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Thursday, January 31, 2013
Texas recruiting misses: 2011

By Carter Strickland

Johnny Manziel
Texas decided to pass on Johnny Manziel, who went on to win the Heisman.

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas didn’t miss much in 2011.

But the one they did miss hurt the most.

Johnny Manziel was recruited by and, according to many accounts, wanted to sign with Texas. It’s just that Texas’ staff didn’t want the future Heisman winner. Well, not the entire staff. Defensive backs coach Duane Akina lobbied for Manziel to be signed as an athlete. Akina, himself a former quarterback, saw potential. Ultimately coach Mack Brown decided to pass. In all fairness, Texas A&M nearly did, too. But the assistant coaches there were slightly better at convincing head coach Mike Sherman to take a chance on Manziel.

As for the Texas 2011 class, there were not too many chances missed. The class has produced early and often for Texas as 18 of the 22 signees played as true freshmen.

Player: Johnny Manziel
Position: Quarterback
ESPN Ranking: No. 39 QB
Schools interested: Oregon (decommitted from Ducks), Tulsa, Colorado State, Rice and Wyoming
Signed with: Texas A&M

So Manziel won the Heisman, electrified fans, put Texas A&M in the top 10 in 2012 and will have the Aggies there in the preseason top 10 in 2013. It’s not likely that he would have accomplished all that at Texas. In fact, it’s plausible he would not have been a part of the quarterback rotation. Texas didn’t know what to do with him as far as a position goes so that is why the Longhorns failed to offer him. And then there is the offensive line factor. Texas A&M had two first round guys in 2012. (Jake Matthews elected to return. Luke Joeckel declared.) Texas has none. And then there was the play calling. Kliff Kingsbury appeared to have a plan and stuck to it. Bryan Harsin jumbled the offensive focus from week to week and more adapted to what the defense was giving rather than dictating the pace of play.

So, it is safe to say, Manziel most likely would not have been Johnny Football at Texas. Maybe.

If Texas had taken Manziel it most likely would have taken David Ash as well. Manziel may have been classified as an athlete and even if he had been switched to quarterback by the fall of 2011, he would have been the fifth guy on the depth chart. Due to attrition, he would have moved up to third by the time spring ball came around. Ash was not coming off a very successful season and Texas was looking for anyone who could come in and stabilize the quarterback spot. So Manziel, who would have had the same incubation period at Texas as he did at Texas A&M, may have had a shot in spring.

Whether or not Harsin would have been able to recognize the attributes Manziel could bring to the Texas offense is what remains the biggest question. Harsin and Texas wanted a quarterback they could control and who could manage the offense. That is not Manziel style. So it would have been interesting to see how that played out.

In the end, maybe Manziel doesn’t become the player he is today at Texas. But, then again, if Texas had offered and signed him, Manziel wouldn’t have been the player he is today for the Longhorns most-hated rival, Texas A&M.

Player: Spencer Drango
Position: Offensive line
ESPN Ranking: No. 14 OT
Schools interested: Cal, Missouri, Stanford, Texas Tech and UCLA
Signed with: Baylor

Texas invested heavily in bringing in Christian Westerman from Arizona. And judging by the rankings at the time that investment was justified. Westerman was rated the No. 2 tackle in the country. After getting him to commit, Texas lost Westerman to Auburn when Brown reorganized the coaching staff. Westerman has played in parts of three games in two years.

Meanwhile Baylor, which has produced five NFL draft picks along the offensive line since 2009 to Texas' zero in that same time span, locked in on Drango. Drango started all 13 games for Baylor in 2012. Of the five offensive linemen Texas took instead of Drango, four have yet to start and do not appear to be starters anytime in the near future. Only Josh Cochran, who was rated the 74th best offensive tackle to Drango’s 14th, has been a starter for Texas.

Because Texas missed on a player like Drango and instead brought in four players who may not produce for the Longhorns, it has forced Texas to go to the junior college ranks and stymied the development of the offensive line under Stacy Searels.

Player: Jake Brendel
ESPN Ranking: No. 46 OG
Schools interested: Arizona, Arkansas, Cal, Stanford and Texas Tech
Signed with: UCLA

After a redshirt year, Brendel stepped in as the every down center for the Bruins in 2012. Now he might not have been able to do that for Texas. But Texas has had issues at center and has been unable to build depth at that position over the past two years. Having a player like Brendel would have allowed Texas to feel more secure in what it was doing at center, plus provided some push and competition for starting center Dominic Espinosa.

Texas’ offensive line has been loaded down with non-productive weight for the past two years largely because it missed on so many prospects, both by signing some and not singing others like Brendel. It will most likely take one more recruiting cyle before Texas is able to recover from the missteps it made. Had the Longhorns signed someone like Brendel it would have allowed them to concentrate more on other positions in 2013 and as they move through future recruiting classes.