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Texas Defensive Coordinator Vance Bedford wired during 2014 spring practice.
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas athletic director Steve Patterson said Tuesday that he's not looking to schedule a nonconference football matchup against Texas A&M, at least not in the short term, because he's more concerned about expanding the Longhorns' brand with more opportunities for games outside the United States.

"There's a lot of great tradition with Texas A&M. At some point in time, does it make some business sense, some branding sense to play again? I don't know," Patterson said. "It's not at the top of my list. I'm really more focused on how we grow the footprint of the department."

The first-year athletic director has already scheduled a men's basketball game against Washington in China for 2015, and the program will participate in a three-city basketball event with Michigan State, North Carolina and Florida in 2018.

Patterson is focused on finding similar opportunities for Texas football, and for that reason he's in no hurry to reunite with Texas A&M.

He sees Texas as being in a unique position to grow its international brand and said it's essential to use athletics as a platform to tell the university's story.

"They shouldn't be done for junketeering purposes," Patterson said. "They should be done in a fashion that grows the profile and the interest of the university of a broad scale internationally."


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It’s Take Two Tuesday again, when we give our takes on a burning question in the Big 12.

Today's Take Two topic: Which Texas player making a healthy return is more critical to the Longhorns’ fate in 2014 -- quarterback David Ash or running back Johnathan Gray?

Take 1: Brandon Chatmon

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
David K Purdy/Getty ImagesJohnathan Gray's return to health would be big news for the Longhorns.
Ideally both players would return to good health and have the opportunity to become critical pieces of the Texas offense this fall.

But Gray’s return to good health could be the most important development of the offseason for the Longhorns, even if he doesn’t return to full health until the bulk of Big 12 Conference play.

Why?

Gray is, quite simply, a special talent. And the Longhorns offense wants to become one of the most physical units in the conference, which means they will want to lean on the running game in Charlie Strong’s first year in Austin, Texas.

We’ve seen how terrific quarterback play can transform a team’s destiny but Gray has similar ability as a running back. The Longhorns have several other talented running backs, including Malcolm Brown, but Gray bring traits to the table, along with his quick feet and vision, that are simply difficult to match. And defend.

The Longhorns have never lost a game when Gray had at least 20 carries including wins over Oklahoma and Kansas State in 2013. His 1,481 rushing yards during the past two seasons is the highest total among returning Big 12 running backs. He’s touched the ball on 17.6 percent of UT’s offensive plays since his freshman season, a team high.

Those numbers reveal Gray is a unique talent who could be the centerpiece of any offense and be consistently productive when healthy. Gray is a proven playmaker, so health could be the only thing standing between him and a breakout season for Strong’s Longhorns.

Take 2: Jake Trotter

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDavid Ash has all the tools to be a winning QB.
When healthy, Gray is one of the best backs in the Big 12. When healthy and on his game, Gray is one of the best in the country.

But the Longhorns have a better than adequate replacement for Gray in Brown. After Gray suffered the Achilles injury last season, Brown stepped in and rushed for more than 100 yards in Texas’ final three games. Brown might not have Gray’s full upside. But he’s more than capable of producing like an all-conference running back.

Quarterback for the Longhorns is a different story. The Longhorns currently have no proven replacement for Ash on the roster.

Sure, Max Wittek could – and probably will – wind up transferring to Texas. And yes, Wittek was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school three years ago. But Wittek has yet to achieve something that Ash has already 14 times in his career – and that’s win a game as a starting quarterback.

True, Ash has endured his share of forgettable moments. He’s yet to play well against Oklahoma. He’s been prone to the occasional, inexplicably awful performance (see TCU 2012, among others).

But other times, Ash has looked like the best player on the field. He was clutch leading the Longhorns to come-from-behind wins against Oklahoma State and Oregon State two seasons ago. He played at a high level in the first half against Kansas State last season before being pulled due to the recurring concussion issues.

With size, athleticism, experience and arm strength, Ash has the tools to be a winning quarterback at Texas. And right now, he’s the closest thing the Longhorns have got to that.

Texas signees anxious for big move

March, 31, 2014
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AUSTIN, Texas – Jerrod Heard has the date on his mind and on his calendar.

“June 3,” Heard said. “Then it’s showtime.”

The soon-to-be Texas quarterback was one of five Longhorns signees who returned to Austin to compete at the Texas Relays. It's one of his final visits before he makes the big move. It was a weekend off from a spring semester that can’t end soon enough. There are classes to complete and diplomas to collect, but the Texas campus is where they all want to be.

“It’s a teaser,” running back signee D’Onta Foreman said, “because we’re ready to graduate, ready to get up here and compete for a spot and be with our teammates and family for the next four years.”

[+] EnlargeJerrod Heard
Tom Hauck for Student SportsTexas signee Jerrod Heard worked out with quarterback guru George Whitfield on spring break.
It’s hard to appreciate in the heat of the annual January and February recruiting flurry, but the uncertainty of the coaching change couldn’t have been easy to navigate for Texas' commitments.

All five competing over the weekend -- Heard, Foreman, his twin brother Armanti Foreman, John Bonney and Donald Catalon -- committed to play for Mack Brown and watched that plan shatter in December. Charlie Strong rode in and inspired hope, but there was no way he could pick up all the pieces for these prospects in so little time.

Signing with Texas required patience, trust and, to some extent, a leap of faith. But they stuck with their pledges, and soon they’ll be back on the 40 Acres for good.

Heard is doing everything he can to prepare. He spent spring break in San Diego working with a handful of college quarterbacks with renowned quarterback coach George Whitfield.

The Denton Guyer star is dedicated to detail, and Whitfield is a pro at pointing out the little flaws. Heard is focused on improving his accuracy in any possible way, from how he holds the ball and bends his wrist to the balance in his legs.

“I think the smaller the things you can try to perfect, the more I can use my ability as a runner and thrower,” Heard said.

From an offensive standpoint, he’s comfortable with what’s coming next for Texas. At Guyer, he operated an offense that borrowed heavily from Oklahoma State’s concepts and playbook. That will make working under offensive coordinator Joe Wickline easier, and Heard likes the guru reputation that assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson brings.

As for how Strong is changing the Horns, Heard isn’t afraid of the head coach’s emphasis on discipline.

“That’s really going to mold us together. I’m all for it and really like it,” Heard said. “I think that’s why they’re starting out with the discipline, and I think that’s really going to change the team. We’re really going to shock a lot of people this year.”

Bonney has been able to witness the effects firsthand. By attending spring practice this month, the Houston Lamar safety received a clearer understanding of what it will be like to play for the new staff. One comment certainly got Bonney’s attention in his conversations with Strong.

“He says the defense is going to win the games this year for him,” Bonney said. “... That really struck a chord with me.”

Landing Bonney was a bit of a close call for Texas after he took official visits to Baylor and Auburn. Looking back, he said those trips were motivated by uncertainty. Watching defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and secondary coach Chris Vaughn in practice answered some of his biggest questions.

“They’re really cool,” Bonney said. “Coach Vaughn is more of a talker; he likes to coach you up that way, loves giving you visual things. Coach Bedford is so smart. It feels like he knows just about everything. I’ve been in meetings and his teaching film was real cool, real cerebral. You get the best of both worlds with those two.”

Bonney knows his best shot at playing in 2014 are on special teams and in nickel packages. Catalon doesn’t expect many carries as a backup to Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, but the Houston Eisenhower back does hope to help out.

For him, sticking with Texas wasn’t a tough call. New running backs coach Tommie Robinson recruited Catalon while at USC. That familiarity made all the difference in staying put, and Strong sealed the deal.

“I like Coach Strong. He wants to win and he’s about business,” Catalon said. “The players they already have are good. It’s not like we have to rebuild. We just have to get to know the coaches.”

Armanti and D'Onta Foreman made the Texas coaches sweat in January when they nearly took a visit to Missouri, but the Texas City brothers say now they would’ve ended up in burnt orange no matter what.

They have big dreams for 2014. Armanti wants to play receiver and also line up on defense in certain packages, and he’d like a shot at returning kicks. D’Onta wants to stick at running back but is open to any position if that doesn’t work out. They want to contribute from Day 1.

They got to ponder these dreams again on Friday while playing pool in the players’ lounge at Texas’ football facility. Like the rest of the signees back in town, they took a chance on a program they’d long loved and a coach they hardly knew.

But they saw what he did at Louisville, and they know what needs to be done at Texas.

“I feel like he can come here and help us be a great team like that,” Armanti Foreman said, “and hopefully even better.”

Big 12 lunchtime links

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
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Missed this last week: Paul Rhoads' son is taking Fred Hoiberg's daughter to prom!

Reviewing the Big 12 pro days

March, 31, 2014
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Pro day season has come and gone. Draft-eligible players returned to school this month and hit the weight room and practice field to give NFL scouts a taste of their potential. Here’s a rundown of how the Big 12’s top draft prospects fared as well as a few who surprised.

TCU (March 6)
Big name: CB Jason Verrett. A total of 26 NFL teams had reps at the Horned Frogs’ pro day, and you know many of them came for Verrett. He didn’t look to improve his 40 time from the NFL combine (4.38), but he did show off a 39 -inch vertical and benched 19 reps.
Sleeper: QB Casey Pachall. While he’ll have to answer lots of questions about his off-field issues, Pachall’s on-field work at pro day was encouraging. He checked in at 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds, ran his 40 in the mid-4.9s and completed 62 of 72 passes, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Kansas State (March 11)
Big name: S Ty Zimmerman. Though 20 Kansas State players worked out at pro day, Zimmerman was not one of them. He’s still recovering from labrum surgery and reportedly plans to hold a workout next month to show his progress.
Sleeper: OT Cornelius Lucas. Hard to project how things will play out for Lucas, a mammoth tackle at 6-8 and 316 pounds, after he discovered a stress fracture in his left foot at the NFL combine. He’s supposed to be out up to eight weeks but plans to work out along with Zimmerman on April 28.

Oklahoma (March 12)
Big name: CB Aaron Colvin. The Sooners had 28 NFL organization represented at their pro day, but a few key players were still on the mend. Colvin, who suffered a torn ACL at the Senior Bowl, did not work out but hopes to be running again by late April and vowed his recovery is ahead of schedule.
Sleeper: C Gabe Ikard. While Ikard elected to stand by his combine numbers, which were strong for his position group, he did use the pro day to show in position drills just how athletic an interior lineman he can be for an NFL club. Running back Damien Williams also made a solid impression, and receiver Jalen Saunders drew mixed reviews after poor shuttle times.

Oklahoma State (March 13)
Big name: CB Justin Gilbert. The Steelers have the No. 15 pick, so it made sense that Mike Tomlin and his GM were among the many coaches in Stillwater to scout Gilbert. He stood by his 4.37 in the 40 from the NFL combine but did agility drills and reportedly wowed in his position drills. He’s a first-rounder, no doubt.
Sleeper: WR Josh Stewart. Well, OK, he’s not much of a sleeper. But Stewart had work to do to raise his stock, and pro day should’ve helped. He improved his 40 slightly, from 4.69 at the combine to 4.59 at pro day, and showed what he can do as a receiver and returner. Safety Daytawion Lowe also made a good impression.

Texas Tech (March 14)
Big name: TE Jace Amaro. The All-America tight end tried to secure a spot in the first round with improvements in the 40 (4.68) and vertical, and at 6-5 and 266 pounds he evoked comparisons to Vernon Davis from one 49ers scout.
Sleeper: CB Bruce Jones. He’s undersized at 5-7 and 183 pounds, but Jones did grab some attention at pro day with a run of a 4.5-second 40 time and team-best vertical of 41 inches.

Kansas (March 14)
Big name: RB James Sims. A dozen scouts showed up for the Jayhawks’ pro day, and the highlight was probably Sims busting off a run of 4.56 seconds in the 40. The 6-foot, 205-pound back was not invited to the NFL combine and told the Lawrence Journal-World he felt good about the numbers he put up.

Baylor (March 19)
Big names: OT Cyril Richardson, RB Lache Seastrunk, S Ahmad Dixon. Richardson shed 20 pounds after his senior season, which had to encourage NFL scouts, and he did nothing at his pro day to diminish his chances of being a top-50 pick. Seastrunk was as explosive as expected, with a time of 4.37 in the 40 and a 4.36 second shuttle, and tried to show off his pass-catching ability. Dixon ran a 4.64 in the 40 at the NFL combine and improved that to 4.48 at pro day.
Sleeper: TE Jordan Najvar. At nearly 6-6 and 280 pounds, Najvar certainly has the size to make the NFL. His speed had been a question mark, but his reported best for pro day was 4.86 seconds in the 40.

West Virginia (March 21)
Big name: RB Charles Sims. A nice showing at the NFL combine (40 time: 4.48) meant Sims needed only to do positional drills, and he drew good reviews for his pass-catching ability despite small hands.
Sleeper: DE Will Clarke. Knowing it’s possible he’ll be asked to play outside linebacker in an NFL scheme, Clarke worked out at both end and linebacker on pro day and tried to show what he can bring to pass coverage as a nearly 6-6, 268-pound defender.

Iowa State (March 25)
Big name: LB Jeremiah George. After a subpar showing at the combine, George had a nice day in front of 30 NFL officials. He hit 4.69 in the 40-yard dash, posted a big improvement in his broad jump and was solid in positional work.
Sleeper: CB Jeremy Reeves. How’s this for a success story? Reeves played at ISU from 2010-12, missed last season with a pectoral injury and showed up to pro day to prove he’s still got it. He had a crazy good day: 4.29-second 40, 43-inch vertical, 11-foot broad jump. The New York Jets signed him on Friday.

Texas (March 26)
Big name: DE Jackson Jeffcoat. Like most other top prospects, Jeffcoat stuck with his NFL combine testing numbers. The 6-3, 253-pound end demonstrated his coverage ability in position drills amid talk that he might have to be a 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level.
Sleeper: CB Carrington Byndom. Questions about the three-year starter’s speed were put to rest when he ran his 40 in 4.37 seconds. Byndom was happy with his positional drills and is starting to line up meetings.

Birmingham NFTC notebook 

March, 30, 2014
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HOOVER, Ala. -- The state of Alabama is home to four of the last five national championships, and there was no shortage of talent on hand Sunday as the Nike Football Training Camp made a stop in the Yellowhammer State. By the end of the day, seven players from four different states earned their invite to The Opening.

New offers pique Payne’s interest

The top-ranked player at the event was defensive tackle Daron Payne, a local product, ranked No. 23 overall in the ESPN 300. He didn’t make the list of players invited to The Opening, but based on the media coverage, he was still the center of attention, both on and off the field.


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Texas Relays recruiting notebook 

March, 30, 2014
Mar 30
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The state of Texas’ top track athletes descended on Austin this weekend to compete in the annual Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays on the campus of the University of Texas, and the field of competitors included several touted 2015 and 2016 recruits. Here’s an update on where a few of them stand in their recruitment.

RB Jones wants to travel

The battle for Ronald Jones II, one of the state’s top running back recruits out of McKinney North, rages on as he should be hitting the road in the next few months.


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Mailbag: WVU QBs, scheduling

March, 28, 2014
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In today’s mailbag, we discuss West Virginia quarterbacks, Texas Tech run defense and Baylor vs. SEC scheduling.

To the ‘bag:

Matt in Dallas writes: Considering how bad Texas Tech's D-line and overall rush defense was for a better part of last season, do you think that there's a chance that the Red Raiders get exposed early in the season by Arkansas' run game?

Trotter: The Hogs could get 200 yards on the ground. But they could also give up 500 through the air. I like Tech in this game against that Arkansas pass defense, which allowed opposing SEC QBs to complete 70.3 percent of their passes last year. Only the Air Force Academy had a worse completion percentage defense in its conference last season.

 


Cliff W. in Madison, W. Va., writes: I know William Crest doesn't arrive in Morgantown until June, but say he comes on campus and looks impressive, do the coaches actually start a true freshman against the likes of Alabama on opening day? Would a bad game hurt him the rest of the season? I'm all for playing the best man for the job but it's Bama!

Trotter: I agree. I think if Crest winds up starting, it will come eventually, rather than right away. Starting Crest against Alabama could be detrimental to his future confidence.

Ben in Chicago writes: So with WVU's QB situation probably not solved until after the spring, is there any hope that one of these young men will know the offense better then the three QBs used last year did?

Trotter: Well, Clint Trickett and Paul Millard will surely know the offense better, since they’ll have another year of experience in it. Skyler Howard could theoretically grasp it quicker, but who knows at this point if he will?

 


Joe in Waco, Texas, writes: Jake, do you ever see a five-star, big-time QB wanting to come to Baylor? Most of those guys want to play immediately and Art Briles has a system where he would like for you to come watch for a couple of years to learn, and then be very successful. They would probably love to play at Baylor, but do they have the patience to wait for their turn? Most five-star recruits expect to play very quickly.

Trotter: How could a big-time QB not want to give Baylor a hard look? The Bears have featured one of the best offenses in college football dating back to the beginning of the RG III days. Sure, a QB might not get to play as a true freshman. But isn’t that usually the case at other programs with high-powered offenses?

 


Steve in Dallas writes: While there is understandable criticism going toward Baylor about weak nonconference scheduling, why is there so much pressure on Big 12 schools to schedule other major conference foes? Each Big 12 school currently plays nine major conference opponents (all in conference), while the other conferences only play eight. If the SEC can get three cream puffs in a year without criticism, why can't the Big 12?

Jon D. in Davis, Calif., writes: If anyone needs examples of scheduling creampuffs, just look at the SEC's lineup year after year. Alabama's is just embarrassing -- again.

Trotter: You guys are right about one thing. Alabama does usually schedule three cream puffs annually. But here’s who else Alabama has scheduled out of conference the last five years: Virginia Tech, Michigan, Penn State and Clemson. If Baylor had any of those four teams on its nonconference schedule, nobody would care about the rest of it (while I’m at it, here is a sample of who the SEC has scheduled in the nonconference for 2014: Oklahoma, Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, UCF, Boise State, Kansas State, West Virginia and Wisconsin).

This isn’t necessarily about who the Bears have scheduled. It’s about who they haven’t. Yes, the argument about nine conference games holds some water. But when it comes to a College Football Playoff committee, Baylor, with its current scheduling, is going to struggle for inclusion against a second SEC team with the same record, that played an SEC conference schedule, that also played Clemson or Florida State or Wisconsin out of conference to boot. That’s just the reality. That’s why Oklahoma has a home-and-home with Ohio State coming up. That’s why Texas added UCLA and Notre Dame to its schedules. Sure, by going undefeated, Baylor can still get into the College Football Playoff going forward. But given the way its nonconference schedules are currently constructed, one regular-season loss will likely be one too many.
The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s captured three Super Bowls on the backs of their triplets. Running back Emmitt Smith churned out yardage between the tackles. Wide receiver Michael Irvin hauled in receptions downfield. And quarterback Troy Aikman captained the unstoppable attack.

Like with the Cowboys, big-time triplets usually translate to big-time offense. And the Big 12 over the years has showcased several notable ones. Oklahoma’s Jason White, Adrian Peterson and Mark Clayton in 2004. Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Joseph Randle and Justin Blackmon in 2011. West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in 2012. Even last season, Baylor boasted one of the best triplets in the country in Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk and Antwan Goodley.

So which Big 12 teams will feature the most prolific offensive triplets in 2014? We rank them below:

1. Baylor

QB Bryce Petty, RB Shock Linwood, WR Antwan Goodley

The Bears remain atop this list, even with Seastrunk bolting early for the NFL draft. Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back last season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing and shined as the featured back while Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were injured. After totaling 46 touchdowns throwing and rushing, Petty should be even better in his second season as a starter. Goodley is an All-American-caliber wideout.

2. Oklahoma

QB Trevor Knight, RB Keith Ford, WR Sterling Shepard

Knight finally live up to his preseason billing with a sparkling Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama. Knight has the talent and potential to be one of the best dual-threat QBs in the country. Ford was one of the top running back recruits in 2013, and would have played more as a freshman had the Sooners not also had four senior running backs on the roster. Shepard has been a dependable starter the last two seasons, and he already has 96 career receptions going into his junior season. He seems ready to take over for Jalen Saunders as the go-to receiver.

3. Texas Tech

QB Davis Webb, RB Kenny Williams, WR Jakeem Grant

Webb broke out with a tremendous performance in the National University Holiday Bowl, throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns in an upset of Arizona State. He had his moments during the regular season, too, and could be in for a monster sophomore campaign in Kliff Kingsbury’s air-it-out offense. Williams is a solid pass-catching running back out of the backfield, and he led the Red Raiders with 497 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last season. Williams has been taking first-team snaps at outside linebacker this spring, so he could wind up deferring carries to DeAndre Washington, who has been a capable backup. Grant is electric with the ball, burning Arizona State with a pair of touchdown catches. Grant was sixth in the Big 12 last season in receiving, and with Jace Amaro and Eric Ward gone, should take on an expanded role offensively.

4. Texas

QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown, WR Jaxon Shipley

The possibilities of this threesome hinges heavily on the health of Ash, who missed virtually all of the 2013 season with concussion issues. Ash is back with the team this spring, and he has had moments before of performing at a high level. After Johnathan Gray’s Achilles injury, Brown took over as the starting running back and performed admirably, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of Texas’ final three games. Shipley has sure hands, is a precise route runner and is capable of catching 70-plus passes in the right quarterback situation.

5. Kansas State

QB Jake Waters, RB DeMarcus Robinson, WR Tyler Lockett

The Wildcats would be ranked second here if John Hubert had another season of eligibility. But running back is a major question, with no back on the roster holding much experience. Robinson might be the favorite to win the job, but he’ll have to fend off Jarvis Leverett and incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack. Lockett is the best receiver in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country. Waters improved dramatically in his first season as the starter in 2013. If a running back emerges, the Wildcats could surge up this list.

6. Iowa State

QB Grant Rohach, RB Aaron Wimberly, WR Quenton Bundrage

Rohach first must win the starting quarterback derby this spring over Sam B. Richardson. But he played well down the stretch while leading Iowa State to a pair of wins to finish last year. Wimberly was banged up for much of last season, but he can be dynamic when healthy. Bundrage was third in the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns in 2013, and with a little more consistency, could be an all-league receiver. This could be the best triplet combination coach Paul Rhoads has enjoyed in Ames.

7. Oklahoma State

QB J.W. Walsh, RB Desmond Roland, WR Jhajuan Seales

Walsh was fifth in college football in Adjusted Total QBR as a redshirt freshman, but he took a step back as a sophomore and eventually lost the starting gig back to Clint Chelf. If he plays like he did as a freshman, Walsh could be one of the five-best QBs in the league. If he performs like his sophomore season, he could lose the job again. Roland is a touchdown machine and is as good as any back in the league in short-yardage situations. Seales could be on the verge of breaking out in a big way after starting as a freshman.

8. West Virginia

QB Clint Trickett, RB Dreamius Smith, WR Kevin White

The Mountaineers have plenty of weapons, but they will only score more points with more consistent QB play. Trickett tops the projected depth chart for now, but he’ll have to outperform Paul Millard, Skyler Howard and William Crest to stick there. Smith was very impressive at times last season backing up Charles Sims. He’ll get the first crack at starting, but Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell will be looming if Smith sputters. White gets the nod as the No. 1 wideout, but Daikiel Shorts and Mario Alford are not far behind as part of a deep and balanced wide receiving corps.

9. TCU

QB Trevone Boykin, RB B.J. Catalon, WR Josh Doctson

Boykin is back at quarterback again after splitting time at receiver the last two seasons. Boykin struggled as the starting QB last season but got little help from his offensive line or receivers. Reports are that he has been sharp this spring in the new Doug Meacham/Sonny Cumbie offense. Catalon is a solid cog at running back, and he averaged 5.3 yards per carry despite playing in an anemic attack last year. Brandon Carter was supposed to be the No. 1 receiver last season -- and still could be in 2014 -- but he wasn’t reliable on or off the field. In Carter’s stead, Doctson surfaced after transferring in from Wyoming, and led the Horned Frogs with 36 receptions and 440 receiving yards.

10. Kansas

QB Jake Heaps, RB Brandon Bourbon, WR Nick Harwell

Harwell should give Kansas what it hasn’t had in a long time -- a go-to receiver. Harwell was the nation’s second-leading receiver in 2011 at Miami (Ohio), and he should give the Kansas offense a much needed shot in the arm. Heaps lost time to freshman Montell Cozart last fall, but he has reasserted himself this spring amid a three-way competition with Cozart and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Bourbon is battling Taylor Cox and Darrian Miller to see who replaces All-Big 12 running back James Sims.

Top-10 player spring update: Texas

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
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During the next two weeks, we’ll be breaking down the 10 best players at the moment on every team in the Big 12.

These lists won’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus yet. Rather, they will include only the players on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now.

On Thursday, we continue with the Texas Longhorns.

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
John Albright/Icon SMIAfter a huge 2013 season, Cedric Reed will be the focus of the Longhorns' defense this fall.
1. Defensive end Cedric Reed: This is the guy Charlie Strong will build his defense around, a 6-foot-6, 258-pound senior who took his game to another level in 2013. During his monstrous junior campaign -- 79 tackles, 10 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles -- Reed often played just as well as Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat, and sometimes better. Reed elected to return for his final season to not only earn his degree, but also to make a run at all the awards Jeffcoat collected and get Texas back to its winning ways.

2. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown: Brown has looked like a future NFL player from the day he first stepped foot on campus, and he started playing like it in 2013. In his first season as a starter, Brown racked up 68 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two sacks and five pass breakups. He'll be a menace for opposing Big 12 linemen, and the former top-15 recruit has a chance to get even better under new defensive line coach Chris Rumph.

3. Running back Malcolm Brown: Texas is going to run the ball plenty under new coordinators Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson, and Brown enters his senior season with a chance to become one of the Big 12's premier backs. He finished sixth in the league in total rushing and surpassed 125 yards in each of his final three games. Brown is in even better shape today physically and has a chance to do big things in 2014.

4. Defensive back Quandre Diggs: Entering his fourth season as a starter, Diggs has the potential to make a huge impact in the new defense that Strong and DC Vance Bedford construct. He led the Longhorns with 10 pass breakups from his nickel spot and added 2.5 sacks, but no interceptions, in 2013. Whether he ends up at corner, safety or back in the nickel, Diggs is hungry and out to prove he's one of the nation's best at his position.

5. Running back Johnathan Gray: The big question mark is, when will Gray get back on the field? He's still recovering from a torn Achilles suffered last November and is hoping to be full strength by the start of fall camp. Even if Gray misses a nonconference game or two, Texas will have big plans for him upon his return. He's one of the conference's most dynamic backs and a critical cog in the Longhorns offense. Don't be surprised if Gray, a freaky athlete, is back in pads earlier than expected.

6. Wide receiver Jaxon Shipley: Shipley is probably underrated at this point, even if his 2013 season wasn't too sparkling from a statistical standpoint (team-high 56 catches, 589 yards, 1 TD). But no matter who's starting at quarterback this season, Shipley is going to be the go-to guy. He's been a starter since he first arrived in Austin, and Texas' new offensive attack will find ways to get him in space.

7. Quarterback David Ash: Should Ash be higher on this list? When he's fully healthy, yes, he's one of this program's most important pieces. The junior is back on the field this spring but won't take any contact. His early efforts have been encouraging, but he still has some rust to shake off, and Strong has been somewhat noncommittal when it comes to calling Ash his starter. If USC transfer Max Wittek joins the program this summer, Ash will have to fight to hold down the job. But when he was healthy in 2012, Ash was a top-25 passer in several key metrics and still has a bright future if he can avoid another concussion.

8. Linebacker Steve Edmond: We finally saw Edmond take a big step forward in 2013, with 73 tackles and two interceptions, but his junior season ended early because of a ruptured spleen. In this multiple defense, it will be interesting to see if Strong and Bedford experiment with playing Edmond down at defensive end or in some hybrid roles. Dalton Santos will push Edmond, too, but expect the senior to play a major role in Texas' new-look defense.

9. Linebacker Jordan Hicks: It's hard to justify ranking Hicks any higher after he's missed 19 games in his past two seasons. He is not competing in spring practice right now while he completes his recovery from a torn Achilles, but once he's ready to go, Hicks should be one of Texas' best linebackers and one of its leaders on defense. He only has one season left to play up to his five-star potential, but staying on the field is more important.

10.Wide receiver Kendall Sanders: Several other Longhorns could take this spot on the list and have more playing experience, but Sanders is definitely worth keeping an eye on this fall. A smooth, speedy athlete capable of game-changing plays, Sanders has one year of game experience under his belt and a chance to take over as Texas' top deep threat.

Big 12 lunchtime links

March, 27, 2014
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I'm betting this guy would be a pretty good running back.
Stron/SarkisianGetty ImagesBoth Charlie Strong and Steve Sarkisian have much to accomplish this spring.
Put mildly, spring ball can sometimes become a labor of love for coaches.

“We got them back from spring break and tried to work the ‘fun’ out of them, gassers and squats,” one SEC assistant told me last week. “But that night was St. Patrick’s Day. Tuesday was like starting all over again. They were worthless.”

But there is value in the practices. For some, this particular spring is more important than it is elsewhere. At Texas and USC, for instance, new coaches are bringing their styles and systems to high-profile, visible college football hubs.

The Longhorns and Trojans lead our discussion of the five programs for which spring 2014 is the most critical (along with a handful of other programs facing critical springs).

1. Texas Longhorns, 2. USC Trojans

These two are inseparable because they’re both big-name programs with new hires, ones that will be heavily analyzed and scrutinized in the coming months (and years). Though they share similarities, they are ultimately different cases.

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The 2013 season featured the most improbable of Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year winners.

As a walk-on, Baker Mayfield won Texas Tech’s quarterback job during the preseason, then went 5-0 as a starter before injuring his knee.

A surprise candidate could always capture the award again next season. But the league also features several formidable front-runners -- starting with Baylor’s K.D. Cannon.

As the No. 4 wide receiver recruit in the country, Cannon had offers everywhere from Florida State to Notre Dame. But the Mount Pleasant, Texas, native elected to remain in-state, giving the Bears offense yet another dangerous weapon to operate with.

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Which of these players will win Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year?

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Cannon will have to earn his way into the rotation, as Baylor has several experienced and talented receivers coming back in Antwan Goodley, Levi Norwood, Clay Fuller, Jay Lee, Corey Coleman and Robbie Rhodes, who was a blue-chip signee in the previous class. But Cannon is a polished prospect who will be tough to keep off the field.

Iowa State’s Allen Lazard is another polished prospect who is capable of carving out a significant role on his offense. Lazard was the gem of the Cyclones’ signing class, and was hotly pursued by Notre Dame and Iowa up to signing day. The Cyclones bring back Quenton Bundrage, who was third in the league last year in touchdown receptions and South Florida transfer D'Vario Montgomery is also now eligible. But coach Paul Rhoads has already indicated Lazard will play right away.

It’s unclear at this point whether Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph will play right away. The Cowboys bring back J.W. Walsh, who has started eight games over the last two years. Walsh, however, struggled with his completion percentage and decision-making last season, which could crack the door for Rudolph to make a run at the starting job. Rudolph is perhaps the most highly touted quarterback recruit Oklahoma State has ever signed. As a senior, the four-star product threw for 64 touchdowns while leading his South Carolina high school to a state title.

Kansas State signee Dalvin Warmack also won a state title. Two in a row, in fact. Over his final two seasons for Blue Springs (Mo.) High School, Warmack rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns while averaging almost nine yards per carry. With John Hubert gone and no back with more than five carries last season returning, the Wildcats have a gaping void in their backfield. Warmack will have his chance in the fall to fill it.

Carries aren’t so readily available in Norman, Okla., where former blue-chip running backs Keith Ford and Alex Ross currently top the depth chart. But Joe Mixon, Oklahoma’s top incoming recruit, might be too explosive to redshirt or keep on the sidelines. The nation’s sixth-best running back recruit had offers from almost every major BCS program, but settled on Oklahoma because his idol, Adrian Peterson, also went there. Mixon racked up 1,704 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns his last year at Freedom (Calif.) High School, and by winning MVP of the U.S. Army All-American Game, he showed he’s ready to help the Sooners from Day 1.

Of course, there are others who could contend for Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year. Baylor signed three other blue-chip receivers in this year’s class. Oklahoma State running back Devon Thomas has already impressed this spring after enrolling early. The Sooners are bringing in several talented pass-catchers, including ESPN 300 slot man Michiah Quick.

Foster Sawyer or Grayson Muehlstein could potentially win TCU’s starting quarterback competition once they arrive on campus. Texas’ Jerrod Heard won’t be stepping into the most stable of quarterback situations in Austin, either. The same goes for West Virginia’s William Crest in Morgantown.

Of course, like Mayfield last year, the league’s Offensive Freshman of the Year could always emerge out of nowhere.

Now, we ask you to weigh in. Of the favorites -- Cannon, Lazard, Rudolph, Warmack and Mixon -- who is the best bet to win Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year?
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Texas hosted its pro day on Wednesday and put its senior prospects to the test in front of representatives from all 32 NFL organizations. Here’s how the Longhorns' top draft prospects fared and a look at who helped their stock.

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
AP Photo/Michael ConroyJackson Jeffcoat, shown at the NFL combine, says he's open to playing wherever a pro team wants him.
DE Jackson Jeffcoat: Texas’ top draft prospect did not participate in testing or the 40-yard dash because he was satisfied with his NFL combine times.

With father and former Dallas Cowboys lineman Jim Jeffcoat in attendance, Jeffcoat did positional drills and displayed the work he’s been putting in on dropping into coverage. Jeffcoat checked in at 6-foot-3 and 253 pounds said he’s open to playing 4-3 end, 3-4 outside linebacker or whatever else an NFL defensive staff would ask of him.

“When it comes down to it, it’s football,” he said. “Whatever a coach tells me to play, I’ll do it. It’s exciting to see they want me to play a hybrid outside linebacker rush guy. It’s fun watching Brian Orakpo and Sam Acho do it, so it would be fun to do the same thing.”

WR Mike Davis: Going into the day, perception was Davis had a chance to raise his draft stock if he put up an impressive time in the 40-yard dash.

The 6-foot, 197-pound deep threat did not run at the NFL combine, so he did have plenty to prove Tuesday. Davis looked sharp in his passing drills with former SMU and Eastern Washington QB Kyle Padron throwing to him. The 40 time? A solid 4.48.

A likely mid-round selection, Davis said he’s receiving good interest so far and has visits scheduled with the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys.

K Anthony Fera: For Fera, preparing for the draft has meant lots of work on his kickoffs. The consensus All-American and Groza Award finalist was Texas’ placekicker and punter but hadn’t done kickoffs in two years thanks to Nick Rose’s strong leg. NFL scouts want to see him boom the ball, and he did just that on Wednesday.

“I hit them to the back of the end zone every time, and one of them hit the roof, so I thought I did pretty well,” Fera said.

The Saints, Titans, Browns and Jaguars could be searching for their kicking solutions in this draft and Fera should be in the running to be the first kicker selected.

OG Trey Hopkins: A 42-game starter at Texas, Hopkins has a chance to be the Longhorns’ first drafted offensive lineman since Tony Hills (2008). He came away proud of his 28 reps on the bench press and said interest is picking up, with a meeting with the Cleveland Browns already set up.

“I want people to know I play all positions on the offensive line,” Hopkins said. “I can snap, play tackle in games. And of course guard is where I played the most. I’m comfortable doing any of them.”

CB Carrington Byndom: It’s possible no Longhorn helped his draft stock more than Byndom on Wednesday. The three-year starting cornerback knew there were questions about his speed, and he’s confident he answered those with a time of 4.37 in the 40-yard dash.

“I think a lot of scouts had me running a lot slower than that,” Byndom said. “I could’ve done a little better on my position work, but there’s still time for that.”

He has one workout lined up and is hoping his performance Wednesday will spark more interest in the weeks ahead.

DT Chris Whaley: A left knee injury ended Whaley’s senior season in November, at a time when Mack Brown believed he was playing like a surefire NFL draft pick. Now Whaley is trying to get healthy, get back on the field and get drafted.

The 6-foot-3, 273-pound defensive tackle said he’s about three months away from being fully healthy again, but received positive feedback from NFL doctors about the progress of his knee’s recovery. Whaley participated in the NFL combine and did only one event at the Texas pro day, knocking out 22 reps on the bench press.

OT Donald Hawkins: At 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, Hawkins knows that, like Hopkins, he’s capable of lining up at a variety of offensive line spots. He thinks he can be a swing tackle-guard but isn’t sure what to expect when draft day arrives. Hawkins’ 40 time wasn’t immediately available, but he hit 20 reps on the bench press.

S Adrian Phillips: The two-year starter set out to prove he’s worthy of a late-round selection and believed he helped his case. While there was some uncertainty about what he ran in the 40 -- some said 4.44, others thought it was closer to 4.5 -- Phillips emerged feeling confident about his coverage work and hoping he’ll hear his name called in the draft.

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Offensive Coordinator Joe Wickline wires up for All Access during spring practice.Tags: Joe Wickline, Spring practice, Longhorn Network, All Access
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