IT WON'T just be the eyes of Texas upon Sergio Kindle this season. NFL scouts, the same ones who did not rate Kindle as a potential first-round draft choice after his junior season, will be watching. Opponents will be keeping close tabs on him as well because Kindle, who had 10 sacks last year shifting between linebacker and defensive end, is the Longhorn most capable of disrupting an offense. Then there are Kindle's own eyes—his goal is to look in the mirror at season's end and see the nation's leader in sacks staring back at him.
Texas, which led the nation with 47 sacks in 2008, needs that kind of production from Kindle to help offset the departure of key members of last season's defensive front, most notably end Brian Orakpo, the Nagurski winner as the best defensive player in the country. (Ironically, it was the Longhorns' inability to slow Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell that cost them an undefeated season and a shot at the national title.) But with fewer big-play artists on defense, Kindle can expect much more attention than he drew a year ago. "The coaches have already told me that I can expect to get double-teamed," says Kindle, who will continue to split time between linebacker and end. "I'm prepared for it. Let it come."
To help him deal with the increased attention, the 6'4" Kindle gained 16 pounds, to 255, over the off-season without giving up quickness. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who describes Kindle's position as DPR—designated pass rusher—shows video of NFL pass-rushing linebackers such as James Harrison of the Steelers and DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys to Kindle as examples of the impact the Longhorns think he can make.
After last season Kindle considered trying to terrorize quarterbacks on the pro level until he was shown a report from NFL evaluators about his draft prospects if he left school early. The report tabbed him as a likely second- or third-rounder. "After I saw that, I didn't even bother reading the rest of it," he says. "I just crushed it and threw it away. It's all for the best because now I can help this team win a national championship."
The biggest obstacle for Kindle to overcome may have nothing to do with football. He was suspended for three games in his sophomore season following a DWI arrest in July 2007, and he suffered a mild concussion in June when, while allegedly texting, he crashed his car into an apartment building. If he can avoid that kind of trouble off the field, he'll be free to create lots more havoc on it.
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"I EXPECT TO GET DOUBLE-TEAMED," SAYS KINDLE.
CONFERENCE: Big 12
COACH: Mack Brown (12th year)
2008 RECORD: 12--1 (7--1 in Big 12)
FINAL AP RANK: 4
RETURNING STARTERS: 14 Offense 8, Defense 6
12 at Wyoming
19 Texas Tech
17 Oklahoma in Dallas
24 at Missouri
31 at Oklahoma State
7 Central Florida
14 at Baylor
26 at Texas A&M
Yes, the Red River Rivalry against Oklahoma will have national title implications, but the trip to Stillwater will be no picnic and comes at the end of a difficult three-game stretch.
Eight freshmen were January enrollees. The newcomer most likely to see early playing time is Alex Okafor, a 6'4", 240-pound defensive end from Pflugerville, Texas, who shot up the depth chart by the end of spring practice.
A discouraging report from NFL scouts has made Kindle eager to please.