BOHLS: HORNS TRY TO SHORE UP DEFENSE
Acho might have to make the move from end to inside this year
IRVING — For a likely top-10 preseason team, questions still abound for Texas. Garrett Gilbert’s next start at quarterback will be his first in college. There is no go-to receiver now that Jordan Shipley has gone to Cincinnati.
Texas says it will run more in 2010, kind of like it said it would run more in 2009, 2008, 2007, etc. Believe it in September.
Despite rumors, the tight end position has not been abolished, even though Greg Smith caught all of six balls for 48 yards without a touchdown last year. The tight end spot with Smith and Barrett Matthews might make a nice secret — or even double-secret — weapon. All that notwithstanding, the biggest question for the Longhorns will be the glaringly thin defensive tackle position. How thin? The experience there is so shallow that Sam Acho was asked over and over at Big 12 media day on Wednesday whether he had put on any weight to accommodate his likely full-time shift there from defensive end. The answer is none.
The senior from Dallas St. Mark’s still weighs in the same neighborhood of 260 pounds as he did a year ago, when he terrorized opponents for 10 sacks, playing end opposite the good-luck-challenged Sergio Kindle.
With the departures of Lamarr Houston to the Oakland Raiders, Ben Alexander to graduation and redshirt freshman transfer Derek Johnson to Arkansas State, Texas has just one true tackle who has lined up there as a starter, mountainous Kheeston Randall, who’s all-conference-caliber.
“It’s our true key on defense,” coach Mack Brown said. “We’ve got numbers at that position, but we do not have quality experience. We have to look at a number of guys to see
Continued from C what fits. We can go to a 3-4, we can move Sam Acho in there. We’d rather not.”
The void of proven depth might not hurt as much since the Big 12 isn’t a running league. However, it could be a running league when Texas plays folks if the Longhorns can’t stop the run first. They led the nation in that category last season as Houston was a beast in the mold of previous sensations Roy Miller and Derek Lokey.
Even before them, the Longhorns have been producing high-quality defensive tackles with cookiecutter frequency, regularly churning out Pro Bowlers such as Casey Hampton and Shaun Rogers and solid players such as Cory Redding, who had been an end at Texas.
Rod Wright and Frank Okam were much better as Longhorns than as pros, but defensive tackles still play in Austin with some sense of great expectation.
“We walk by the pictures of past defensive tackles like Derek and Casey and Shaun and Marcus (Tubbs),” Randall said, “and we know what the expectations at the University of Texas are.”
Fans can expect more if newcomers such as redshirt freshman Calvin Howell, Tyrell Higgins and Kyle Kriegel emerge as reliable contributors.
All three are needed to make an impact, but mammoth incoming freshmen Taylor Bible and Ashton Dorsey will be given chances to produce early.
Texas will see some strong ground teams in Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech will use the run much more than in the past. Longhorns nemesis Kansas State may have the best running back in the league in Daniel Thomas, unless that player is in Kheeston Randall, putting A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson on the turf last season, started 0 games at defensive tackle last season for Texas. He’s the lone proven force at the position. College Station (Christine Michael), Norman (DeMarco Murray) or Stillwater (Kendall Hunter).
Longhorns fans should be comforted, we’re guessing, that Acho hasn’t already been moved to tackle permanently. That apparently shows good faith in some of the other raw prospects who will line up next to the 6-5, 295-pound Randall, the team’s one legitimate presence at tackle who started 10 games there last season and will probably bat down a dozen or more passes this year.
But we won’t be surprised if Acho’s time at tackle doesn’t go way up over the estimated 40 percent of the snaps he spent there last season, when defensive coordinator Will Muschamp wanted to insert an extra pass rusher up front.
Acho could be spelled at end because Texas has much more depth there in Alex Okafor, Eddie Jones and Reggie Wilson, with help on the way from recruits, including Jackson Jeffcoat.
Acho confirmed he did spend more time at tackle than at end in the spring, and that he isn’t the least bit reluctant to move there fulltime, if necessary.
“I’ll do both,” he said. “I love both. Whatever Coach Muschamp has planned for me is fine.”
Careful what you wish for, Sam. Muschamp may plan for you to never come off the field.
Texas defensive lineman Sam Acho sacks Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee in the second quarter of last year’s Big 12 Championship game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. Acho says he doesn’t mind playing more at tackle if Will Muschamp wants him there.