A couple weeks ago I told you about the offensive players to look for to have a breakout season in 2017. Honestly, I’m not too worried about the offense this year under Tom Herman, but I do have plenty of concerns about the defense.
The sad thing is the defense won’t have to improve much to be light years better than they’ve been the last two years. But if Texas is going to get back to playing a championship level of defense this year, these are the guys who need to have a breakout year.
Locke showed glimpses of being a star in the defensive backfield last year. And by all accounts, Herman loves the guy for what he does on and off the field. He’s simply a ball-hawk, and now he’s supposedly taking a leadership role. With a defense severely lacking leadership the last several years, Locke’s name must be called a lot this year if the defense will be greatly improved.
Naashon Hughes is the only senior on my list. He’s always been a guy with great potential in my eyes, but just lacks confidence and consistency. He looked like a force at first under Charlie Strong, but then took steps backward the last couple of years. If Herman puts Hughes in a spot where he can succeed, I expect him to have a great year. As of now, I don’t see Hughes being a guy that gets drafted in next year’s NFL draft, but Herman could change that for him.
Omenihu was one of the prized recruits in Strong’s first full recruiting class. He’s a monster defensive end from a size perspective, but we just haven’t seen a lot from him from a physicality standpoint. With Malcolm Roach likely garnering more double teams, the door could be open for Omenihu to have a big year. With the defensive line potentially being one of the strongest units on the defensive side of the ball, Omenihu may not be the only breakout player. But based on his talent and skills, and the fact that he’s underwhelmed fans under Strong, I feel like he’s ready to breakout.
Holton Hill/Davante Davis/Kris Boyd
I’m throwing all three of these guys together because they are all in the defensive backfield and any one of them could be a big-time contributor. Boyd saw the most action last year, but Hill and Davis are widely believed to have more talent. The problem with Hill and Davis last year was their confidence level. NFL scouts believe all three of them could play in the league in a couple years, but they will have to show more in college. With Herman’s ability to instill confidence in his players, it wouldn’t surprise me if all three of these guys make significant contributions in 2017. And if they do, this defense could be a force for even the best Big 12 offenses.
Not named on my list that most Texas fans were probably looking for is Malik Jefferson. I intentionally omitted him because I really don’t know what to make of his situation. He was the top recruit in the 2015 class, had a great freshman year, but ended up benched the second half of the 2016 season.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Jefferson had a breakout year, but at this point I think the Texas defense has other issues to worry about. Jefferson is one of the most athletic players on the field no matter who Texas plays against, but he doesn’t have the strength to get off blocks most of the time. I’m just not sure if he can put on enough of that strength in one offseason to make a huge jump.
Defense could be the difference between winning six games and ten games for the Longhorns in 2017. If these players have the big breakout years that I’m hoping for, then Texas could be closer to ten wins when it’s all said and done.
E-mail Chase at chase [dot] holik [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.