Keke Coutee (20) of the Texas Tech Red Raiders is gang tackled by the Texas Longhorns defense during the game on November 5, 2016 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. Texas defeated Texas Tech 45-37. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)

Football

Texas’ spring roster: The biggest defensive to-do’s include revamping a beleaguered secondary

Posted March 3rd, 2017

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SPRINGING FORWARD: A PLAYER-BY-PLAYER LOOK AT TEXAS’ ROSTER

What kind of hand has Tom Herman been dealt? Here’s a breakdown of the defensive roster as the Longhorns begin their spring practice workouts on Tuesday. We’ve already broken down UT’s offensive roster.

Jersey numbers in parenthesis. Players listed by order of classification this spring.

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Texas Breckyn Hager(44) looks for more cheers from the stands during the game against UTEP at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (12)

Ends

(40) Naashon Hughes, Jr. Only two Longhorns (Breckyn Hager, Malik Jefferson) had more sacks than Hughes last season.

(44) Breckyn Hager, Soph. The Longhorn legacy made a name for himself in 2016 with his wild hair and team-high six sacks.

(90) Charles Omenihu, Soph. A part-time starter, he totaled 26 tackles and matches Naashon Hughes’ 3.5 sacks.

(32) Malcolm Roach, Fr. Made his mark on UT’s freshman record book — he tied for 10th in sacks, tied for eighth in TFLs.

(48) Andrew Fitzgerald, Fr. Who didn’t miss Fitzgerald during his redshirt season? Prep QBs, whom he hurried 32 times in ’15.

Tackles

(95) Poona Ford, Jr. Went sackless in 12 starts last fall, but 12.5 of his 102 career tackles have come from behind the line.

(97) Chris Nelson, Soph. He was the only Longhorn to win the Big 12’s defensive player of the week award last season.

(55) Jordan Elliott, Fr. Had eight tackles over six games in 2016; an MCL injury cost him some playing time.

(94) Gerald Wilbon, Fr. Had only four tackles in his debut season, but played in nine games and started the season finale.

(98) D’Andre Christmas, Fr. Appeared in nine games last fall. Scooped up a fumble against Iowa State.

(96) Marcel Southall, Fr. He redshirted last season. Texas will get a former three-star talent once he’s added to the rotation.

(99) Chris Daniels, Fr. Another redshirt on the defensive front.

Overview: Is experience always a good thing? Many of these linemen played a part in giving up a lot of points in 2016. Texas did rank fifth nationally in sacks, though.

Texas’s #35 Edwin Freeman tries to bring down the Kansas ball carrier during the first half in Lawrence, Kansas on Saturday, November 19, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

LINEBACKERS (7)

Outside linebackers

(46) Malik Jefferson, Soph. An uneven 2016 — he was benched at one point — but still was second in sacks and third in tackles.

(45) Anthony Wheeler, Soph. Led the team with 65 tackles and forced two fumbles despite missing the Texas Tech game.

(41) Erick Fowler, Fr. Was quiet defensively in 2016, with only one tackle on his final stat sheet. Also played special teams.

(23) Jeffrey McCulloch, Fr. Played in all 12 games, and 17 of his 23 tackles were credited as solo stops.

Inside linebackers

(35) Edwin Freeman, Soph. His two interceptions are tied for the most among all returning defensive players.

(43) Cameron Townsend, Fr.* Redshirted in 2015, contributed mainly on special teams in 2016. Finished the season with 2 tackles.

(36) Demarco Boyd, Fr. He redshirted last fall. Was a four-time all-district selection at Gilmer High.

Overview: Like other positions, there are plenty of returning players to the linebackers corps. New defensive coordinator Todd Orlando must make those pieces fit this puzzle.

Texas safety Jason Hall (31) celebrates sacking the West Virginia quarterback in the third quarter at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

DEFENSIVE BACKS (12)

Cornerbacks

(25) Antwuan Davis, Jr. Has played in 31 career games. Was listed as the third-string nickel back for UT’s final 2016 game.

(2) Kris Boyd, Soph. The biggest play of his eight-start 2016 season was his game-sealing interception at Texas Tech.

(9) Davante Davis, Soph. Started the first four games of 2016 before giving way to Boyd. Finished the season with 15 tackles.

(24) John Bonney, Soph. He’s still looking for his first career pick, but did lead Texas with nine pass breakups last season.

(5) Holton Hill, Soph. Finished with 21 tackles. A lack of playing time after a strong 2015 became a topic of conversation.

(15) Chris Brown, Fr. Redshirted last season. Brown had eight interceptions over his final two seasons at Alief Elsik.

(26) Eric Cuffee, Fr. He redshirted last season, but the Waco star was an Under Armour All-American his senior year.

(27) Donovan Duvernay, Fr. A redshirt season separated him from his twin brother Devin, who caught three TDs as a receiver.

Safeties

(31) Jason Hall, Jr. With 28 career starts, the hard-hitting Hall is Texas’ most veteran defensive presence.

(11) P.J. Locke III, Soph. Shined last year as a nickel back, breaking up six passes and also finishing with two interceptions.

(4) Deshon Elliott, Soph. Had 30 tackles, but opened with a bang — a key, yet jarring, hit in the end zone against Notre Dame.

(19) Brandon Jones, Fr. Had 16 tackles, but made bigger waves with a pair of blocked punts, one of which led to a safety.

Overview: Texas’ to-do’s in the secondary are simple — find a new strong safety (both Dylan Haines and Kevin Vaccaro are gone) and improve against the pass (258.5 yards per game allowed in 2016).

Texas punter Michael Dickson punts in the second half against Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas Saturday October 8, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

SPECIAL TEAMS (2)

Kickers

(—) Josh Rowland, Jr. Out goes Trent Domingue, in comes Rowland, who earned JUCO All-American honors in 2015.

Punters

(13) Michael Dickson, Soph. The Ray Guy finalist had offseason hamstring surgery. He averaged a UT-record 47.4 yards per punt.

Davis’ overview: There should be little to worry about Dickson. The same can’t be said for UT’s kicking game, however, especially after last year’s problems. So all eyes will be on Rowland.

* redshirt freshman

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