Big 12: Aaron Lewis

Texas' Lamarr Houston finally at home in the trenches

July, 2, 2009
7/02/09
11:32
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The rest of the Big 12 should consider themselves warned. Lamarr Houston is finally feeling comfortable at defensive tackle.

After playing defensive end earlier in his college career, Houston moved inside last season to help fill a hole for Texas. A foot injury and his new surroundings kept him from really ever thriving at the new position last season.

 
  Brian Bahr/Getty Images
  Texas' Lamarr Houston should show improvement in his second season at defensive tackle.
But that will all change as Houston begins his second season at defensive tackle when training camp starts for the Longhorns.

"It's a completely different position from defensive end," Houston said. "The contact coming on you is so much faster and it's on every play. It comes immediately after the ball is snapped. You have to get used to that."

Houston has worked on boxing techniques to get ready for the hand-to-hand combat inside in the trenches. After a year of playing experience, he finally feels ready to blossom in his senior season.

"Obviously, playing defensive tackle is totally different from what I was used to," Houston said. "It was quite an adjustment mentally for me. But I got over it plenty fast and feel like I'm coming along in learning my position."

Houston's on-the-field development, as well as his leadership, will be critical for a Texas defensive line that is judged as one of the team's primary question marks.

The defensive front loses key performers from last season's unit like Roy Miller, Brian Orakpo, Henry Melton and Aaron Lewis. That group that led the nation in sacks and ranked third nationally in rush defense.

"It's always hard to replace those guys like Orakpo, Miller and Melton," Houston said. "But we recruit so that our tradition never really graduates."

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The Big 12's greenest units

March, 17, 2009
3/17/09
1:37
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Every team is green someplace. Here are the specific areas of the most inexperience for each Big 12 team.

Baylor offensive tackle: The Bears need to break in two new starters after losing Jason Smith and Dan Gay.

Colorado defensive line: Help is needed along the defensive front where the Buffaloes lose starting defensive end Maurice Lucas, starting defensive tackle George Hypolite and starting nose tackle Brandon Nicolas.

Iowa State defensive line: Coach Paul Rhoads desperately wants somebody to emerge on the defensive line where the Cyclones lose starting defensive tackle Michael Tate, starting defensive end Kurtis Taylor and top backup defensive back Travis Ferguson.

Kansas linebackers: Even as Mark Mangino is contemplating going to a two-linebacker base defense because of the Big 12's spread offenses, he still needs to find those two players. The Jayhawks lose starters James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen at the position from last season.

Kansas State quarterback: Josh Freeman departed for the NFL early, leaving Carson Coffman and junior college transfer Daniel Thomas to compete for the starting job. It's not a pleasant introduction back to football for returning KSU coach Bill Snyder.

Missouri skill-position players: The Tigers need a quick infusion of playmakers after losing quarterback Chase Daniel, wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin and tight end Chase Coffman. All of them arguably were the greatest players at their respective positions in Missouri history. Blake Gabbert will receive first look at quarterback and Andrew Jones will work at tight end. It could take several players to fill in for what Maclin did.

Nebraska quarterback: It will be tough for the Cornhuskers to replace all that Joe Ganz did for them, both as a playmaker and a leader at quarterback. Zac Lee will get the first shot, along with freshman Cody Green and redshirt freshman Kody Spano. Maybe the Cornhuskers really could use former Miami quarterback Robert Marve next season.

Oklahoma offensive line: The departure of starting center Jon Cooper, tackle Phil Loadholt and guards Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker means that Sam Bradford will have an inexperienced group protecting him next season. Trent Williams moves to left tackle and Bob Stoops likes his incoming talent, if not its early work habits.

Oklahoma State defensive tackles: The Cowboys ranked last in the conference in sacks last season and lost starting defensive tackles Tonga Tea and Jeray Chatham. It will mean that new defensive coordinator Bill Young will need somebody to step up in the trenches to help shore up that weakness.

Texas defensive line: The major question dogging the Longhorns' national title hopes will be rebuilding a defensive front that loses All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo, defensive tackle Roy Miller, defensive tackle Aaron Lewis and defensive end Henry Melton from last season.

Texas Tech offensive line: New quarterback Taylor Potts will be relying on a retooled offensive line protecting his blind side after left tackle Rylan Reed, left guard Louis Vasquez and center Stephen Hamby all departed from last year.

Texas A&M running backs: The Aggies' offensive backfield will need to restock players: Michael Goodson left school early to declare for the NFL draft and fullbacks Jorvorskie Lane and Nick LaMantia are gone. Look for Cyrus Gray to get most of the work this spring with heralded freshman Bradley Stephens arriving in the summer.

NFL snub inspires Kindle in his changing role

March, 2, 2009
3/02/09
8:34
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

AUSTIN, Texas -- The reports assuredly weren't what Sergio Kindle wanted to read.

 
  Marc Piscotty/Icon SMI
  Sergio Kindle has high expectations for the 2009 season.

So when the stark prognosis from NFL evaluators came back about what Kindle's draft prospects would be if he declared early, the Texas defensive standout didn't waste much time with the rest.

"After they said I was a second- or third-round choice, I didn't even bother reading all of it," Kindle said. "I saw that and threw it away. I said, 'OK, I'm coming back.'"

If Kindle has a dramatic senior season that drastically improves his stock for the 2010 NFL draft, that balled-up NFL scouting evaluation might be the biggest piece of inspiration that got him there.

Texas coaches are using Kindle as a down lineman this spring after alternating as a defensive lineman and linebacker last season. His development as the team's major playmaker along the defensive front will be critical in settling one of the Longhorns' critical lingering questions in their hopes of challenging for the Big 12 championship.

In his first season as a starter in 2008, Kindle produced 10 sacks and ranked fifth on the team with 53 tackles.

Such a performance was remarkable considering that Kindle barely had a chance to work at defensive end before the season started. He missed last spring recovering from knee surgery and was moved to his new position for some snaps by Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp shortly before the season started.

"We weren't really fair to him last year putting him at a new position without repping it enough in the situations we put him in at defensive end," Muschamp said. "We really didn't know what we had until we were rolling in fall camp. We need to get ready to play by getting guys comfortable with what they are going to do."

(Read full post)

Texas recruiting needs

January, 20, 2009
1/20/09
2:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Mack Brown has earned the reputation as one of the game's master recruiters as he has developed a program that has run off 10 straight victories over the past eight consecutive seasons.

The Longhorns have a few holes to fill from this season's 12-1 team that claimed the Fiesta Bowl but was disappointed in its hopes to have a shot at the BCS title by a last-second loss at Texas Tech.

The most pressing need will be along the defensive front as starters Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller, Henry Melton and part-time starter Aaron Lewis all will leave from a unit that led the nation with 47 sacks last season. Don't be surprised if linebacker Sergio Kindle moves to defensive end to help fill the talent gap for next season.

More talent for the future could be used at linebacker where both projected starters Jared Norton and Roddrick Muckelroy will be seniors next season. The secondary appears set with eight players in the playing rotation who were either sophomores or freshmen last season, including both starting safeties in Earl Thomas and Blake Gideon.

With Colt McCoy set for his senior season, finding depth at quarterback is an immediate goal. Heralded prospect Garrett Gilbert will likely redshirt in order to prepare for the battle to replace McCoy in 2010.

The Longhorns lose only Cedric Dockery as a starter along the offense line and appear stacked with talented players lined up for playing time. Center Chris Hall, guard Charlie Tanner and tackle Adam Ulatoski all will be seniors next season, giving impetus to finding more depth across the line.

Redshirt freshman Tre Newton appears poised for a battle for playing time at running back, where the lack of a breakaway threat remains a concern. Vondrell McGee has struggled in the featured role and Fozzy Whittaker has been injury-prone.

The need isn't quite as pressing at wide receiver. The development of youngsters like Malcolm Williams, James Kirkendoll, Brandon Collins and Dan Buckner have the Longhorns apparently set for the loss of Quan Cosby and the eventual departure of Jordan Shipley after the 2009 season.

Big 12 weekly helmet stickers

November, 30, 2008
11/30/08
5:39
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

There were several worthy candidates who almost were able to share in the largesse of a helmet sticker. Here are the players I thought were most deserving in this week's games.

Texas' defensive line -- I can't separate the sticker from any of the key contributors -- defensive ends Henry Melton and Brian Orakpo and defensive tackles Roy Miller and Aaron Lewis and key backups Sam Acho and Lamarr Houston. The line helped stifle Texas A&M's running game, limiting the Aggies to minus-24 yards rushing. And it contributed four of the Longhorns' six sacks and also forced and recovered a fumble, produced 11 quarterback hurries and broke-up two passes in the Longhorns' convincing 49-9 victory over the Aggies.

Nebraska kicker Alex Henery -- Produced a school-record 57-yard field goal for the game-winning points of the Cornhuskers' 40-31 triumph over Colorado. Henery drilled four field goals in the game with successful kicks of 35, 27 and 37 yards in addition to his game-winner with 1:43 left in the game.

Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing and wide receiver Kerry Meier -- This should be a shared award, considering the duo's big game in the Jayhawks' 40-37 triumph capped by a 26-yard TD pass from Reesing to Meier with 27 seconds left. Reesing finished with 375 passing yards and four touchdowns. And Meier produced a career-best 14 receptions for 106 yards, including touchdown grabs of 26 and 8 yards -- both in the final 4:26 of the game to key the comeback victory.

Kansas safety Darrell Stuckey -- Produced two interceptions, forced and recovered a fumble and matched the team lead with six tackles in the Jayhawks' triumph over Missouri.

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford -- Blistered Oklahoma State's secondary for 370 yards and four touchdown passes and rushed for another touchdown to lead the Sooners' 61-41 victory over the Cowboys. Bradford misfired on his first four passes, but rebounded to help the Sooners convert nine consecutive third-down plays at one point of the game. He also became the Sooners' single-season passing yardage record holder and set the school record for most career touchdown passes during the game.

OU offensive line hopes to return to form

October, 8, 2008
10/08/08
11:51
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma offensive linemen remember their struggles two weeks ago against TCU with a mixture of embarrassment and disgust.

 
 J.P Wilson/Icon SMI
 Oklahoma's offensive line will have its hands full with Texas on Saturday.

The Sooners' talented and experienced offensive line was counted as one of the team's biggest strengths and perhaps the best collective group in the country. But it still didn't explain a clunker that saw it produce only 25 rushing yards and allow four sacks against the Horned Frogs.

"They had a good scheme and just outworked us," Oklahoma guard Brandon Walker said. "There's not much more than you can say about it than that. We didn't feel good about it and I can assure you we heard about it the whole next week."

Fortunately for the Sooners, Sam Bradford's passing skills enabled them to blister the Horned Frogs with a 35-10 victory that day that boosted them to the No. 1 position in the national polls.

But it still doesn't give them much solace as they prepare for Saturday's game against Texas, which is judged to be one of the nation's top defensive lines. Saturday's game at the Cotton Bowl should be the most significant challenge in the trenches this season for the Sooners.

The Longhorns lead the nation in sacks and lead the Big 12 and are third nationally in rush defense. Senior defensive end Brian Orakpo has played like an All-American during his first five games, ranking third nationally in average sacks per game (1.1 spg).

Orakpo is capably supported by mammoth 295-pound senior nose tackle Roy Miller, converted running back Henry Melton at defensive end and Lamarr Houston and Aaron Lewis who share time at the other defensive tackle slot.

"They are a really talented front with a great combination of speed and power," Walker said. "But we see a fast defense play every day. This will be like going through our practices. It's a great challenge and one that both teams have been looking forward to for a long time."

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Big 12 morning links: Gooey treats in store this weekend

September, 2, 2008
9/02/08
8:37
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Teams and coaches were back at work Monday for perhaps the least-inspiring schedule of games in Big 12 history. Conference teams will play only one opponent from a BCS-affiliated conference when Oklahoma meets Cincinnati. Other than that, it's time for a visit to the pastry wagon for most schools.

As such, dive in and enjoy these tasty morning links.

  • Want the best indication of how the attitude has changed around the Missouri program? The Topeka Capital-Journal's Kevin Haskin details how the Tigers won by 10 points against Illinois and still were disappointed.
  • Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Lutz is alarmed by Kansas' running-game struggles and how many passes QB Todd Reesing had to throw to beat Florida International.
  • The cancellation of New Mexico State's game against Nicholls State this week means that the Aggies will open the season Sept. 13 at Nebraska.
  • The Omaha World Herald's Lee Barfknecht bemoans a weak slate of Big 12 games this week where four Big 12 teams will play Football Championship Subdivision teams.
  • Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald writes the biggest difference he could detect in Nebraska's defense was that they were playing harder and faster. But LB Cody Glenn, who led the team with 12 tackles and broke up three passes, lamented too many mistakes.
  • Backup Oklahoma G Frank Alexander and basketball player Ray Willis were stabbed in an off-campus incident on Sunday morning. Also, coach Bob Stoops said senior DE John Williams has left the team and freshman OL Alex Williams has gone back home to New Orleans to help his family evacuate from Hurricane Gustav.
  • Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell passed for 536 yards against Eastern Washington, but still was flummoxed by the Eagles' tricky defense.
  • Mike Sherman accepted the blame from Texas A&M's disappointing season-opening loss to Arkansas State.
  • Converted DE Aaron Lewis will face the challenge of filling in for suspended Texas DT Lamarr Houston -- at least for the Longhorns' game with UTEP on Saturday. 
  • Dez Bryant could be poised to become Oklahoma State's next standout at wide receiver.
  • The Kansas City Star's Blair Kerkhoff says that lack of game preparation is the biggest culprit why mistakes were so prevalent during the first week of the season.
  • Despite an impressive 45-6 rout over North Texas last week, Kansas State coach Ron Prince saw a lot of negatives.
  • With injuries to Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander, Tommy Saunders has emerged as Missouri's most productive receiver.
  • The Des Moines Register's Andrew Logue lists five items that Iowa State must do differently this season to beat Kent State. The Cyclones dropped a 23-14 decision to the Golden Flashes last season in Gene Chizik's first game.
  • Colorado coach Dan Hawkins indefinitely suspended reserve OL Ethan Adkins after he was arrested for driving under the influence and suspended G Devin Head for one game for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
  • Oklahoma State was among Berry Tramel's 10 biggest winners of the opening weekend of the season.
  • The Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner compares and contrasts the Big 12 coaching debuts of Art Briles, Mike Sherman and Bo Pelini.

What Houston's arrest means for Texas

August, 31, 2008
8/31/08
5:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Mack Brown will have a difficult decision deciding what kind of punishment to hand out after starting DT Lamarr Houston's arrest early Sunday morning.

Houston was charged with drunken driving after he was involved in a two-car accident in Austin in the wee hours of Sunday morning -- only a short time after he started in the Longhorns' impressive 52-10 victory over Florida Atlantic on Saturday.

Houston's important role on the team will test Brown's intention of "zero tolerance" around his program after six Longhorn players were arrested in a four-month period last summer.

Since then, Brown has placed former running backs coach Ken Rucker in the role of director of high school relations and player development. His major aim has been to keep the Longhorns out of off-field trouble, and he's been successful so far with no arrests since the spree last summer before Saturday night.

Among those arrested last summer included linebacker Sergio Kindle and defensive end Henry Melton, who were both arrested on drunken driving charges. Both were suspended for the first three games of the 2007 season before they were reinstated.

A three-game penalty would idle Houston for the rest of the Longhorns' nonconference games. It would bench him from this week's game against UTEP and upcoming games against Arkansas and Rice, but have him back for the Longhorns' Oct. 4 conference opener at Colorado.

Houston's role is vitally important for a Longhorns team that desperately needs a pass rush to help protect a young secondary starting freshmen safeties Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas. The safeties had an uneven first game, missing several tackles and allowing FAU QB Rusty Smith to torch them for 151 passing yards in the first quarter.

Texas allowed 102 yards in the air during the rest of the game. The defensive improvement was particularly noticeable in the second half when the Longhorns allowed the Owls to produce only 53 total yards on 26 snaps.

If Houston can't play, his likely replacement would be Aaron Lewis, a senior who appeared in 11 games and started seven at defensive end last season.

The move of Lewis and Houston, also a converted defensive end, was made by new Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp to boost the speed and athleticism of the interior of the Longhorns' defensive front. The Longhorns failed to notch a sack against Smith Saturday night.

And with challenges with strong-armed quarterbacks like UTEP's Trevor Vittatoe, Arkansas' Casey Dick and Rice's Chase Clement looming, the young secondary could be tested in upcoming weeks without a consistent pass rush.

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