Filling The Class

With only a few weeks left until National Signing Day, Texas coach Charlie Strong faces the task of filling out the Longhorns' class. How should he do it?

For the purpose of this story, let's assume that Texas has seven spots to give.* That would put the Longhorns at 95 slots heading into the spring, or 10 spots over the limit. The Longhorns were at 93 last season, and with general attrition, wound up with fewer than the 85-scholarship limit.

* Obviously, this number would go up if Texas lost any more players from its current class, with some of those contingencies discussed below.

Defensive Tackle (2 players)

At one point, Texas had four players committed here — if you count current strong-side defensive end Jake McMillon as a tackle prospect (and I do). But the decommitments of Zaycoven Henderson (unexpected), Trey Lealaimatafao (somewhat expected) and Courtney Garnett (expected) leaves the Longhorns in need of a few players here. Notice, I said players, not bodies. Two former Louisville commitments, Poona Ford of South Carolina and Chris Nelson of Florida, would seem to qualify. McMillon is a developmental guy who will need to add a lot of weight, and it would help if one of Ford or Nelson — or if Texas tries and manages to swing a guy like Michael Sawyers, a former Vanderbilt commitment — could step into the back side of the rotation as a true freshman. Texas should have three tackles ready to go in Malcom Brown, Desmond Jackson and Hassan Ridgeway. If Ford or Nelson could play behind those three (or if Paul Boyette and Alex Norman stepped up), that would be nice.

Secondary (1-2)

Both secondary and the next one, offensive line, are listed as 1-to-2 players, meaning that I think Texas should take a total of three players between the two positions. If Texas lands two secondary players, one offensive lineman would do. If one secondary player, then two would be nice. The top target on Charlie Strong's board at this position should be Nick Harvey. The Texas A&M commitment showed the ability to cover bigger receivers at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl practices at cornerback, and he has the savvy, range and surprising physicality to even play free safety in a pinch. In short, that's what Texas needs, tough, athletic, versatile cover guys. And that's also what Texas would get if the Longhorns can haul in Texas Tech commitment Jah'Shawn Johnson, who is visiting the 'Horns this weekend. Johnson doesn't have the best size at 5-10 170, but he's a mid-4.5 guy in the 40-yard dash who is quicker than he is fast and displays the range and athleticism to play several spots. Adding both Harvey and Johnson would take a major sting off a defensive back class that saw Texas strike out on a number of top targets. Texas has also expressed some interest in Florida athlete T.J. Harrell, though Harrell is a bigger body (6-1 210) who would seem to fill the same role as recently committed Longhorn Edwin Freeman. Speaking of commitments, Longhorn pledge Jermaine Roberts is visiting this weekend, and has a visit for Ohio State set up the next weekend. If Texas loses Roberts, the lone corner in the Longhorns' class, that would hurt and could facilitate moving a receiver — potentially Roderick Bernard, or maybe even Jacorey Warrick — to the other side. Safety John Bonney is also visiting Auburn this weekend.

Offensive Line (1-2)

Texas has a bunch of talent on the offensive line, the result of what appears to be a stellar 2013 haul at the position with Desmond Harrison, Kent Perkins, Darius James, Rami Hammad and Jake Raulerson. Three of those guys could wind up starting this season, depending on how a heated Perkins/Kennedy Estelle battle shaped up. But with a few injuries that this group has sustained, and the fact that the Longhorns only have one offensive lineman committed for 2014 in center Terrell Cuney, Texas only has 12 offensive linemen on scholarship for 2014 after spending the 2013 season with 18. In the long term, this isn't necessarily a huge issue, given that the 2015 class already includes superb committed talents like Maea Teuhema, Patrick Vahe and Connor Lanfear, all of whom may be among the top 25 or so players in the state, and there are only two senior offensive linemen on the 2014 roster. But Texas could use another player or two on the line in this class to help make things less lopsided. Landing Arizona State commitment Alex Anderson of Louisiana, whom the Longhorns hosted on an official visit this week, would be a great start, particularly since he's an early enrollee. If Marcus Hutchins moves back to the offensive side of the ball, that would give Texas 13 players, but with expected attrition, who knows what could happen to players like Hutchins, Taylor Doyle and Camrhon Hughes, all of whom have struggled to find regular roles. If a few of them step down or transfer out, Texas could really be hurting for bodies. The irony here is that among the front line players — the top 8-9 or so — the Longhorns are as good as they've been recently from a talent standpoint.

Defensive End (1)

In Derick Roberson, who is officially visiting the Longhorns this weekend, and Sione Teuhema, another weekend visitor, Texas has pledges from a pair of ends who fit Strong's aggressive nature perfectly. Both of them are lightning quick off the ball and show the athletic ability to play in space, two traits that Strong has always coveted from his defensive ends, where he's often willing to sacrifice size for raw, hard-to-block athleticism. That's another reason to think that McMillon, more of a classic shed and find the ball strong-side end, could be headed to tackle. Texas still sits in a very good spot for Solomon Thomas, arguably the second-best defensive end in the in-state class behind only Myles Garrett. And while Texas visited Garrett, and likely won't be able to swing the A&M commitment, Thomas is significantly more reachable. Texas didn't typically redshirt players under Mack Brown. The good part of that is that those Longhorns typically saw the field early on special teams and were able to work their way into the rotation. The bad news is that a player like Shiro Davis, who has plenty of potential, is already a junior. Caleb Bluiett showed some flashes late in the year, and a couple Texas linebackers could slide down to the trenches to add a body or two. But the Longhorns really need another elite talent to pair with Roberson to develop behind Cedric Reed (senior) and Davis. Thomas would help immensely there. Either way, expect the Longhorns to try and swing an out-of-stater like Keisean Lucier-South to couple with an in-state talent like James Lockhart in 2015.

Running Back/Skill Athlete (1)

The Longhorns took a major blow here when Newton speedster Kevin Shorter suffered what appeared to be a career-ending neck injury. And while Shorter may well wind up on campus to take a medical scholarship and get his college degree, the Longhorns needed his level of speed in a bad way. Texas looks like it could be thin at running back next year, with Johnathan Gray expected by many to miss the season recovering from an Achilles injury sustained this year, and who knows what's going to happen with Daje Johnson, technically a wide receiver, but more realistically a player who is having trouble staying on the football field because of off-field issues. If Johnson can keep it together and stay healthy, he helps here immensely. But can you really count on that? Texas doesn't need somebody who can carry 15 times a game. Malcolm Brown should be a 1,000-yard back, and Joe Bergeron is more than capable of taking a number of carries as well. Here's the issue: without Gray (and potentially Johnson), where's the game-breaking ability? I don't mean to undersell Brown, who can go out and average 5.5 to 6.5 yards per carry and who can find or create his own hole with his strength and with his feet. But Texas doesn't have a guy who, if a run is blocked correctly, can take the ball 80 yards to the house. And with the Longhorns facing an unsure quarterback situation (How healthy is David Ash? How healthy can he stay?), that explosiveness — even for 5-10 carries per game — is huge in value. Texas has a visit this weekend from Corey Avery of Dallas Skyline, though Avery is more of a 4.55 to 4.6-flat one-cut type of back. Harrell, who I mentioned in the section above, is another Brown/Bergeron type with power and without home-run hitting elusiveness and speed. Here's another spot where Bernard, if moved, could play a factor. Like Daje, he's a thicker guy than you think and can take a bit of punishment. Still, if there's a playmaker out there, and Texas can find him to carry the ball, it would be a huge step forward.

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