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2015 Fierce 40 Previews: #25 Texas

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 12, 2015

#25 Texas Longhorns

2014 Recap

Not the start new coach Charlie Strong or Texas Longhorn faithful were looking for as the new era after coach Mack Brown started. Only once during the season did Texas win more than two consecutive games. Things started very rocky as coach Strong dismissed a number of key players from the program before the season began in an effort to try and get the right personnel on the field. Strong felt the program was a bit out of control and personal conduct off the field became a focus. Texas ended the regular season 6-6 and got thumped 31-7 by Arkansas in the Texas Bowl.

Coaching:

Charlie Strong comes to Texas on the heels of a four year stint at Louisville, where he posted a 37-15 record and culminating in a convincing Sugar Bowl victory. This will be a critical year now that the Longhorns have a full year under Strong and his regime. Joe Wickline is the offensive coordinator while Vance Bedford is in charge of the defense. The offense was a disappointing 110th overall and ranked 106th in scoring at 21.4 PPG. The defense was much better raking 25th overall with their highest ranking coming against the pass where the Longhorns finished 11th in the nation.

 

Offense Analysis

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Tyrone Swoopes will have to show improvement if he wants to be the starter for the season opener. Swoopes is not guaranteed the job. Freshman Jerrod Heard is ready to compete for the job or at least significant game time. The Longhorns only had a quarterback efficiency rating of 116.2 as Swoopes finished at 116.5 and the departed David Ash at 112.5. Swoopes had 13 passing touchdowns and 11 interceptions with 2,409 yards through the air.

Texas will be going with a running attack this season geared towards allowing the quarterback to run, something that should benefit Swoopes if he is able to win the starting position. Johnathan Gray split time with Malcolm Brown in the backfield last season and Brown has moved on to the NFL. Gray put up 147-637-7 with an additional 122 yards receiving. Gray is a fringe draft prospect who at the very least will receive an invite to an NFL camp after being signed as an undrafted free agent. The offensive line was vastly inexperienced and played inconsistently last season. The line will be improved this season, and the new offense should benefit Gray as much as it does the quarterback.

Best Draft Prospect: Johnathan Gray RB UFA 2016.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Only one of the three starting wide receivers from last season is back. Included in the departing Longhorns was the teams top two receivers in John Harris and Jaxson Shipley. Marcus Johnson is the top returning threat from a season ago, and his speed should allow him to hear his name called at draft time. Johnson posted 27-313-1 and now gets his turn as the primary target. The Longhorns top receiver is Johnson on paper, we are not sure that is how things will play out. Armanti Foreman is only a sophomore, and he will be a starter this season and shows a ton of promise after scoring a pair of touchdowns and contributing 188 yards in spot duty. Jacorey Warrick will serve as the third receiver, and the small 5’11” 175 receiver should play the majority of snaps along the inside and in the slot. Alex De La Torre is the tight end, and while he is an effective blocker we don’t expect to see him often on the receiving end of passes.

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

 

Offensive Line:

The offensive line was crippled by injury and bouts of inconsistency during 2014. The unit gave up a respectable 28 sacks, but the run blocking was well below what we are accustomed to seeing in Austin. Sedrick Flowers looks like a legitimate NFL prospect and was the only lineman for Texas to start all thirteen games at the same position. Kent Perkins will join Flowers on the right side at guard. Left tackle Marcus Hutchins has settled into his position after being moved between the offensive and defensive lines at Texas over the last few seasons. Hutchins settled in at tackle last season playing in 12 games along the left side, and he started one game on the right. Connor Williams comes aboard and looks like he will be the starter along the right side as a freshman. Jake Raulerson is a member of the line that will not start, but he can play virtually anywhere except for left tackle along the line. Raulerson seems to be next in line for the center position after Texas loses Taylor Doyle to graduation this season.

Best Draft Prospect: Sedrick Flowers OG 5th Round 2016.

 

Defenisve Analysis

Defensive Line:

The Longhorns have their work cut out for them after losing six of the top seven tacklers from last years squad, but Texas displayed great depth on defense a season ago and now it comes in handy. Hassan Ridgeway and Malcom Brown combined for one of the best defensive tackle combos at the NCAA level last season. Brown left after his junior season and was a first round pick, and Ridgeway could do the same this season. Currently we have Ridgeway pegged as a 2nd rounder for 2017, but he has the talent to be a first round pick. Ridgeway registered 43 stops with 11 for loss and six sacks on the season, all numbers just below what Brown posted.

Cedric Reed had another big year at defensive end and he has also departed. Naashon Hughes registered five tackles for loss as a freshman and he will take the spot vacated by Reed. Hughes will need help defending the run but he has the tools to be a top flight edge rusher. Shiro Davis will also start at defensive end and he may not have a ton of starts to his name but he is well versed with play within the Big 12 and the same can be said for Desmond Jackson at defensive tackle. Caleb Bluiett is also back after a knee injury ended his season a little early and he looks like he is ready to bust out. Look for the Longhorns to move Bluiett all over the field and take advantage of the athleticism the former tight end has to offer. Bryce Cottrell should be another player we hear more from, there is no shortage of bodies the Longhorns can use up front.

Best Draft Prospect: Hassan Ridgeway DT 2nd Round 2017 (possible early declaration candidate for 2016).

 

Linebackers:

Peter Jinkens looks like the leader for a group that has no returning starters. Jinkens did make a handful of starts during 2013, and many of those starts were conference football games. Texas uses only a pair of linebackers in the majority of their formations, choosing to use five defensive backs. In fact in formations where we see Texas using three linebackers they seem to stick with five defensive backs peeling back to three players along the line. Dalton Santos should be the other linebacker, but we expect Jenkins to make the majority of the plays. Jordan Hicks was a third round pick in this last draft, and he was able to show everyone what he could do when health. Texas will miss the 147 tackles he provided while leading the team.

Best Draft Prospect: Peter Jinkens UFA 2016.

 

Secondary:

Texas lost a pair of players in the secondary to the draft in the form of cornerback Quandre Diggs and safety Mykkele Thompson. Dylan Haines is back as the leading tackler from last seasons team that is returning, and he also led the squad with four interceptions. Haines seemed to benefit from teams trying to steer clear of Diggs and the inconsistent play of Thompson. Jason Hall is back at the free safety position, where he contributed 49 tackles last year. Duke Thomas will also return at cornerback and will be joined by junior Bryson Echols, a player who saw action during all thirteen games last season. John Bonnery will be the nickel back, the fifth defensive back the team employs in their sets. Bonnery was a five star recruit when he came to Austin last season, and the team decided to redshirt him, thinking he would step in and start as a freshman after the departures of Diggs and Thompson. This is a deep unit, and while it may not be quite as good as it was a season ago it will still be near the top of the Big 12. If Texas can get the kind of pressure on opposing quarterbacks they are hoping for, this unit will look even better on film.

Best Draft Prospect: Dylan Haines S 4th Round 2017.

 

Special Teams

The return game struggled a season ago, and both punt returners used by Texas a season ago have moved on. The return spots are up in the air, and we may see Texas use a combination of players returning both kickoffs and punts. Nick Rose is a strong kicker who just needs to improve his accuracy. On kickoffs he is an excellent weapon, as 44 of his 61 kickoffs were touchbacks, and only seven of his total kicks failed to reach the goal line. Mitchell Becker is a sophomore who looks like he has won the punters job.

Best Draft Prospect: Nick Rose K UFA 2016.

 

2015 Schedule

Texas should be back on the right side of .500 but starting at Notre Dame is not exactly an easy test to start things off. After the Notre Dame game Texas will enjoy three home games before traveling to TCU and then readying themselves for the Red River game against Oklahoma. The back half of the schedule looks very manageable, although Texas closes with another tough road game, facing Baylor in Waco. Despite finishing below .500 a season ago, Texas was a respectable 5-4 in the conference and three consecutive wins late in the season before the Baylor fiasco had them in the hunt for a major bowl game.

 

Draft Prospects & Outlook

Hassan Ridgeway looks like the next great defensive tackle at Texas that will make the successful jump to the NFL, the question here is 2016 or 2017 draft. Dylan Haines and a few players in the secondary look like picks for future classes, while guard Sedrick Flowers could make up the most ground for 2016.