Texas Longhorns: Anthony Fera



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.
Editor's note: This is the fifth and final part of a weeklong series breaking down Texas’ most important spring position battles when the Longhorns begin practice in two weeks.

Moving on: Anthony Fera, who leaves as the most decorated kicker in Longhorns history after a remarkable 2013 season. Fera was the first consensus All-America selection and Lou Groza Award finalist in school history and also one of the Big 12’s best punters. Texas fans figured replacing Justin Tucker would be impossible, but Fera was arguably better in his second and final season in burnt orange.

The contenders: Despite losing Fera, the Longhorns do bring back one experienced placekicker in Nick Jordan and a junior-to-be in Nick Rose who has handled kickoffs for two seasons.

Texas also brings back William Russ, who will be a senior this fall, as well as junior Ben Pruitt, sophomore Michael Davidson and redshirt freshman Mitchell Becker.

Moving forward: After years of divvying up the duties among the staff, Texas finally has a designated special teams coach in Chris Vaughn. He’ll also coach the secondary with Vance Bedford, but is responsible for finding the next Fera on this roster.

This time, though, it seems more likely Texas will go back to having a two- or three-man unit for handling kicks this season. At least, that seems like a likely outcome because of Rose’s specialty -- booming kickoffs. He raised his touchback rate from 36 percent as a freshman to 42 percent in 2013 and should be given an opportunity to earn another role in year three.

Jordan did not appear in a game last season but hit on 9-of-15 field goal attempts as a true freshman in 2012, holding down that job for 10 games while Fera dealt with a groin injury. He hit seven of his final 10 attempts that year and was understandably inconsistent for a rookie. The job should be there for the taking for Jordan this spring.

But Vaughn wants competition. He says he’ll put all his options on the field this spring, put them in pressure situations and find out who stands out.

Russ is a bit of a dark horse in this race, a scholarship player who has dealt with injuries during his career. He and Becker might be the best options at the moment for finding a punter, but there’s no reason to count out Pruitt, Davidson (who recorded one kickoff last season) or anyone else at this point.

Prediction: A too-close-to-call battle in spring ball. Seems like a safe bet right now would be that Jordan is the placekicker, Russ and Becker are battling for punter duties, and Rose continues to hold down the kickoffs. But if someone is good enough to do multiple roles, the staff won't be afraid to consolidate responsibilities.
As we await the start of spring ball, we’ve been examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12. Thursday, we close this series out with special teams.

1. TCU: Honorable mention All-Big 12 place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom was 13 of 14 on field goals inside the 50 last season and drilled a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter at Kansas State. B.J. Catalon was second in the league in kickoff returns and took one to the house in the opener against LSU. Freshman Cameron Echols-Luper took his first punt return 51 yards and had a 41-yarder in the season finale against Baylor. Brandon Carter has had moments in the return game in the past as well. Ethan Perry will be a three-year starter at punter, rounding out a formidable special teams unit.

2. Baylor: Corey Coleman led the league in kick returns, and Levi Norwood scored twice off punt returns. The Bears are loaded with potential game-breakers in the return game and welcome back All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth. If Kyle Peterson proves to be a reliable replacement for departing kicker Aaron Jones, this special teams unit will have no weakness.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAlong with being a top-flight wide receiver, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett can also provide big plays in the return game.
3. Kansas State: The Wildcats feature one of the best kickoff return men in the game in Tyler Lockett, who doubles as an All-American WR candidate. Jack Cantele, the younger brother of All-Big 12 K-State kicker Anthony Cantele, only missed two field goal attempts as a sophomore and nailed a 41-yarder as time expired to beat TCU. Defensive tackle Travis Britz also returns after leading the nation with four blocked kicks.

4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders will feature a lethal one-two punch in the return game in Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, who took a kick back for a touchdown in the bowl game. Receiver Jordan Davis also has return experience. Kicker Ryan Bustin returns after garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose the most explosive return duo in the league in Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch. Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross could be among the players who replace them. Oklahoma boasts the league’s most efficient returning place-kicker in Michael Hunnicutt, who nailed 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. The Sooners have a secret weapon in Nick Hodgson, who led the league in touchback kickoffs last season. Jed Barnett, fifth in the Big 12 in punting average last season, returns as well.

6. Iowa State: The Cyclones had four players make first- or second-team All-Big 12 last season, and departing punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was one of them. Replacing his production won’t be easy, though incoming three-star freshman Colin Downing will try. DeVondrick Nealy, Jarvis West and Aaron Wimberly all had several dynamite moments returning kicks. Cole Netten was 13-of-18 on field goals as a freshman,

7. West Virginia: Nick O'Toole leads the Mountaineers on special teams. The “Boomstache” was 15th nationally in punting last season. The Mountaineers have all their returners back in Wendell Smallwood, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson, though more big plays are needed from this group -- the Mountaineers ranked last in the league in both punt and kick returns in 2013. Josh Lambert comes back after making 17 of 23 field goals as a freshman. The Mountaineers also enjoy a luxury in Michael Molinari, who can do a little bit of everything.

8. Texas: The Longhorns lose their punter and their kicker in consensus All-American Anthony Fera. That hurts. Nick Jordan, who made nine of 15 field goals in 2012, could reclaim his job. Daje Johnson -- who returned a punt for a TD against Oklahoma -- Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Jaxon Shipley all have experience returning.

9. Kansas: Return men Connor Embree (punts) and JaCorey Shepherd (kicks) both come back. The Jayhawks also return kicker Matthew Wyman, who connected on a game-winning 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech. The freshman, however, only made two field goals after that and eventually lost that job to departing senior Ron Doherty. Trevor Pardula was third in the Big 12 in punting as a junior and received votes for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.

10. Oklahoma State: After enjoying All-Americans Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp the last few years, the Cowboys were finally mediocre in the kicking game last season. Ben Grogan struggled as a freshman, making just 11 of 18 field goals while missing two critical attempts in the early-season loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys were also last in the league in punting. Oklahoma State signed three-star kicker Zach Sinor with hopes of curing some of those ills. The Cowboys were still dynamic in the return game, but with Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart both gone, Oklahoma State could lean on juco transfer and track star Tyreek Hill for a jolt on returns.
Twenty-five Big 12 players have been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis Feb. 19-24. The NFL released the invite list Thursday afternoon. The Big 12 players are below:

Quarterbacks
  • None
Running backs
Fullbacks
Tight ends
Wide receivers
Offensive linemen
Defensive linemen
Linebackers
Defensive backs
Long snapper
Kicker
Punter
  • None
Notable omissions:

Top 25 players in the Big 12: No. 15

January, 27, 2014
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With signing day quickly approaching, it’s time to close the chapter on the 2013 season. We’re counting down the Top 25 players in the Big 12 in 2013 over the next few days with a list collaboratively selected by Jake Trotter, Brandon Chatmon and Max Olson. We continue the postseason countdown with the No. 15 player in the Big 12.

No. 15: Anthony Fera, K/P, Texas

Previous ranking: Fera was not ranked in the blog’s preseason list of the Big 12’s top players.

Making the case for Fera: Texas has had more than its fair share of elite kickers -- ever heard of Justin Tucker or Phil Dawson? -- and yet its latest will go down as the most decorated in school history.

Fera became the Longhorns’ first-ever Lou Groza Award finalist and earned consensus All-America honors as a senior. The recognition was well-deserved. Fera made 20 of his 22 field goal attempts in 2013, with the only misses coming on kicks tipped at the line. He enjoyed a streak of 15 consecutive makes during the season, was 14-of-14 from inside 40 and 14-of-15 on kicks with the game within seven points.

In addition, the former Penn State transfer was one of the league’s most effective punters, pinning more than 42 percent of his kicks inside the 20 with only three touchbacks. And he took care of point-after duties. Fera was indisputably one of Texas most valuable contributors, both for its offense and defense, and that’s why he’s 15th in our rankings.

The rest of the list:

Big 12 games of the year: No. 3

January, 23, 2014
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We’ve been counting down the 10 best games of the year in the Big 12, and here's No. 3. One of the most competitive games of the year went down to the wire in Morgantown, W.Va.

No. 3: Nov. 9, Texas 47, West Virginia 40 (OT)

This back-and-forth thriller featured big plays from both teams and seven combined touchdowns after halftime.

What happened: Texas made the plays when it needed them. West Virginia did not.

On fourth-and-7 at the West Virginia 47, Case McCoy found Jaxon Shipley for a 9-yard gain. Five plays later, Anthony Fera tied the game at 40 with 13 seconds left, sending this one to overtime.

In overtime, McCoy was clutch again with a third-down conversion to Marcus Johnson followed by a two-yard touchdown pass to Alex De La Torre on third-and-goal. It was the Texas defense’s turn on WVU’s overtime possession, as it tightened its resolve after a 20-yard run by Mario Alford to start the possession. WVU gained one yard in the next four plays, capped by Steve Edmond’s interception to end the game and send the Longhorns back to Austin with their Big 12 title hopes intact.

Player of the game: UT defensive end Cedric Reed. Several Longhorns defenders had exceptional games, but Reed was relentless. He finished with seven tackles, including two tackles for loss, two sacks, two quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. Not a bad day’s work.

Stat of the game: 6. WVU allowed six sacks and had six fumbles (losing three). UT’s defense was opportunistic and aggressive throughout the game, as its defensive line was all over Mountaineers quarterback Paul Millard after knocking Clint Trickett out of the game.

Quotable: “When one of us gets a sack, that means the other guys are doing their job. We just knew we had to put pressure on these guys and disrupt them.” -- Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.

The rest of the list:
The Big 12 had six players named consensus All-Americans, tied for the most of any conference, including two unanimous All-Americans.

Baylor offensive lineman Cyril Richardson and Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro were unanimous selections.

Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and Texas kicker Anthony Fera and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat were consensus picks.

To be a unanimous All-American, a player has to be listed by all five of the All-American teams recognized by the NCAA: American Football Coaches Association, Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America, The Sporting News and Walter Camp Foundation.

To be a consensus All-American, a player has to be named first team on at least two of the five NCAA recognized All-American teams, and listed on those All-America teams more than other players at their position.

Fera's All-America season all about family

December, 26, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The best present Anthony Fera ever gave his parents was coming home.

He didn't receive the gift of the Lou Groza Award this month, but Texas' senior kicker and punter had plenty to be thankful for this Christmas. After all, 2013 ended up being an awfully good year for Fera.

One season after struggling as an injured and frustrated Penn State transfer, Fera emerged as one of the nation's top kickers. He became a consensus All-American and racked up more honors this December than any kicker has in Longhorns history. His stocking is overflowing with awards.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Fera
John Albright/Icon SMIFinally healthy, Anthony Fera emerged as one of the top placekickers in the nation.
"I wasn't really expecting all of this," Fera said, "but it's definitely a great accomplishment."

All he expected when he arrived in Austin in Aug. 2012 was that his parents would be thrilled. They were finally getting a chance to be there for their only son, and he knew he needed to do the same for them.

In his 3 1/2 years at Penn State, Fera might not have spent more than three weeks at home in Cypress, Texas. Traveling 1,500 miles to catch his games was becoming near-impossible for Tony and Donna Fera -- and not just because of the distance.

Donna has been battling multiple sclerosis for six years. Her husband and son prefer privacy when it comes to her bout with MS. They’re not ready to tell her story yet.

“She’s OK. I’ll leave it at that,” Tony said. “She’s having some surgeries soon and needs some more things done; it’s a process. We’re getting there. Some days are good, some days not good.”

Anthony is relieved to say she’s doing better. His parents recently moved to the Barton Creek area of Austin, 20 minutes west of campus. Both of his sisters are UT grads, and one lives downtown. The Fera family is closer than ever.

“I think it’s been a godsend, especially for my wife,” Tony said. “It just makes life easier for all of us."

Tony and Donna will be in San Antonio on Monday for their son’s final game against No. 10 Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl. They haven’t missed a game this season. Had Anthony stayed in State College, spinal issues would’ve prevented Donna from traveling to watch him kick.

“To be honest, she doesn’t tell me all the bad things or whenever she feels pain,” Anthony said. “She doesn’t want me to stress out about it.”

He’s dealt with plenty of stress in the last two years. The abrupt ending of the Joe Paterno era at Penn State in the fall of 2011, amid a child sex abuse scandal that rocked the community, caught Fera and his teammates by complete surprise.

When the NCAA later announced PSU players could transfer without penalty, a door opened. This was Fera's chance to get back to Texas and spend more time with his ailing mother.

Fera was one of 15 Nittany Lions who transferred. The backlash from Penn State fans was instantaneous, profane and long lasting. He was labeled a traitor.

He left strictly for his family, but moving on wasn’t easy. He continues to keep up with his friends on the team. His parents sent him back for a week last year for belated goodbyes and to find some closure.

“He left the teammates that he cared so much about and came to a team that he didn’t even know,” Mack Brown said last month. “He came in late, so his life was really in turmoil.”

And then his first season at Texas got off to a rough start. A groin injury aggravated in his first month in the program hampered him most of the 2012 season.

“Last year was frustrating,” he said. “I was never 100 percent healthy. Every single time I’d warm up, I could always feel it. Something was just off.”

He made friends in Texas snapper Nate Boyer and holder Cade McCrary, but also plenty of enemies in Happy Valley.

The Twitter and Facebook messages, the emails, even a website -- they didn’t let up. Whenever his successor, Sam Ficken, missed a field goal, Fera got plenty of hate sent his way.

“He’s had to deal with a lot of things that people have no idea about,” his father said.

All that made his 2013 campaign far more satisfying. Fera hit 20 of his 22 field goal attempts, including 15 in a row, and 44 of 45 extra-point attempts. He pinned more than 40 percent of his punts inside the 20. He was essentially Texas’ MVP for much of the season.

He was rewarded with countless All-America and All-Big 12 honors and became Texas’ first Groza Award finalist in school history. Now comes one last game in burnt orange, then a shot at placekicking in the NFL, an endeavor that will once again take him away from home.

Tony and Donna might not be able to make every game, but knowing mom is happy and getting healthy is more than enough for their son.

"She’s absolutely elated," Tony said. "That’s her baby boy."

Amaro, Richardson unanimous AA's

December, 18, 2013
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Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro and Baylor guard Cyril Richardson are unanimous All-Americans.

Amaro and Richardson were named first-team All-America by the American Football Coaches’ Association, Football Writers’ Association of America, Walter Camp Football Foundation, Sporting News and Associated Press -- the five All-American teams recognized by the NCAA.

Amaro is the fifth Red Raider to achieve unanimous All-America recognition. The four others were punter Mark Bounds (1991), linebacker Zach Thomas (1995), running back Byron Hanspard (1996) and wide receiver Michael Crabtree (2007, 2008).

Richardson is the seventh Baylor player to be named a unanimous All-American, joining guard Bill Glass (1956), linebacker Mike Singletary (1980), safety Thomas Everett (1986), defensive tackle Santana Dotson (1991), punter Daniel Sepulveda (2006) and wide receiver Terrance Williams (2012).

Other unanimous All-Americans this year include Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, Boston College running back Andre Williams, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews and Stanford guard David Yankey.

Below is a recap of all Big 12 players honored by the five major All-American teams:

American Football Coaches’ Association

First team
Tight end: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Center: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
Offensive guard: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
Defensive end: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Safety: Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
Kicker: Anthony Fera, Texas

Football Writers’ Association of America

First team
Tight end: Amaro, Texas Tech
Offensive guard: Richardson, Baylor
Cornerback: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Kicker: Fera, Texas

Second team
Wide receiver: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Defensive end: Jeffcoat, Texas
Linebacker: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
Cornerback: Jason Verrett, TCU

Walter Camp Football Foundation

First team
Tight end: Amaro, Texas Tech
Center: Ikard, Oklahoma
Offensive guard: Richardson, Baylor
Defensive end: Jeffcoat, Texas
Cornerback: Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Cornerback: Verrett, TCU
Kicker: Fera, Texas

Sporting News

First team
Tight end: Amaro, Texas Tech
Offensive guard: Richardson, Baylor
Safety: Dixon, Baylor

Associated Press

First team
Tight end: Amaro, Texas Tech
Offensive guard: Richardson, Baylor
Defensive end: Jeffcoat, Texas

Second team
Center: Ikard, Oklahoma
Cornerback: Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Cornerback: Verrett, TCU
Safety: Dixon, Baylor
Kicker: Fera, Texas

Third team
Safety: Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State

Big 12 players on FWAA All-America team

December, 18, 2013
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The Football Writers Association of America released its All-America team Wednesday afternoon. Here are the Big 12 players who made the Football Writers team:

FIRST TEAM

Tight end: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech

Offensive guard: Cyril Richardson, Baylor

Cornerback: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

Kicker: Anthony Fera, Texas

SECOND TEAM

Wide receiver: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

Defensive end: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

Linebacker: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State

Cornerback: Jason Verrett, TCU

Big 12 players on coaches' AA team

December, 18, 2013
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The Coaches released their All-America team, and the Big 12 did extremely well with six players on the team. Here’s a link to the full list. And here are the Big 12 players that earned the coaches' All-American honors:

FIRST TEAM

Tight end: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech

Center: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma

Offensive guard: Cyril Richardson, Baylor

Defensive end: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

Safety: Ahmad Dixon, Baylor

Kicker: Anthony Fera, Texas

Big 12 players on AP All-America teams

December, 17, 2013
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The AP has released its All-America team, and the Big 12 is fairly well represented. Here’s a link to the full list. And here are the Big 12 players that earned recognition:

FIRST TEAM

Tight end: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech

Offensive guard: Cyril Richardson, Baylor

Defensive end: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

SECOND TEAM

Center: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma

Cornerback: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

Cornerback: Jason Verrett, TCU

Safety: Ahmad Dixon, Baylor

Kicker: Anthony Fera, Texas

THIRD TEAM

Safety: Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State

Season superlatives: Texas Longhorns

December, 11, 2013
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Honoring the best of the best from Texas’ 2013 season:

Offensive MVP: RB Johnathan Gray. The best, most valuable player Texas had and the guy the Longhorns wisely built their attack around once David Ash went down. A torn Achilles ended his season after nine games, but Gray finished with 780 yards, four scores and No. 4 in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesJohnathan Gray became the focal point of the Texas offense when David Ash went down to a head injury.
Defensive MVP: DE Jackson Jeffcoat. Came on strong and led the Big 12 in sacks with 12, all of them coming in conference play. Jeffcoat finished with a team-leading 80 tackles, 21 of them for loss, and emerged as a key senior leader. He’s playing up to his five-star potential.

Special Teams MVP: K/P Anthony Fera. The Groza Award finalist finished 20-for-22 in field goals, and his only two misses were deflected at the line. He was a solid punter, too, pinning more than 40 percent of his boots inside the 20.

Newcomer of the Year: TE Geoff Swaim. He didn’t get enough praise for his efforts, but the junior college transfer was a sharp blocker and quickly earned the starting job. He became a critical asset once Texas transitioned to run-heavy offense.

Freshman of the Year: OT Kent Perkins. Really the only choice here, since most of the 15-man rookie class redshirted. Perkins started one game and showed off the potential to be an elite starter down the road.

Most improved: LB Steve Edmond. Among the biggest disappointments of Texas’ 2012 defense, Edmond grew up and became a playmaker as a junior. He snagged the game-clinching interception at West Virginia and was Texas’ leading tackler before suffering a lacerated liver against Texas Tech.

Most impressive win: Texas 36, No. 12 Oklahoma 20. Texas, the major underdog, made the Sooners look like complete frauds, which nobody saw coming, and dominated the line of scrimmage en route to a surprisingly easy victory. Just a great all-around performance, and Texas probably could’ve scored 50.

Biggest surprise: The six-game win streak. Texas rallying to start 6-0 in the Big 12 without its quarterback and with a new DC is still remarkable no matter how this season ended.

Best performance: A few good choices here, but we’ll go with Gray’s night against Kansas State: A career-high 141 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. Honorable mention: Jeffcoat against TTU; the Gray-Malcolm Brown duo against OU.

Best offensive play: We’ll go off the radar: Jaxon Shipley’s 10-yard touchdown catch and Alex De La Torre’s 2-yard score at West Virginia. Two clutch scores to save a comeback.

Best defensive play: Chris Whaley’s 31-yard interception for a touchdown against Oklahoma. He dropped into coverage, picked off Blake Bell’s pass and ran him over at the goal line. That big fella can really run.

[+] EnlargeChris Whaley
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsChris Whaley's rumbling interception return was one of the season's most entertaining moments.
Best special teams play: Daje Johnson’s 85-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Sooners. Made it look way too easy.

Best pass: Case McCoy’s 59-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Johnson against Oklahoma, giving the Longhorns a 17-3 lead. McCoy threw an absolute dime, a 30-yard pass down the sideline on a wheel route. Johnson got a step on Kass Everett and easily outran him to score. Huge play in a huge game.

Best catch: John Harris’ 44-yard Hail Mary catch to give Texas an improbable 17-13 lead at halftime at Iowa State. Harris snagged McCoy’s last-second heave between three Cyclones defenders.

Best hit: Hard to choose one here, so let’s just go with the nine sacks that Texas recorded against Texas Tech. Jackson Jeffcoat was responsible for three, and the best of the nine was probably when he switched gaps from his “Spinner” role after the snap and went completely unblocked to take down Baker Mayfield.

Best decision: Hiring Greg Robinson in July for the football analyst role. Had Mack Brown not lined up his backup plan before the season began, the Longhorns would’ve been in even worse trouble after two games. The role also gave Robinson a baseline familiarity with Texas’ defensive talent.

Worst decision: The fact that Tyrone Swoopes did not end up getting any meaningful game reps after his redshirt was burned. Because he received nothing more than meaningless mop-up time, he wasn’t an option when Case McCoy struggled at Baylor.

Best quote: “Playing you’re a** off. Bottom line. That’s our identity. It has nothing to do with plays, it has to do with believing in yourself and playing your ass off.” -- OC Major Applewhite, after beating Oklahoma

Best interviews: Have to go with two winners here. Quandre Diggs gets a medal for his enjoyable weekly dose of defiance. It’s not anger, it’s not disdain, it’s just the way he delivers his brand of swagger. And McCoy gets one, of course, for his always-chipper demeanor, long-winded but insightful takes and self-deprecating humor.

Planning for success: Texas

December, 5, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- A game as big as Texas vs. Baylor demands an appreciation for the finer details.

We know Baylor can score 70 points, the Longhorns need to run the ball, somebody will play defense and turnovers and injuries will likely doom the loser. That’s obvious.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Fera
John Albright/Icon SMIExperience kicking in poor weather could help Texas' Anthony Fera Saturday.
What has Mack Brown’s attention this week is special teams. The Longhorns have a Lou Groza Award finalist in kicker/punter Anthony Fera. However, their play in the other areas of the game’s third phase hasn’t come close to award-winning.

Fera is now 19 for 20 on field goals and practically automatic. He’s also a top-25 punter nationally when it comes to pinning opponents inside the 20 and 10. There can be no complaining about his contributions.

But some of Texas’ other special teams numbers this season are not too friendly. Consider the following:

Kickoffs: Nick Rose earned praise from Brown as a freshman for his knack for touchbacks. This season, he’s getting those on 45 percent of his kickoffs, an above-average rate nationally. The coverage of those kicks has been the greater issue.

Kick coverage: Texas ranks fifth-worst in FBS at giving up returns of 30-plus yards, at a rate of nearly 30 percent. Opposing returners are getting stopped short of the 25-yard line just 36 percent of the time.

Kick returns: The Longhorns are averaging 20.9 yards per return, which ranks 74th nationally. Less than 13 percent of Texas’ returns have gone for 30 or more yards. No touchdowns, either.

Punt coverage: Texas is giving up 12.1 yards per punt return, which ranks 107th in FBS. The Longhorns have permitted four returns of 20-plus yards.

Punt returns: If not for Daje Johnson’s 85-yard score against Oklahoma, Texas would be averaging 7.8 yards per punt return. That would rank outside the top 70 nationally. Jaxon Shipley might be the solution here after averaging 13 yards on his four returns last week.

Penalties: Texas ranks among the 10 worst nationally when it comes to special teams penalties, with 18 this season.

Against Texas Tech, the Longhorns allowed a 51-yard touchdown run by a punter, drew a roughing penalty and Fera had a 19-yard punt. Brown liked what he saw from the kick coverage and Shipley’s returns, but kick returns and punt coverage are an issue.

“Those were two things that we need to fix,” Brown said.

That might be easier said than done this week. Weather forecasts call for freezing rain, temperatures below freezing and 15 mph winds in Waco. There’s no way to simulate that in practice, but Brown has already started thinking ahead.

“You've got a situation on Saturday afternoon, you can probably kick it out (on kickoffs) two quarters and you'll probably have to look at some other type of kick for two quarters,” he said, “because if it's 15 miles an hour right in your face, I don't know that you're going to kick it out very often.”

Fera isn’t a fan of rubgy-style kicking either, which will complicate punts. With Fera’s experience kicking in adverse weather at Penn State, the Longhorns won’t have to worry much about his field goals and extra points.

“I do feel like he's as good as there is out there in his field goals,” Brown said. “He's just been unbelievable.”

That’s an invaluable asset, especially in a game this big. But Fera can’t fix Texas’ specials team woes all by himself.

Five things OSU exposed against Texas

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
10:00
AM ET
AUSTIN, Texas -- There were plenty of reasons for Texas' meltdown and 38-13 home loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday, and some of them may tell us a lot about how these Longhorns will fare in big tests to finish out the regular season. Here are five things the Cowboys exposed about this Texas team on Saturday:

1. There’s zero room for error

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
AP Photo/Michael ThomasMack Brown and the Longhorns got their first Big 12 loss of the season on Saturday.
For a team that ran off six straight victories in the Big 12, Texas was reminded that countless mistakes prove costly against good opponents.

The Longhorns started off horribly at West Virginia and got away with it. Case McCoy threw six interceptions during the streak but got away with it. Texas had to run the ball 50 times a game to win and still got away with it.

Its defense seemingly made tangible weekly improvement but also faced only one top-50 scoring offense along the way, a Kansas State unit that’s playing far better today than it was in September. Texas’ defensive line wrecked the Mountaineers but couldn’t find any semblance of a consistent pass rush to hurry Clint Chelf.

And imagine if Mike Gundy hadn’t backed his Cowboys off in the second half. This was a pure meltdown that could’ve been much worse. Credit Texas’ players for the 6-0 start they engineered in Big 12 play, but they learned just how little room for error they have in big games with the way this team is currently constructed.

Mack Brown's team might get away with stuff against a Texas Tech team that has lost four in a row. But these Longhorns would have to play a near-perfect ballgame to stand a chance of going four quarters with Baylor.

2. Small-play offense

There was just way too much dink-and-dunk going on with this offense against OSU, which is probably a product of injuries, a restrained approach with McCoy at the helm, his own checkdowns and a stout Cowboy defense.

McCoy had one completion of 15-plus yards on the day. He completed four or more for 15-plus in each of Texas’ past five games. Without Johnathan Gray, Texas managed just two rushes of more than 10 yards. When this offense was trying to take shots and mount a rally in the third quarter, only three plays gained more than 10 yards.

Against OSU, Texas faced second down and 6-plus a total of 17 times and third down and 6-plus on nine occasions, putting a team that’s overly dependent on the run into too many difficult spots. The kind of spots that can’t always be solved by screen passes.

3. Pass defense doesn’t pass test

The Texas secondary has avoided scrutiny for the most part this season, but that unit didn’t challenge Chelf and his receivers much on Saturday. Safety Mykkele Thompson snagged his first career interception when Chelf threw into double coverage. That was the high point.

Chelf averaged 8.95 yards per attempt and gained first downs or touchdowns on 45 percent of his throws. And he only had to throw the ball 22 times to pick apart Texas. Getting no pass rush up front didn’t help Duane Akina’s crew, but then again, none of his DBs recorded a pass breakup.

If you take a quick skim of the box score, you’ll see the Cowboys had 197 passing yards and no completion longer than 29 and you might call that a mild success for “DBU.” But again, that’s only because OSU had no need to throw the ball in the second half. Not when trading punts ensured an easy victory. Texas Tech and Baylor won’t be so merciful.

4. Special teams struggling

Disclaimer: Anthony Fera has hit 17 of his 18 field goal attempts this season. He should be a Lou Groza finalist. He’s that good, and he’s basically beyond reproach at this point compared to the rest of the Longhorns’ special teams foibles.

The kick returns are ineffective, none worse than a botched reverse that put Texas at its own 6 to start the second half. The kickoff defense isn’t any better. Bad starting field position hurt Texas a number of times.

And the returners are in a real funk. Daje Johnson might be sitting a few of those out going forward. He can break a big one ever so often, but he’s also liable to drop one at any moment. And his longest kickoff return against OSU went 18 yards. That’s a problem.

When Fera agreed to transfer to Texas from Penn State, Brown proudly declared that Texas could have some of the best special teams in the country. Surely, he’s not saying that right now.

5. The QB run still works

Kudos to Gundy and his staff for recognizing a weakness in the Texas defense and exploiting it. Its defensive linemen aren’t particularly adept at playing the read-option offense with consistent success, and the Cowboys knew Chelf would have some nice run lanes if OSU could get Texas’ linebackers spread out over the field and out of position.

Chelf picked up gains of 14, 22 and 18 yards on the ground, and those were just on his first four rushing attempts. He finished the day with 95 yards and two scores running the ball.

Baker Mayfield has three rushing scores this season. Bryce Petty has 10. You know Texas Tech and Baylor will both find ways to test the Longhorn defense with their feet.

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