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FROM THE STANDS: Spring Break Down – The Linebackers

During the broadcast of the Texas/Oklahoma State game on Sunday, Craig Way mentioned that Augie Garrido said over the weekend that he “…wanted to be the team with the worst record in history to win the National Championship.” They sure set themselves up to just that, didn’t they?

I am not saying they will do that, but they gave themselves a chance with their red-hot performance over the weekend in the Big 12 Tournament. How hot were they? Check this out:

– Texas went 4-0 for the first time ever in Big 12 play.

– Texas won four games in a row for the first time since Mid-March.

– With the win over Baylor in the season finale, it makes five straight, which Texas hasn’t done since mid-February.

– Texas had complete games from their starting pitchers in games one and two, which were the first two complete games of the season.

– The six runs allowed in the Big 12 Tournament are the fewest ever allowed in Big 12 Tourney history.

Texas is 5-0 in Tournament Championship Games and looked like very much like the Texas Longhorns we thought we’d see all season with stellar pitching, terrific defense and clutch hitting. I am being far too kind and dramatic with the “clutch hitting” because the offense still bogged down way too often, but there were two-out, RBI hits that were not there a week ago, so that’s a thing.

The Longhorns are off to Dallas as the No.3 seed where they will play the No.2 seed Oregon State Beavers. Dallas Baptist is the host, and they are very, very good. The Patriots are a solid team and Oregon State has rings. And it’s no coincidence that the committee put Texas and VCU in the same regional, fresh off the Shaka Smart move to Austin. I like Texas’ chances to be honest. They aren’t the best hitting team in the regional, but they have the most experience of all three teams and, no offense to Dallas Baptist, the crowd will have a decidedly burnt orange twist to it. Texas has their issues, but they are RED HOT and confidence is literally spilling out of that pot they have in the dugout. So why not? The Horns beat DBU to advance to Coral Cables to play the Miami Hurricanes.

On to the footballing. Let’s continue the spring breakdown of the 2015 Texas Longhorns as we take a look at the linebackers.

Spring break down- The Linebackers

There is not a single position that is more intriguing on the defense than the linebacker spot. There is so much talent and so much potential that it’s not even funny. NOT. EVEN. FUNNY. I am very excited about the future of the Horns LB corps. Let’s take a look at who the players are:

The Incumbents- Peter Jinkens (Sr), Dalton Santos (Sr), Tim Cole (Jr)

The Contenders- Edwin Freeman (RFr)

The Incoming- Cecil Cherry (Fr), Anthony Wheeler (Fr), Malik Jefferson (Fr), Cameron Townsend (Fr), Breckyn Hager (Fr)

Texas lost their two most experienced linebackers in Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond and have a monster void to fill in the experience department going into 2015. That’s the bad news. The good news is the talent that Texas will roll out there this fall is just sick. The mix of young and old and the depth coming in make the linebacking unit a very dangerous unit going forward- but outside of two (and a half) players there is no real experience.

Those two players with experience are Peter Jinkens and Dalton Santos. Out for the spring with a nasty ankle injury, Dalton Santos should be back for the fall. I say “should be” because there were reports that Santos’ injury was as bad as Dominic Espinosa’s last year, but there are more reports that say he should be back this fall. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound senior is dynamite on special teams and against the run and worked very hard through the off-season to get leaner and improve his coverage skills. He was having a really good spring before he went down and, should he return, he brings a lot of leadership and experience to the field. I don’t think he’s the best linebacker in the Big 12, but he has terrific physical skills and is excellent against the run. A healthy Dalton Santos is probably the starter inside in the opener, and that’s a good thing for Texas. The other returning starter is Peter Jinkens, the 6-foot-1, 236-pound senior. I remember his breakout game against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl in 2011. He was fast, active, aggressive and made plays. He struggled some the last two seasons, but he had a good spring. The reason I say “two and a half” players with experience is Tim Cole. The 6-foot-1, 239-pound junior has two letters and has played in 20 games with one start, but he’s been the backup most of his career. I don’t think he’s blessed with the athletic skills that some others on the roster have, but he his fiery and intense. If you hear of a fight between the offense and the defense in practice, it’s a safe bet he’s right in the middle of it. He plays to the echo of the whistle and offensive players don’t like that. He’s tough, physical and strong and he’s the enforcer of the unit. I think you’ll see him play quite a bit, but I don’t know how much of it is as the starter. I think Texas would be fine with those three guys as their linebackers. Santos and Jinkens are seasoned vets and have both played a very high level and Tim Cole is coming along nicely; however, the reason I’m so excited about this unit is the guys yet to play a game.

The base package for Texas on defense will likely be a 4-2-5, meaning only two linebackers on the field. In the spring game you saw the future of the linebackers in the 4-2-5 set with Edwin Freeman and Malik Jefferson. Freeman redshirted in 2015 after coming to Texas a 4-star safety. He spent last fall adding weight and spinning down to linebacker and hit spring ball at 6-foot-1, 238 pounds. He’s big, physical and very athletic, losing little if any of his secondary speed. He reminds me a lot of Peter Jinkens in that 2011 Alamo Bowl, but much bigger than he Jinkens was then. He’s going to be a star on this team and could have a breakout season as offenses will have to account for the second lb, Malik Jefferson. The 5-star lb out of Mesquite that enrolled early to go through spring has been compared to Derrick Johnson because of his size (6-foot-3, 217 pounds), his speed and his playmaking ability. He just has this burst that most players don’t. He’s going to make some freshman mistakes, but he’ll learn from them and grow. I think he’s your starter at Notre Dame and I can almost guarantee you they (‘they” being the staff in South Bend, Indiana) already know about No.46 and will be aware of where he lines up all the time. That should open some doors for Freeman. These two are special because they have great size and quickness, meaning they can drop down and rush the passer like an end, or drop back into coverage over the middle, or any number of things Vance Bedford wants to do. I can’t wait to see them on the field.

And I can’t what for the other kids to get to town. Cecil Cherry is the heir apparent to the middle linebacker spot and if Dalton Santos isn’t healthy or struggles, Cherry might be the mike this fall. At 6-feet, 235 pounds, he’s the prototype at middle linebacker. The guys oozes attitude and bleeds burnt orange and will leave it all on the field. And he’s pretty good as well. Anthony Wheeler is the other lb that is coming in looking for time immediately. At 6-foot-2, 216 pounds, the former sooner commit is similar in game, physique and style to Malik Jefferson. I don’t think he’s as polished as Jefferson, but that’s not a knock at all. He’s an elite linebacker that, along with Cherry, I see cracking the two-deep as the backup this fall. He’s also going to be a monster on special teams. I think Cameron Townsend will redshirt to add some size to his 206-pound frame, but he’s as quick off the edge at Texas as he was in high school he could find a role as a pass rusher. Breckyn Hager, son of Brett, is probably not a linebacker at this level. I expect he’ll redshirt this fall and spin down to defensive end, but that’s not set in stone. Each of the incoming guys could win a job this fall because they are (almost) all that good and ready to play.

But two are just at another level at this point to me- Ed Freeman and Malik Jefferson. I think when Texas goes traditional and has three linebackers out there, you’ll see Dalton Santos and Cecil Cherry, but the base is going to be those two, who can move around and do different things without changing the personnel on the field.


I know it’s still over three months away and lots of things can happen, but I have a feeling that everyone will know about Freeman and Jefferson after that Notre Dame game. Texas seems set at the lb spot going forward.

Back next week with the secondary and baseball. Hopefully good baseball.

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