Five to watch: Texas' key freshmen

May, 8, 2014
May 8
10:00
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Our five to watch series continues this week with a closer look at a group of incoming freshmen who could be in line to help the Longhorns right away in 2014. You won't see Texas' highest-rated pledge at the top of the list, because this is not exclusively about star ratings. It's about fit and function.

1. DT Poona Ford

There's a reason why this guy was priority No. 1 for Charlie Strong and his staff on national signing day. Ford, who was once Louisville's highest-rated pledge before the coaching changes, was a must-get for Texas to fix an area that might be relatively concerning.

Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson are legit, but the depth behind them is unproven at best. Hassan Ridgeway could turn it on and be a key piece this fall, but Alex Norman and Paul Boyette Jr. have not panned out entering year three in the program, and Texas failed to sign any defensive linemen in 2013 after losing A'Shawn Robinson to Alabama late.

So yeah, Ford walks into an ideal situation in terms of opportunity. There's a lot to like about what the 6-foot, 285-pound defensive tackle put on his senior tape. If Ford gets the defense down and come along quickly, you're going to see him this fall.

2. OLB Edwin Freeman

The first big commitment of the Strong era, Freeman is a safety in a linebacker's body. At 6-1 and nearly 215 pounds, he's the right kind of package to play some kind of a rover role and produce in the back seven.

A product of Arlington (Texas) Bowie who chose the Horns over Texas A&M despite Mack Brown's departure, Freeman is an explosive and smart downhill tackler who seems ready-made to knock heads on special teams as a freshman and find his way onto the field in the right situations.

These hybrid tweener types such as Freeman and Naashon Hughes seem poised to find a niche in Strong's defense, at least based on how he ran things at Louisville. You want guys like Freeman in a Big 12 defense.

3. WR Armanti Foreman

The Texas City native brings speed and attitude to Texas, plus the ability to play either receiver or defensive back.

Whether it's Foreman, Lorenzo Joe, Dorian Leonard or another one of the many Texas receiver signees, it seems likely at least one of these freshmen will prove to the cream of the crop by the end of fall camp and see early playing time.

The new staff had to put in some time to convince Armanti and his brother, D'Onta Foreman, to stay on board, and they nearly took a visit to Missouri. But both are ready to show up in Austin with the hopes of playing right away, and D'Onta is the kind of weapon Texas can put in the slot and make some noise with in the future.

4. DE Derick Roberson

Why is Roberson, the Longhorns' highest-rated ESPN 300 signee, so low on this list? Only because of Texas' solid depth along the defensive line. When you have a potential All-American in Cedric Reed and two exciting third-year ends in Shiro Davis and Caleb Bluiett, you're in good shape.

Roberson can make that group much better if he shows up ready to play. He'll bulk up in his first year under strength coach Pat Moorer and could turn into even more of a freak by Year 2. For that reason, a redshirt wouldn't be inexcusable.

But as a speed rusher who racked up more than 20 sacks in his senior year at San Antonio Brennan, Roberson is, at the very least, a passing-down rusher who creates problems in the backfield. Don't be surprised if he finds his way onto the second unit and excels when he sees the field.

5. QB Jerrod Heard

Texas fans might not be happy about this ranking, since Heard is the next great beloved quarterback (aren't they all?). Truth is, after watching Heard become a two-time state champion at Denton Guyer, it's easy to buy in and see him as the guy of the future.

That doesn't guarantee playing time in 2014, however. He's as polished as any freshman quarterback in the country and mature beyond his years. He's got the makeup you'd ideally want if you had to throw him out on the field as a rookie. Considering Texas' instability at QB, would anyone really be that surprised if Heard is the starting quarterback by November?

How far he gets this fall depends on how prepared he is this summer and what he proves to Shawn Watson. But assuming Max Wittek does end up in Austin and David Ash recovers to 100 percent as expected, Heard seems more likely to sit than play early on. Considering the expectations he faces, that might be for the best.

Max Olson | email

Big 12 reporter

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