Demarco Cobbs

After two straight seasons being sidelined with injuries, redshirt senior linebacker Jordan Hicks is ready to return to his role as a defensive leader on the team. Hicks is set to lead his squad as one of Texas' most experienced players this season under new head coach Charlie Strong.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

There is no Longhorn position group as interesting as Texas’ linebacking corps.

From fifth-year senior starters to some of the lesser-known reserves, each linebacker has an interesting story to tell.

There’s junior Dalton Santos, who didn’t play much in his first two years on campus but made national headlines this spring when his Twitter plea went viral. Santos sent out a tweet in April to try to raise money for his mother, who didn’t have health insurance and needed open heart surgery to fix an aortic aneurysm. The fundraiser quickly spread across the country and wound up raising $66,000 to help pay for the operation. The surgery went as planned, and Santos’ mother, Vista, is doing well.

Or, how about senior Steve Edmond, who has flown under the radar in his first three years at Texas, despite having started 22 games and recording 192 tackles over that span? Edmond, a Daingerfield native, nearly had his senior season shortened before it even started after he and fellow linebacker Jordan Hicks faced possible suspensions stemming from a meal that had been paid for by an agent. In the end, Edmond was cleared by the NCAA and won’t miss any time this season. He opened the year with five tackles against North Texas.

Fifth-year senior linebacker Demarco Cobbs has started just six games since arriving at Texas in 2010. Cobbs, a Tulsa native, played sparingly as a reserve and on special teams in his first three years as a Longhorn, before missing all of last season with a knee injury. Cobbs is a backup again this year but made the biggest play of his lengthy career Saturday, recording his first ever interception and taking it to the house for a defensive touchdown.

“Demarco [Cobbs] and I sat and talked about this night for a long time,” said Hicks, who has roomed with Cobbs since they were freshmen. “Coming off of injuries — both of us — we’re both very blessed to be in the situation that we’re in.”

But of all the “backers,” as they like to be called, Hicks has had the wildest ride at Texas. Coming out of high school, Hicks, a product of Cincinnati, was ranked as the best linebacker and fourth-best recruit overall by ESPN. After an underwhelming freshman campaign, Hicks hit his stride in his sophomore season, but then the injury bug got him. He earned a medical redshirt after missing 10 games in 2012, but 2013 was hardly any better, as he continued to be plagued by injuries and missed nine more contests. 

In the middle of all that, Hicks was accused of sexual assault after he allegedly had non-consensual sex with a 21-year-old woman at a San Antonio hotel prior to the 2012 Valero Alamo Bowl. Charges were never filed, and the case was closed by the San Antonio Police Department a couple weeks later.

Hicks enters his fifth season at Texas, looking to write a storybook ending to what has been an eventful collegiate career. He’s well on his way to doing just that after recording eight tackles and his first career interception against North Texas.

“It’s an awesome feeling,” Hicks said. “It’s just awesome to be able to be back out on the field with everybody and be able to play. Playing the game — it feels like it’s been forever.”

Their stories are all different, but finally together and healthy, Texas’ veteran linebackers appear poised to be a strong unit.

Adrian Phillips calls out the defensive alignment against UCLA in the LonghornsÂ’ 49-20 win on Sept. 17. The sophomore cornerback is one of a handful of Texas defensive backs with NFL potential.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Saturday isn’t the only time to watch Texas defensive backs in action. They also shine on Sundays.

The Longhorns have 47 players on NFL rosters, the most of any program in the nation. And 10 of those players are defensive backs, all tutored by secondary coach Duane Akina. There’s a reason Texas is known as “DBU.”

Akina has another boatload of pro prospects at his disposal this season, even after three were selected in last April’s NFL Draft.

Sophomore cornerbacks Adrian Phillips, Carrington Byndom and freshman Quandre Diggs have filled the void left by Aaron Williams, Chykie Brown and Curtis Brown. And this trio will join their DBU brethren in the NFL sooner rather than later.

“We’ve got some playmakers back there,” Akina said. “We guessed right on them.”

Byndom and Phillips played primarily on special teams in 2010 but understood their time would arrive this season. And they’ve taken advantage of every moment, combining for three interceptions in four games.

“I had to come in and do a good job of taking the role from the guys who left last year,” Byndom said. “Knowing I was going to enter this season as a starter after splitting reps last year made me step it up.”

Of course, it helps to have ten NFL players to learn from, including Diggs’ older brother and San Diego Charger, Quentin Jammer.

“Those guys were great mentors to me,” Byndom said. “They taught me a lot, all the little details, things that people had helped them with.”

This week, the Longhorns secondary will face its toughest challenge yet against Oklahoma’s high-powered offense. Indirectly, they’ll go against the Sooners defensive backs, a unit that refers to itself as “The Sharks.” So what does the Texas bunch call itself?

“We just go by the fact that DBs are the moneymakers; we make the money,” Phillips said. “It’s DBU, we have to keep the tradition alive.”

Texas has two players who chose the “Moneymakers” over the “Sharks.” Freshman Josh Turner and sophomore Demarco Cobbs were the No. 1 recruits in Oklahoma the last two years, but both committed to UT over OU. And for good reason.

“Josh was well aware of our secondary tradition here, and that was very appealing to him,” Akina said. “Josh really knew a lot about us, knew about Aaron Ross and Michael Huff and had followed us closely.”

While Cobbs has since transitioned to linebacker, he was instrumental in prying Turner from the Sooner state.

“Demarco had a real positive experience here,” Akina said. “Our players are the ones that recruit for us.”

Ross and Huff were teammates on the 2005 National Championship team, and both were first-round picks. When Akina scans the practice field these days, he sees several players who will earn NFL paychecks in the near future. That’s why he stresses versatility when evaluating recruits, noting that pro teams value prospects that can play multiple positions.

“That’s what we’re constantly looking for,” he said.

Phillips epitomizes all that Akina covets. He’s already started at corner, split time at safety and excelled as a nickel back — all this from a first-year starter.

This group is young but poised. No corner has started more than four games in his career, but they all play the part of a wily veteran.

“Even though we’re young, we don’t worry about age at all,” Phillips said. “If you can play, you can play, and that’s all that matters with Coach Akina.”

This group can certainly play — on Sundays.

Printed on October 6, 2011 as: NFL prospects roam secondary

Football Notebook

Senior safety Christian Scott injured his wrist in his first game this season. Scott was suspended the first three games of the year. (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Caleb Bryant Miller | Daily Texan Staff

Safety out indefinitely

Frustrating season continues for Scott.

Christian Scott’s senior campaign isn’t going the way Texas had hoped.

The safety injured his right wrist against Iowa State and will be out indefinitely, head football athletic trainer Kenny Boyd said.

Scott was suspended for the first three games of the season after being charged with misdemeanor assault this summer. He’ll watch the Oklahoma game from a familiar spot — the sidelines.

Scott saw early action against the Cyclones and registered a quarterback hurry in the first half. But just when it looked like things were finally going his way, his injury occurred.

Without Scott, the Longhorns’ depth in the defensive backfield will be tested against the Sooners’ pass-heavy attack. Last week, junior safety Nolan Brewster was forced to quit football because of concussion symptoms, leaving Texas with a pair of freshmen as backup safeties.

“It puts us back in a situation where we’re very thin in the secondary,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “We get to freshmen fast. I feel bad for Christian, but it’s a stress to us.”

Mykkele Thompson and Sheroid Evans will back up starters Blake Gideon and Kenny Vaccaro against No. 3 Oklahoma. Gideon, though, expects the youngsters to fill the void right away.

“They’ve come to all the same meetings and been at all practices,” the senior said. “We’re five games into the season. By now they need to be able to have a good understanding of our defense. There’s really no reason why somebody else shouldn’t be able to step up and do their job.”

Sophomore cornerback Adrian Phillips can also fill in at safety.

Cobbs ready to make season debut

Demarco Cobbs couldn’t have timed his return any better.

The sophomore linebacker will play this week for the first time in 2011 after missing the first four games with a broken right forearm. Cobbs provides the Longhorns with some much-needed depth at linebacker with starter Jordan Hicks nursing a sore right hamstring.

Cobbs was the No. 1 recruit in Oklahoma two years ago at Tulsa Central, but turned down the Sooners to play for Texas.

He appeared in all 12 games last season on special teams and as a defensive back. During spring practice, though, Cobbs made the switch to linebacker.

Cobbs should see a good amount of playing time this week against Oklahoma’s high-octane offense. He played quarterback, tailback, wide receiver and safety as a high school athlete and is one of the Longhorns’ most versatile linebackers. That will come in handy against a Sooners team that plays at a blistering pace.

“Demarco brings us great speed and athleticism,” Diaz said. “Demarco is a runner and a hitter, you can never have enough of those on defense. With some of the packages that we like putting together where we can flood the field with speed, Demarco is the guy. Going against spread offenses that are going to throw a lot of screens out on the perimeter, it’s nice to have a guy that can play in space.”

Offense needs to finish drives

The Longhorns got away with a poor second half offensively against Iowa State last week.

On Saturday, Texas can’t afford to waste productive drives against Oklahoma. While Missouri racked up 532 yards against the Sooners on Sept. 24, the Tigers couldn’t capitalize and lost, 38-28.

The Sooners will give up yards, they’re 40th in the country in total defense with 348 yards per game. On the other hand, points have been hard to come by against the OU defense, which allows 15.3 points per game, good for 14th in the nation.

“You have to put points on the board, you can’t leave points out there,” said senior running back Fozzy Whittaker. “That’s one thing we were frustrated by in the second half against Iowa State. We put up yards and we put drives together, but we didn’t put any points up.”

The Longhorns will need to extend drives with third-down conversions this week after converting just four of 15 against the Cyclones. Senior running back Cody Johnson was stopped short on a fourth-and-one play in the red zone against Iowa State, just the type of missed opportunity that could come back to haunt Texas in a game like Saturday’s.

“We need to be better on fourth down and short yardage situations,” Whittaker said.  

Printed on Wednesday, October 5, 2011 as: Scott's frustrating year continues Cobb's return timely for defense