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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
AUSTIN, Texas -- The reports assuredly weren't what Sergio Kindle wanted to read.
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|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."
To get ready to battle the bigger offensive linemen he will be regularly facing, Kindle boosted his weight to 255 pounds -- 16 pounds heavier than he finished the season -- and dedicated himself in the weight room during the offseason.
He's also come back as a determined and forceful leader -- a new role for him.
Texas quarterback Colt McCoy has noted a change in Kindle since his return for spring ball.
"That's why the spring is a lot of fun because you see personalities develop," McCoy said. "You see guys step up and take positions on the team that need to be taken. It's a new position for him and a new role."
But he has no doubt that Kindle can emerge as a defensive leader and a big producer wherever he ends up playing.
"When I saw him lined up at defensive end, I didn't like to see it as a quarterback," McCoy said. "He's a stud who gets off the edge really quick and can still stop the run. Wherever they put him, Sergio will make plays."
That ability will be important as Kindle attempts to replace Brian Orakpo as the team's featured pass-rushing threat.
Orakpo was in a similar position last season, when doubts about injuries and inconsistency dogged him in the minds of most pro scouts. He responded with a breakout season with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, which enabled him to play himself into the early part of the first round.
Texas coaches believe Kindle can make a similar move with a big senior season.
Such a challenge is stimulating for Kindle, a similarly freakish athlete who rushed for 2,298 yards and 40 touchdowns while making 157 tackles as a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas.
Kindle briefly considered playing both ways in college before concentrating on defense. But his early development was shunted after missing three games during his sophomore season following and arrest for driving while intoxicated. More struggles came after that with offseason knee surgery keeping him out of spring practice.
Those question marks caused some scouts to wonder about Kindle's consistent productivity. Hence, the scouting report he didn't want to read.
"You always want to think you'll do better than how it turned out," Kindle said. "But there are some questions still around me. I think a second full season will solidify me, particularly playing defensive end or a hybrid [defensive end/linebacker] position."
Most of his work will come along the defensive front during the spring, where the Longhorns must rebuild after the loss of starters Orakpo, Roy Miller, Aaron Lewis and Henry Melton from last season. It will be up to Kindle to match their production with a new cast of characters for the Longhorns.
"It was great having them last year, but time moves on so I just have to adapt," Kindle said. "We've got great guys coming back so I just have to make it work. I'm confident in how things will work out."
To make the next step, Kindle will face another challenge that Orakpo didn't last season. Orakpo benefitted from all of the defensive talent on Texas' front last season by seldom facing double-team blocking assignments.
Kindle already is bracing himself for likely double-team blocks as opponents try to counteract him and his young teammates along the front.
"Coach has already told me it will happen," Kindle said. "We're preparing for it throughout the offseason, so I'm just trying to get ready for it. It will come."
Muschamp is also trying to improve Kindle's play by showing him videos of NFL standouts like DeMarcus Ware, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley as inspiration for what he could become with future development.
If Kindle can become the next Orakpo, the Longhorns' defense shouldn't miss a beat. But that's a tall order for a player who merely wants to carve out his own his own identity.
"I can't be like Orakpo, but I can play my own game. I just have to better myself and my skills," Kindle said. "I need to work on my placement, my hands and my movement -- basically just fine-tune my game. And if I work my tail off, I feel like it will happen, the Lord willing."