlie Strong has instituted. But the standard to which Brown will be held will likely be at a much higher level.

“The leaders on defense: They start leading by example, and they become more vocal because that’s what the coaches wanted,” Brown said. “You can’t do anything wrong because, if you mess up, the younger ones are going to follow you.”

Brown knows he, senior linebacker Jordan Hicks and senior cornerback Quandre Diggs need to step up as defensive leaders. He’s taken the initiative to bring his own game to the next level, finishing 2013 as third on the team with passes broken up, tackles for loss and QB pressures. His accomplishments didn’t go unnoticed when he shared the team’s Joseph W. Moore Tenacity Award for Defense with former Longhorns Jackson Jeffcoat and Chris Whaley. But, as an upperclassman, he now hopes to pass on his strategies to younger players.

“We always back up each other,” Brown said. “You have players that can follow what you do, always come up to you and ask you when they don’t know what to do. That’s when you become a leader — because they respect you enough they know you know what you’re talking about.”

Among those players whom Brown has under his wing is freshman defensive back Jason Hall. Strong said Hall, an AP All-State 5A honorable-mention, will likely see playing time in his first career game Saturday. Strong attributes Hall’s readiness to impressive performances in fall camp, but Brown thinks it’s more than just skill that Hall offers.

“He gets in. He’ll learn. He’ll listen to everybody else,” Brown said. “He’s not one of those guys who will be like, ‘I’m good enough. I can do whatever I want. You can talk to me, but I’m not going to listen to you.’ He’ll talk to us about what he has to do and just make sure he knows everything. When you have a player like that, who’s willing to learn everything, that’s real good out there on the field.”

It doesn’t hurt that Hall has strong mentors, such as Brown, to approach. With years of experience battling the hype before season openers, Brown keeps a steady head. He said it’s easy to get tired both physically and mentally when coaches repeat themselves, and players take repeated hard hits in practice. That’s why keeping everything in perspective is crucial.

“We’ve been hitting a lot,” Brown said. “Just how everybody is — they’ve just changed, and they’re real focused on what they need to do: learning everybody else’s position and why they’re doing it and everything. They want us to put so much into it before practice that, when we get inside a game, you already know what to do.”

Come Saturday, the defensive line will have the chance to show its improvement, and Brown will be right in front to lead them.