Freshman LBs Santos, Jinkens make impact

AUSTIN, Texas -- One sentence was all it took for Dalton Santos to become a fan favorite.

“I'm coming to Texas and I'm bringing hell with me.”

That’s what Santos told HornsNation in May, when the incoming freshman believed there was no doubt he was going to make the middle linebacker job his this fall.

Santos hasn’t done that yet. But he and equally confident freshman Peter Jinkens are backing up their talk in fall camp.

Both newcomers saw an opportunity to play right away when they looked at Texas’ linebacker corps.

“I'm down there for a job,” Jinkens told HornsNation in May. “If the person in front of me is not on their game, I'm going to sneak up in there and take their spot.”

So when Texas’ coaching staff released its first depth chart on Wednesday, it came as no surprise that Santos and Jinkens found themselves in the mix for immediate playing time.

Santos or Kendall Thompson will be Steve Edmond’s top backup in the middle. Jinkens is pushing Thompson for the snaps at weakside linebacker when Jordan Hicks comes off the field.

Texas is sorely lacking for playmakers at linebacker beyond its entrenched starting three. But Santos and Jinkens haven’t been handed a thing.

Remember, Manny Diaz is their position coach. He holds his 'backers to a high standard.

But he can tell they’re making a push. He saw it when it was time to put them to the test in Texas’ scrimmage last Sunday night.

The starters didn’t play much. They didn’t need to. This was the perfect opportunity for a newcomer to make a name for himself. Both thrived in their first test under the bright lights.

“Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens had one great scrimmage on Sunday night,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “They’re stepping it up fast.”

Their teammates can see the progress too.

Safety Kenny Vaccaro didn’t hesitate when asked this week which young player impressed him most.

“Dalton Santos. He’s just really intense, athletic, big,” Vaccaro said. “I think he’ll be a great special-teams player for us and eventually start.”

Special teams should be an ideal fit from the start. Santos prides himself on knocking guys’ heads off. Jinkens has the speed and athleticism -- he was a standout running back at Dallas Skyline -- necessary for across-the-field range.

But punt and kickoff coverage sure isn’t where Texas needs them most.

The Longhorns defensive line is loaded. Four defensive ends and as many as five or six tackles can play at any time and Texas won’t miss a beat.

The same can’t be said about UT’s linebackers. Not yet. Hicks, Edmond and Demarco Cobbs are good and can maybe even be great. But that’s not enough.

You saw it in the spring game, when Texas’ offense gashed the second-team defense up the middle. Diaz did, too. He said it was obvious the No. 2 defense got exposed.

Jinkens and Santos can help plug the gap. The key, Diaz has said, isn’t how fast or strong a young guy is, it’s knowing your responsibilities, knowing where to be at any given time.

Their confidence is good. So are the early reviews. But talk is cheap if you don’t know the defense.

The freshmen make their debut in one week. Time to find out if their actions can back up their words.