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Texas 2013 season preview

Eric Gay / Associated Press
Jackson Jeffcoat, the son of former Cowboys and Bills player Jim Jeffcoat, has NFL pedigree.

Overview


Longhorns coach Mack Brown must be wondering if he has fallen into the "Twilight Zone" these days, placed under some curse or having touched some enchanted talisman that resulted in Texas trading places with former in-state rival Texas A&M. The Aggies were always the underachievers, looking up at the Longhorns basking in the national spotlight, racking up awards, winning 10 games or more every season as BCS title contenders.

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Now it is Johnny Football and Co. dominating on the field, the recruiting trail, in the draft and media talking points, putting Brown squarely under siege. Talent isn't the issue -- it never is, nor should it be, given the recruiting base in the Lone Star state -- but the idea that Texas has gone soft, which is a charge scouts and executives have been throwing out for years.

It seemed to be the case the past few seasons, especially with a defense that made every attempted tackle an adventure. The pieces are there for a major bounce-back season in an uncertain Big 12, but another disappointing campaign could mark the end for Brown.

Top senior prospects


DE Jackson Jeffcoat: Jeffcoat is a pure pass rusher with explosive traits, but is so focused on getting to the quarterback that he can be exploited badly in the run game. He plays almost exclusively from a two-point stance, intended to maximize his get-off. Jeffcoat suffered a torn pectoral muscle that scuttled the second half of his junior season. His father Jim played in the NFL for 15 years with the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills, so the bloodlines are intriguing. He must be stronger and more assertive against the run to avoid being typecast as being limited only to obvious passing downs.

WR Mike Davis: Davis has speed to burn and uses it to do just that to opposing defensive backs, averaging 16.5 yards per catch with seven touchdowns last season. He isn't creative with his hands or routes, instead relying on his acceleration to simply get past defenders or around them after the catch. Davis recently had surgery to fix a hernia and will be limited for fall camp. He needs to show he is more than a one-trick pony, but what a trick it is.

OG Trey Hopkins: Hopkins has the traits to be a dominant all-around lineman, but must show more power on run plays that don't highlight his athleticism. He moves extremely well when pulling and on screens. Hopkins has started 16 games at left guard and 13 at right tackle in his career. Teams that value footwork will be intrigued.

OT Donald Hawkins: Hawkins is a junior college transfer who immediately bolstered the blindside protection for the Longhorns, starting 12 games at left tackle as sacks dropped from 2.15 per game in 2011 (73rd in the nation) to 1.23 per game last season (22nd in the nation). However, Hawkins was worked over by TCU freshman Devonte Fields, the best defensive end in the conference. With a season of experience under his belt, Hawkins should show major strides.

Top underclassmen


CB Quandre Diggs: Diggs is a complete corner with a nasty disposition, good technique as a tackler and solid ball skills. He even has shown flashes in limited action on punt and kick returns. But with Texas listing him at 5-foot-10, the defining factor for his NFL prospects could be a tape measure. If the Longhorns are fudging by an inch or two, it could torpedo Diggs' stock as NFL teams increasingly demand size to try to contain receivers such as A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Calvin Johnson.

DT Malcolm Brown: One of the top defensive linemen recruits in the nation, Brown became a bigger part of Texas' defensive front over the course of his first season in Austin. He finished with 25 tackles and two tackles for loss, but has the tools to become a known entity by the end of 2013. His quickness on the inside should provide a lift for a defense that compiled a lot of negative plays (35 sacks, 119 tackles for loss), but didn't deliver impactful plays.

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Three must-see games of 2013


Sept. 7 at BYU: Consider it a testament to the state of Longhorns football that the home team has the top two talents in this game -- outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy and wide receiver Cody Hoffman. Asking Diggs to shadow Hoffman -- who had 39 percent of the Cougars' receiving yards in 2012 -- all over the field would seem like a logical assignment, while Hawkins must keep Van Noy at bay.

Oct. 12 vs. Oklahoma (in Dallas): With the offense totally smothered in the Red River Shootout, Davis was the only Longhorns receiver with more than three receptions or 39 yards last season. Davis, who caught a garbage-time touchdown in a 63-21 throttling at the hands of the Sooners, must be that main target for the aerial attack or, at worst, occupy corner Aaron Colvin's attention to free things up elsewhere.

Dec. 7 at Baylor: Baylor offensive guard Cyril Richardson is just unreal -- a 6-foot-5, 335-pound human should not be able to move the way he does. If Brown is really capable of being an elite player, he can show it here by forcing Richardson to move backward at least a couple of times.

Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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