Kevin Sumlin is feeling good about a lot these days.
He has his star quarterback, Case Keenum, back for his senior season next year. He has a new extension to his contract. And on signing day, he brought in a 27-player class of 25 high schoolers and two junior college transfers that should add some depth to the Cougars in the coming years.
"The class we have signed addresses many of our needs," Sumlin said. "We touched on every position with depth. If you look at it, we are a four-deep team. We have four receivers, we have four defensive linemen, we have four defensive backs, and a couple quarterbacks. The goal after what happened last year was not only to continue to upgrade in talent, but also get depth, which we were successful at."
The Cougars didn't concentrate on one specific area, instead trying to build across the board to a team that played a lot of freshmen in 2009. With Keenum running the offense, there are a number of openings for receivers and runners since the Cougars do use a lot of personnel.
And on defense, the team should be stronger, especially with a pair of junior college transfers -- linebacker Sammy Brown and defensive tackle Matangi Tonga -- already on campus but included in this signing class.
The Cougars are just looking to build on what the team had last year and continue to get better. Sumlin seems to think this year's signing class did just that.
--Houston hired Brian Stewart as the team's defensive coordinator in late January. Stewart has been an NFL assistant coach for the Eagles, Cowboys, Chargers and Texans, and also worked as an assistant coach at the college level from 1993-2001 with five different schools.
--Former Texas Tech star quarterback Kliff Kingsbury was promoted from offensive quality control assistant to full-time assistant coach to replace former assistant Dana Holgorsen. Kingsbury joined Houston's staff prior to the 2008 season.
--QB Terrance Broadway, Baton Rouge, La. -- When Case Keenum is ready to move on to the pros, this outstanding signal caller could be ready to take over for him under center. Broadway was ranked as the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the nation by Rivals.com and tabbed by CBS College Sports analyst Tom Lemming as the No. 84 player overall in the nation.
--DT Matangi Tonga, San Mateo, Calif. --The junior college transfer from College of San Mateo has already enrolled at Houston, giving him a head start on most other first-year players with the Cougars. Tonga brings size and speed to the defensive tackle position, weighing 300 pounds but also able to run the 40 in under 4.7 seconds. The hope is Tonga will be ready to step in next season and give some bite to the defense that ranked 111th in the nation last season.
--LB Sammy Brown, Wiggins, Miss. -- Brown is another junior college talent who will get a chance to get a jump start on the beginning of his collegiate career. He joins an already solid corps of linebackers after playing at Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. where he was ranked the No. 2 junior college outside linebacker in the nation by Scout.com.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our emphasis was depth. We ran out of people last year." -- Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, on the Cougars' 27-player recruiting class.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 LOOK AHEAD: With such a young squad in 2009, the Cougars were able to get a lot of experience for the future.
Junior Case Keenum passed the ball to sophomores and juniors who will be returning in 2010, so the Cougars' offense should be as strong as ever. The offensive line will come back intact except for departed senior Carl Barnett, who started 39 games over his career.
The defense took some hits to graduation, particularly at linebacker and the secondary, where four total seniors started the Armed Forces Bowl against Air Force.
Still, with Kevin Sumlin in charge and Keenum at the controls of the high-powered offense, opposing teams are going to have to be ready for another aerial onslaught.
SPRING SNAPSHOT: Practice begins March 27. The Red-White game is scheduled for April 24.
The offensive line must find a replacement for long-time stalwart Carl Barnett at center. Barnett started 39 games in his career and he had a lot of responsibilities in calling the blocking schemes.
Redshirt sophomore Blake Sargent was listed as Barnett's backup on the depth chart in 2009, and he'll certainly get his chance to take over the position, but coach Kevin Sumlin will also be seeing what else he has available.
The defense lost four starters to graduation, so there will be some competition for those starting spots -- two at linebacker and two in the secondary.
And the Cougars need plenty of skill position players to shuffle into the game to keep everyone fresh and moving in the high-powered offense. Young players have taken on prominent roles at the skill spots in the past, so Sumlin is going to be looking at everyone to see what they have to offer.
--C Carl Barnett -- He started 40 games at Houston, earning places on the Rimington and Lombardi Award Watch Lists as a senior.
--DE Tyrell Graham -- A transfer from Arkansas, Graham switched from linebacker to rush end in 2008 and has shown a lot of promise. He would be a project to anyone wanting to bring him in.
--CB Brandon Brinkley -- Very athletic and durable, Brinkley made 33 career starts for the Cougars. Brinkley could be a ball-hawk, although he'll need to improve to catch the eyes of the pro scouts.
--WR Chaz Rodriguez -- He showed some flashes of his potential in the passing game but sometimes got lost in the mix and didn't force himself into the limelight.
--WR James Cleveland has had his arm in a sling after undergoing offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum. He suffered the injury in the first preseason scrimmage last year and played through the pain all season. Cleveland isn't expected to participate in spring practice.
--DT Isaiah Thompson, a starter last season, will be making the move to the offensive line in the spring. Thompson had 24 career starts on the defensive line but the team wants to see if he can contribute on offense since there is plenty of young depth on the defensive front.
--QB Case Keenum will return in 2010 to much fanfare. He'll be the active leader in career touchdowns responsible for, career completion percentage, career passing yards per game and career total yards per game.