July 30, 2009

Pre-season Spotlight: No.25 Jared Norton

Name: Jared Norton

Position: Middle linebacker

Classification: Senior

Prep credentials: The former Rowlett star was a four-star prospect (5.9) that was ranked as the nation's No.5 inside linebacker and No. 89 overall prospect by Rivals. Norton was ranked No.9 in the Lone Star Recruiting Rankings and No.14 in the Rivals Texas Top 100.

Click here to see Norton's high school film

2008 stats: Started seven of 13 games last season, including the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, and recorded 54 tackles (34 solo), 2.5 sacks, four tackles for loss, three pressures, two pass break-ups and a forced fumble.

Career stats: While playing in 37 career games (eight starts), Norton has accumulated 122 tackles (65 solo), nine tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, five pressures, two pass break-ups, an interception, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Norton's 2008 highlight film from UT's official website

Best game in 2008: There were a couple of games to choose from, including his six tackle/one sack game against Missouri, but I'm going with the performance at home against Oklahoma State when he recorded a team-best nine tackles, including seven solo.

Scouting Report: The 6-3, 237-pound Norton has had the unfortunate problem of being a square peg in the round hole that is the Big 12. A classic 4-3 middle linebacker that possesses the perfect blend of size/speed/athleticism, Norton is at his best when the game is played between the tackles, but if often a fish out of water in the pass, pass, pass Big 12. In addition to his stout play against the run, Norton is an above-average blitzer with some legitimate pass rushing skill. On the downside, Norton can be a bit of a liability when he drops back into coverage and that hole in his game has limited some of his effectiveness through his junior season. Up until now the Longhorns haven't asked Norton to have a heavy role in the nickel package, but the staff counting on that to change this season. If he improves in this area, then the Texas defense becomes so much more dangerous because down and distance won't dictate the personnel packages.

The big hope… Norton has given everyone glimpses of his immense potential for a couple of years, but the starting middle linebacker position is finally his and his alone, which seems to have him roaming the field with more swagger. This is a kid that has big-play potential and All-Big 12 ability, and if he can carry some of that versatility that he flashed in the spring over into the fall, he might just start to cash in on that potential that everyone has been talking about since 2006.

The big worry… Even if he's improved in coverage, he'll remain a big enough liability that the better teams on the schedule will be able to exploit the match-up in a big enough fashion that his effectiveness as a player will be neutralized in key moments.

Did you know? Norton is scheduled to graduate in December with a degree in advertising

NFL Scouting report:"There are a lot of things to like about (Norton). He has all of the measurables that you covet and he's a tough, physical player. His problem is that he's not a big change of direction guy. He can chase plays sideline to sideline with his speed, but he plays a little out of control and he must own his space better because he takes himself out of too many plays. I think he has a future (in the NFL), but I haven't quite figured who he is, but I am intrigued by his ability to come off the corner. He'll probably be a very popular player for 3-4 teams."

The bottom line: Norton's time as a prominent figure in the defense seems to have been looming for years, but as we enter his final campaign - this is it. There's no Rashad Bobino to keep him out of the line-up and the door is open for him to have an impact year. If the light switch finally comes on for him this season, his progress will represent a major step forward for a defensive unit that desperately needs someone to own that position at an elite-level.

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