It has been a long three years for the Texas defense.
In the three seasons since their last trip to the National Championship Game, the Longhorns have allowed more than 23 points per game on average. They hit rock bottom last year, surrendering 5,244 yards, 419 more than any other season in school history.
The Longhorns are confident that this is the year they’ll turn things around. The players trained this offseason with a purpose: They want to shed the soft label and rebound from last year.
“We’re tired of that. We’ve been working all offseason to get rid of that label,” said redshirt junior linebacker Jordan Hicks. “Obviously it’s going to keep coming up just because of the expectation around here at the University of Texas. We understand that. We put ourselves in that position. But this is a new year and we’re ready to show the new Texas defense.”
The Longhorns’ experience is a major reason that the defense is expected to be on the upswing. Texas returns nine starters from 2012 and boasts the luxury of having a fourth-year player at every level of the defense.
“What’s changed is now you have Jackson [Jeffcoat] in the defensive end room,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “You’ve got Chris Whaley in the defensive tackle room, Jordan Hicks in the linebacker room, Carrington Byndom at corner and Adrian Phillips at safety. You’ve got a four-year guy at all five stations of your defense and the difference between having them has been remarkable.”
Jeffcoat is primed to be the leader of Texas’ defense. After missing the final seven games of last season with a torn right pectoral muscle, the senior is healthy and ready to become one of the nation’s elite pass rushers.
The senior defensive end holds 14.5 sacks over 27 career games, including eight as a sophomore in 2011. He seconded Diaz’s expectations, saying that the Longhorns’ experience and depth make them a dangerous unit that will be much improved in 2013.
“We think we can do very well this year because of our experience,” Jeffcoat said. “We have a lot of experience from starters to second teamers. We’ve got a lot of guys that can play ball and that’s exciting to see because you’ve got to stay fresh.”
The return of Hicks, who missed the final 10 games of last season with a hip injury, will be significant for a linebacker corps that struggled with poor tackling. Steve Edmond and Peter Jinkens join Hicks at the second level of the Longhorn defense.
The secondary also looks different to start 2013. Byndom returns at cornerback but his counterpart for the past two seasons, Quandre Diggs, makes the move to nickelback. This clears the way for sophomore Duke Thomas to start at cornerback in week one.
“What the film said is that Duke is one of our best players,” Diaz said. “We’re not into playing favorites; we’ve got to play players that we think are the best and Duke has earned that right.”
Expectations are high for the Longhorns, and a major improvement on defense could make Texas the favorite in the Big 12.