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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #31 Texas

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 14, 2014

#31 Texas Longhorns

 

2013 Recap:

It was an up and down roller coaster season for Texas as they ultimately wound up below expectations once again after an 8-5 record, which became the swan song for Mack Brown.

 

Coaching:

Virtually every big coach was linked to this job including Nick Saban. In the end it was Charlie Strong, coach at Louisville, who winds up as the coach after going 37-16 in four years. It isn't just coaching but recruiting that is important, especially in Texas where football is so important and such a staple of everyday life.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

David Ash is the starter right now for Texas after splitting time with Case McCoy for much of the last two seasons. Ash has had problems with lingering injuries but managed 7 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions in limited time last season. Ash seems to have the job hammered down but he will have competition from Max Wittek, a graduate from USC who is immediately eligible. Wittek has two full years of eligibility and like Ash is a junior. Texas does not have that true #1 quarterback with a cannon for an arm but they do have a pair of quarterbacks with 19 career college starts between them, so experience will not be an issue.

As in many years past, Texas has talent running the football and have a line that is built for run blocking. Johnathan Gray looks to be the best pro prospect on the team even though he is technically not the starter, as Malcolm Brown holds that distinction. Brown had 904 yards rushing last season while Gray posted 780. Joe Bergeron is the fullback, as Texas is one of the few teams in the country that still utilize the fullback in it's truest form. Many of the fullbacks at Texas have enjoyed careers at the pro level though, which bodes well for Bergeron.

Best Draft Prospect: Johnathan Gray RB 5th Round 2016.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Wide receiver is a lot like the quarterback position. Nobody is setting the world on fire but there are a lot of players at the position with experience and the ability to make plays. Jaxon Shipley is following in the footsteps of brother Jordan and is the primary target for the Longhorns. Shipley will also serve as the backup in the return game on both kickoffs and punts. Marcus Johnson is far from being a polished product at receiver but he is a deep threat that can get behind a defense at will.

Tight end Geoff Swain is another in a long line of Texas tight ends that are athletic and look like they have a future ahead of them on Sunday afternoons. Texas employs a lot of three-receiver sets and it is just as important for the receivers to block as it is for them to catch the football since they will use the spread formation to run the football about 65-70% of the time.

Best Draft Prospect: Marcus Johnson WR 6th Round 2016.

 

Offensive Line:

The offensive line is not as imposing as we have seen in years past but there are many interchangeable parts and players who have experience at numerous positions, making Texas versatile and adaptable to nearly any situation. Dominic Espinosa is a former walk-on that looks like he has a true shot at playing at the next level. Size has always been prevalent with Longhorn teams and this season will feature more of the same. The good news is this looks to be a line that is built more for run blocking than pass protection and that plays into the Longhorns strengths. Kennedy Estelle has shown a lot of improvement and he is slated to be the right tackle this season but he could be moved to the guard position. Regardless of where Estelle plays, he looks like another Texas lineman that could be taking their act to the NFL when their college days are over.

Best Draft Prospect: Dominic Espinosa C 7th Round 2015.

 

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

You are probably not going to find a better front four in the Big 12 (TCU is close but not quite there).  Cedric Reed will lead the way as he was second on the team a season ago in tackles for loss and sacks trailing only the departed Jackson Jeffcoat. Reed had an impressive 19 tackles for loss with 10 sacks and those numbers will more than likely rise this season. Reed isn't the only force along the line as defensive tackle Malcom Brown is a potential pick goig anywhere in the top three rounds for 2016 or he could declare early for 2015. You are reading that correctly Malcom Brown is a defensive tackle while Malcolm Brown, with an extra “l” is the starting running back. That can't be an easy distinction in the locker room. Malcom Brown had 12 tackles for loss and gets pressure up the middle with ease. In fact Texas had 39 sacks last year, one of the top totals in the Big 12 and 30.5 came from the front four where Jeffcoat played primarily defensive end for the Longhorns. When Texas failed to get pressure is when things broke down for the team and they finished an uncharacteristic 68th overall in total defense.

Best Draft Prospect: Cedric Reed DE 1st Round 2015.

 

 

Linebackers:

Steve Edmond is the lone returning starter from last season on a team that failed to live up to expectations, and that has been the theme for three years running. Jordan Hicks is back for his senior year and should be the best player in the unit. Staying healthy is his issue though as he has missed 19 games over the last two seasons with groin, ankle and Achilles injuries. Naashon Hughes may be pressed into duty if the injury bug strikes again and the undersized yet speedy freshman is a player Texas has high hopes for. Peter Jinkins and Demarco Cobbs will man the outside for Texas as they bring a combined 52 tackles to the table from last season. It isn't the tackles statistic that Texas wants to see improved, it's missed tackles. Texas led the Big 12 in missed tackles last season, and when you look at the poor play from the linebackers it's hard to fathom that this team nearly won the conference.

Best Draft Prospect: Steve Edmond LB UFA 2015.

 

Secondary:

The secondary is the most sporadic unit on the football field on either side of the ball. You have Quandre Diggs who is currently listed as a 3rd round prospect for 2015 and that may be undervaluing him. 58 tackles with 10 passes defensed and another 10 pass breakups makes him one of the stingiest corners in the land. Yet his tackle total was too high, based on the fact that the secondary spent too much time trying to make up for the poor play of the linebackers. Free safety Mykkele Thompson is another gifted player that is a senior for 2015 and should be drafted in the mid to late rounds. Thompson had 72 tackles but was surprised to learn that he had only .5 sacks, since he disguises his blitzes well and can get after the quarterback when asked to. Bryson Echols is the other starting cornerback and this could be a situation where teams will try to avoid Diggs altogether and go after the other corners on the field. With increased pressure continuing up front, this season should be better for the secondary and the unit as a whole.

Best Draft Prospect: Quandre Diggs CB 3rd Round 2015.

 

Special Teams:

Kickoff and punt returner Daje Johnson is also a gifted slot receiver that will be drafted, but mostly due to his elusiveness as a return man. Johnson is a slick open field runner who protects the ball well after the catch and can run with a physical purpose versus just being shifty all of the time. The kicking game is a bit of an experiment as the players vying for time have talent but the true starters have yet to be named. This could be a platoon type of situation leading into the season with on field performance dictating who we see most.

Best Draft Prospect: Daje Johnson WR/KR 6th Round 2016.

 

Schedule:

September gets off to a rough start with BYU (could be seeing them soon in our countdown...hint hint) at home and then a neutral site game with UCLA. October isn't much easier as they have Baylor and then the annual Red River game with an improved Oklahoma squad. November sees Texas playing 4 games but all look to be winnable on paper, so it will be the earlier portions of the schedule that will dictate the Texas success for 2014.

 

Draft Outlook:

Cedric Reed is an absolute stud and we will see Quandre Diggs and Mykkele Thompson representing the secondary this season. Seeing how defensive tackle Malcom Brown performs will be key to whether he declares early for the draft. Although Texas is a team that traditionally sees it's players that are on the fence stay for all four years. Texas needs to develop more talent along the offensive line, as it is the one area where draft talent is noticeably absent.

 

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