Position Preview: Little Change for Texas at LB in 2021

The Longhorns linebackers should make or break the front seven in a new formation
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By now, teams live or die by their ability to create a pass rush. It was why Texas struggled to win late in games for 2020. 

The Longhorns found a stud with the "JACK" backer Joseph Ossai as one of the key pass rushers in the nation. Despite tallying just 5.5 sacks, it was his 15.5 tackles for losses that allowed him to win against weaker tackles in the Big 12. 

He'll now head to the NFL while Texas will be looking for their next pass rush extraordinaire. 

Pete Kwiatkowski spent the better half of a decade transforming Washington Football's defense into one of the better defenses in the Pac-12. One look at his work with the secondary proves the talent coming from Seattle is unmatched and ready for the NFL. 

Do names such as Vita Vea, Budda Baker, Kevin King, Desmond Trufant and Cory Littleton ring a bell?

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Should Kwiatowski use a similar format to that in Washington, expect mixed sets of run-heavy plays pinched in with situational pass-rushing formations. That would put pressure on Reese Letiao to contribute in multiple ways. 

Leitao started against Colorado to close out the year, tallying a team-high six tackles on the way to a win. The junior did only play in eight games last season in a rotational role. 

Kwiatowski ran two off-ball linebacker sets similar to that of Chris Ash last season. That should carry over to both DeMarvion Overshown and Juwan Mitchell retaining their starting roles. 

Mitchell, who has a team-high 61 tackles, opted to return rather than declare early for the 2021 NFL Draft. More of the thumper than coverage man, 4.5 of his tackles came behind the line of scrimmage while he also recorded one fumble recovery. 

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Overshown has played the "WILL" role since being named a starter back in 2019. An All-Big 12 honorable mention last year, there was little the junior from Arp, Texas didn't do. He led the team with seven pass breakups in coverage while also recording 60 tackles, eight of which were for losses. 

There's no set style in Kwiatkowski's defensive front. His utilization of three-man defensive fronts won't determine the Longhorns alignment in the back seven. Kwiatkowski also has been known to run a 2-4-5 system with four linebackers and a nickel defender. 

Depending on the formation, Jaylan Ford could see his role expand as well. The former four-star recruit finished the year with 14 tackles and started the first half of the Alamo Bowl due to Mitchell's suspension in the season finale. 

Would Kwiatkowski play him off the edge? A two-time all-state star was limited as a pass rusher at Frisco Lone Star but did tally back-to-back 100-plus tackle seasons.  

Projected Week 1 Linebacker Depth Chart:

JACK (EDGE): Reese Leitao 

LB (MIKE): Juwan Mitchell 

LB (WILL): DeMarvion Overshown

LB (SAM): Jaylan Ford/David Gbenda

CONTINUE READING: Who should Texas enter 2021 with at QB?

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