For Texas football to be a contender in the Big 12 in 2018, a few players need to prove themselves on the Longhorns’ defense.
We’re still a few months out from the start of the 2018 campaign for Texas football, but fall camp should be here before we know it. When fall camp comes around, there’s a few Longhorns that fans know will step up this season, but a few that also have something left to be desired. The Texas defense played well in the spring game, and impressed at times in spring camp.
Furthermore, the Horns look to be solid at all levels of the defense, as long as that side of the ball can recover from some key losses. Namely, Texas has to make up for the losses of outside linebacker Malik Jefferson, defensive tackle Poona Ford, cornerback Holton Hill, and safety DeShon Elliott. Jefferson was the leader for the Texas defense the last couple years, Ford the reigning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year, and Elliott a 2017 All-American.
Losing those three guys especially could hurt the Horns. However, the secondary, which had some of the biggest losses of any area of the defense, was solid in the spring game. Texas head football coach Tom Herman also brought in a great recruiting class with three extremely talented early enrollees in five-star safety Caden Sterns (No. 1 at his position in the nation), five-star safety B.J. Foster, and four-star cornerback Anthony Cook.
In fact, three of the top four rated early enrollees in the 2018 recruiting class were those three defensive backs. That should inject a ton of immediate help and depth in the defensive backfield for the Horns. Meanwhile, Texas also has to-be seniors in Kris Boyd and P.J. Locke III to lead the entire secondary.
The secondary shouldn’t have too much to prove this year, given the depth and talent available with both the cornerbacks and the safeties. Meanwhile, the linebackers could be a different story. With the departures of both Jefferson and Naashon Hughes (signed as an undrafted free agent in the NFL), Texas needs to find some answers. Rising junior Jeffrey McCulloch had a breakout spring camp, and could be a key starter for the Horns.
A former JUCO transfer in linebacker Gary Johnson will have a big role to step into this year. He had a solid 2017 campaign, with six tackles for loss, two sacks, and more than 50 total tackles. However, with Jefferson and Hughes gone, Johnson needs to produce at a higher level this season alongside McCulloch and senior Anthony Wheeler.
The situation with Johnson is not that he wasn’t able to completely prove his worth to the Texas coaching staff last year. Johnson also had a nasty injury incurred against the Kansas Jayhawks that caused him to miss some time. Overall, he’ll just have a bigger spotlight on him this year, which means that he needs to make a bigger impact under the direction of defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. Reaching that mark of around 70-85 total tackles and four or five sacks would be ideal for Johnson in 2018.