A team is only as good as its front line, a wave of experienced starters ready to supply leadership in the offseason and in the locker room, while providing the difference between winning and losing close games. But a program is only as strong as the next men up, the players who will be called upon after those front-line the year that those experienced players leave.
LonghornDigest.com is looking at each position on the Texas team, looking only at the sophomores, freshmen and committed recruits for the future. When it comes to defensive ends, the Longhorns appear to have done a nice job of landing top athletes.
A big part of that is because of the Longhorns' willingness to go out-of-state a class ago to steal Shiro Davis. An LSU commitment for more than a year, Davis surprised many by flopping to the Longhorns on National Signing Day. The importance there shouldn't be undersold — Texas went into the state of Louisiana and left with a recruit that LSU really wanted.
The competition for Davis was understandable. An explosive athlete, Davis ran a 4.56 40-yard dash at The Opening. To put that number into perspective, it was just .03 slower than the time put up by Johnathan Gray on the same day, and was .06 faster than the time run by Texas slot receiver Jacorey Warrick a year later. Additionally, Davis had nearly a 400-pound bench press and jumped his weight up to about 240 pounds when he enrolled. That, along with an injury to Jackson Jeffcoat, helped Davis see the field as a true freshman, with his high note coming when he had two tackles, including a tackle for loss, against Iowa State.
Davis is still in need of polish, but it says quite a bit about his raw physical ability that he was able to see the field on defense as a true freshman, and he should only continue to see more time in the future.
After Davis, things are considerably less certain. Bryce Cottrell had his moments this spring, showcasing outstanding quickness off the edge. He was a late offer in the 2012 class, but based on what he showed in the spring, there's quite a bit to build off there.
Additionally, it remains to be seen what the Longhorns have with Caleb Bluiett. Bluiett was an outstanding all-around athlete in high school, playing mostly defensive tackle as a junior while attracting the Longhorns with his athleticism, and playing middle linebacker as a senior (and centerfield on the West Brook baseball team). The coaches at the International Bowl raved about his ability to pick up concepts quickly, and Texas, needing help at tight end, moved him to tight end to start his career. He was back at defensive end this spring, and like Cottrell, flashed at times.
Still, the Longhorns entered the 2014 class needing to add to that group, something that they've done with both a natural pass rusher in San Antonio Brennan's Derick Roberson and with more of a power player in Abilene's Jake McMillon. But the biggest fish on the Longhorn line — Coppell's Solomon Thomas, as well as longer shot Myles Garrett of Arlington Martin — remain in the pond.
Grade — C+
There's a potential elite talent in there in Davis, but after that, a lot of questions. Can Cottrell put it all together? Can Bluiett, given a chance to settle at one position, develop long-term? There's some cover there with Texas only losing one defensive end after 2013 and another after 2014. But don't be surprised if the Longhorns go JUCO hunting a bit, especially if they somehow can't land top-of-the-line guys like Thomas or Garrett in this year's class.