DEs Look to Give Texas the Edge

Tim Crowder (Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

'Quick' ends Tim Crowder and Brian Orakpo were on tap following Thursday's practice to assess what the DEs are doing these days to live up to their considerable hype this season.

You can't spell 'defense' without your DEs. And the strength of Texas' defensive front, shaping up as the program's finest in a quarter-century, are its DEs. This much is certain: Texas is more loaded at DE than it has ever been during coach Mack Brown's nine-year tenure.

"We still have a lot to work on, but we're way ahead of last year's schedule," Tim Crowder told Inside Texas. "We still are working on the pass rush and playing the run better and everybody getting in their gaps. We've still got improvements to do. For me, personally, it's being more relentless to the ball. There were a bunch of times last year that I missed sacks at the last minute just because I wasn't more relentless. I want to be more relentless out there and go 100 miles-an-hour."

Crowder shed approximately 10 pounds this summer and, in addition to voluntary workouts, spent additional hours dissecting film to try to improve his pursuit. I asked if he thought his commitment to becoming more "relentless" had more to do with physical conditioning or with the mental aspect of the game.

"I think it's more of a mental thing," he said. "You can get disappointed if you miss a sack and you keep your head down. But I have to keep focused and keep on getting after them."

Crowder was a 2005 First-team All-Big 12 selection and is a three-year starter. He recorded a team-best 10 QB pressures last year to go along with 50 tackles, including nine TFL, and three sacks. His best game of the season was at Ohio State where the junior produced seven tackles, four TFL and two sacks. Crowder was the first member of the recruiting class of 2003 to lose his redshirt and has now notched 34 starts.

Brian Orakpo may be the best back-up DE in college football. He was named the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and the National Defensive Freshman of the Year (The Sporting News) after posting 27 tackles, nine pressures, four TFL, one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 2005.

"This is the year to show the Big 12 and the whole country that we are a great defensive end group," Orakpo said.

Crowder and senior Brian Robison (2005 Fist-Team All-Big 12) have combined for 50 starts. Add to the mix Five-Star freshman Eddie Jones, sophomore Aaron Lewis (a two-time New Mexico First-Team All-State selection) and sophomore Christopher Brown (Texas 4A Second-Team All-Stater), true freshman Lamarr Houston (a Parade All-American at linebacker) and true freshman Brian Ellis (at 6-5, 270 pounds, Ellis checks-in with the exact numbers at which former DE Cory Redding was listed during his senior season at Texas), it's easy to see why Texas' three-deep chart at DE may be the Most glamerous in college football.

Now, the DEs want nothing more than to increase their sacks appeal.

Last season, Texas' accounted for a nondescript 34 QB sacks (NCAA No. 39). But, by most accounts, the unit is heading in the right direction under second-year position coach and Longhorn letterman Oscar Giles. When Giles was hired, he told me the fact that Texas hadn't had a double-digit sack man in six seasons was "personally disturbing." Make that seven seasons. Robison lead the way with seven sacks in 2005, still sub-par by Giles' standard. That's why he's added an incentive to practice this season.

"Coach Giles has set a goal that we're supposed to get five sacks every practice," Orakpo said. "If we don't get five sacks, we do extra running, extra conditioning or extra-anything to make us do better every day to get those sacks and to get the goals that we have. All of us are working hard at it. Every time we've gone out for practice, we always get that goal so it's been real good."

So, can this unit address a few of the deficiencies and live up to its considerable hype?

"A lot of people are saying we're the best front seven (in college football)," Crowder said. "I won't go that far to say that, but we can be really good. We have a chance to be real good if we do the little things and don't focus on the big picture."

The Horns will be in full-pads for the first time this season when August Camp resumes, 2 p.m., Friday at Denius Field.

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