Emboldened by the infusion of talent seated in his position room, Texas linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary promised “a different standard to get on the field.”
That’s funny because a year ago the standard was such that if you weren’t Jordan Hicks or Steve Edmond, you didn’t get to play. Hicks and Edmond, seniors in 2014, were overworked, but Jean-Mary acknowledged that “there wasn’t a high level of trust” in anyone else.
That can be taken as a direct shot across the bow of Peter Jinkens, Tim Cole and Dalton Santos, who have been put on notice with the addition of a talented group of freshmen, headlined by Malik Jefferson, the state’s top-ranked recruit in 2015.
For his part, Jinkens has been impressive, showing some nastiness the other day in practice when, rather than settling for a routine tackle, he lifted Gaston Davis and mercilessly spiked the running back to the ground. Jinkens had 27 tackles last year, many of them coming on special teams.
“We didn’t see that from him last year, ” defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said. “He knows he has to take on more of a leadership role and step up to the plate.”
Santos has been limited by a lingering ankle injury, and Cole has missed time, too, with an undisclosed injury. Be it a lack of trust or too much rust, the veterans have virtually no job security.
“If we are in the middle of camp and you’re in a dead heat with a freshman, we’re going to play the freshman, ” Jean-Mary said. “You have to be head and shoulders above them to justify us keeping you in there. If you play the freshman, it’s an investment. You’re building something for the future.”
Asked if he would have reservations about starting three rookies in the opener at Notre Dame, Jean-Mary didn’t hesitate. He’ll take the path that leads to wins – and continued employment.
“I like where I’m living, I like Austin, ” he said. “If they’re the best ones that can help us go win games, that’s who’s going to be on the field.”
Jefferson, a five-star recruit, is working with the first team at middle linebacker, where Santos would be if healthy. Other newcomers are threatening to shake up the depth chart as well, including Anthony Wheeler, the state’s No. 11-ranked recruit, according to 247Sports’ composite ratings, and Westlake’s Breckyn Hager, whose father, Britt, is Texas’ career leading tackler. Cameron Townsend, a four-star prospect from Missouri City, is working with the scout team, while Cecil Cherry, a freshman from Florida, has decided to transfer.
“There’s a lot of pressure on everybody because everybody wants to play and everybody’s trying to hold each other off, ” Jefferson said.
Redshirt freshman Edwin Freeman can be missed amid the influx of new faces, but he’s in the mix for a starting spot.
Asked about leadership within the group, Jean-Mary said he was “still searching” for someone to fill the role vacated by Hicks.
And if it’s a freshman who fills it, so be it.
Contact Ryan Autullo at 512-445-3958.