Texas Longhorns: Cedric Reed

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.
AUSTIN, Texas -- The head coach wants to see you in his office.

To Cedric Reed and his Texas teammates, those words are supposed to mean trouble. He was admittedly a bit uncomfortable when he showed up to the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletics Center this winter and got the message.

Charlie Strong simply wanted to hang out with his star defensive end.

“He was calling me, ‘Hey, get up here!’ That was unusual,” Reed said. “Never really did that before. We sat there and lounged around and watched film.”

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
AP Photo/Eric GayCharlie Strong put up the horns in his introductory news conference.
The locks are off the doors in the football offices. The doors are open. The new guy in charge is making changes and making an impression.

Strong is out to change the culture of the Longhorns. And it starts with the little stuff.

Like opening up the coaches’ office and making sure players know the staff always has time for them. Reed is now seeing four or five players hanging in the office at a time, joking around and talking ball with their new coaches.

This is Strong trying to break the ice and to start building some valuable bonds. He can’t ask a player to buy into everything he demands on the field if that player doesn’t trust him off the field.

“I’ve told the players that now, when you come up, you can just walk right in,” Strong said. “I just want them to know who we are. When a young man knows that you care about him, he’ll do everything you ask of him.”

And Strong is asking plenty of his players this spring in an effort to find out who can hang with his expectations. He’s out to remind this team what it means to be a Longhorn, and that’s where the offseaon motto comes from: “Put the ‘T’ back in Texas.”

The line was born, Strong says, from conversation with a recruit shortly after he took the job. Strong asked the question: When you think of Texas, what do you think of?

The prospect was, understandably, less than impressed by the program’s trajectory and recent reputation for underperforming.

That was one of the many reminders Strong needed to shake things up.

Some of the changes are easy to spot. Texas players now make the half-mile walk to and from the practice fields on foot -- no more getting bused around. And they’re not throwing up the horns with their hands, not just yet. Strong feels they haven’t earned that right.

“They’ll get it back one of these days,” he said.

Texas players wore new workout clothes this winter with the new standards listed on the back: Toughness. Trust. Togetherness. Team. That's another Strong idea, and one that he hoped the players would latch onto quickly.

He’s not out to be their motivational speaker. He’s telling them how things are going to be from now on if Texas plans to get back to its winning ways.

“The players understand that,” Strong said. “When I put that on the back of their shirts, (Dominic) Espinosa said, ‘Coach, that’s what we needed.’ They worked.”

And Strong is out to practice what he’s preaching, all the way down to running with the team during offseason conditioning and keeping up with them in the weight room. Reed was startled when he showed up for a 5:30 a.m. workout one day and saw Strong was already soaked from his own early-morning session. Reed sees the same commitment on the practice field, where Strong’s demands must be met.

“He’s real. He’s really real,” Reed said. “He won’t embarrass you in front of everybody, but he’ll come up to you and tell you exactly what he wants. It’s a motivational, ‘I’ll tell you want I want’ kind of thing.”

Whether it all pays off and creates the needed results, only time will tell. There will be roster attrition this offseason if players don’t want to put in the effort now expected of them. Two players have already been dismissed from the program and three more backups elected to end their careers (though two were due to injuries).

The changes won’t stop soon, because it’s going to take a lot more than open office doors and post-practice walks to get the Texas program back on track. As Strong proudly joked after his fourth spring practice: “The screw has been tightened from Day 1.”

Strong won’t talk badly about the Mack Brown era, and neither will Texas players. They don’t want to compare the old and new regimes -- different coaches, different styles.

And these are, indeed, very different days for Texas football.
It’s Take Two Tuesday again, when we give our takes on a burning question in the league.

Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best chance of jumping up and challenging Big 12 favorites Baylor and Oklahoma for the conference crown?

Take 1: Max Olson -- Texas

Oklahoma and Baylor should both be considered top-10 squads in 2014, there’s no dispute about that. They’re in terrific shape going forward. But the way this league is set up, it’s hard to see either emerging undefeated by December.

The team best built to challenge them is Texas, at least on paper. Remember, for all its flaws in 2013, the Longhorns were two quarters away from winning the Big 12 despite major injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. They lose key pieces, but could come back better than expected.

That’s because there’s a new sheriff in town. Charlie Strong is dedicated to changing the mentality of this program and bringing back the toughness and accountability that went missing in recent years. He put together an impressive staff and brought in a revered strength coach. This program is undergoing big changes.

And there’s enough talent on board to sustain another run at a conference title. Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson will build an offense around the run game trio of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron, and there’s good depth at receiver and on the line. What Texas needs most is a full year from David Ash, but Max Wittek seems likely to become the insurance option there.

If Texas is going to challenge the league favorites, it’ll be with a defense that brings back leaders at all three levels (Cedric Reed, Steve Edmond, Quandre Diggs) and is full of experienced talent. This is a unit that will line up a bunch of different ways and cause a lot of problems.

Revamping this Texas program will take time, but the Longhorns could have enough to make another run in 2014.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters was one of the nation's most effective quarterbacks during the second half of last season.
The Longhorns certainly have the talent and supporting cast to seriously compete for a Big 12 title. But until they find the answer at quarterback -- and I’m dubious they will in Strong’s first season – it’s hard to see them doing so.

The Kansas State Wildcats have no such issues. And they too have the surrounding cast to make a run at the Bears and Sooners for the league championship.

After struggling early, Jake Waters settled in at quarterback the last half of the season and cut talented playmaker Daniel Sams out of the rotation. From Oct. 26 on, Waters produced the 13th-best Adjusted QBR in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Info, while leading the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games (he threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns in the lone loss, too).

Besides Waters, K-State also boasts one of the top wide receivers in the nation in the uncoverable Tyler Lockett, who had the third-most receiving yards in college football during the same Oct. 26-on stretch.

On the other side, Bill Snyder replenished his defense with a trio of ESPN JC 50 signees in defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott and cornerback Danzel McDaniel, who should fill the slots in the lineup where the Wildcats have holes.

K-State will have to earn its way into the conference title chase, with road trips to both Baylor and Oklahoma. But K-State gets the Longhorns in the Little Apple, where it hasn’t lost to Texas since 2002.

The Wildcats also get defending national runner-up Auburn in Manhattan, Kan., earlier in September. If they topple the Tigers in that Thursday night clash, the rest of the Big 12 will quickly realize that K-State is a legitimate contender.
AUSTIN, Texas -- The blueprint of what Cedric Reed hopes to achieve in 2014 has already been laid out.

That’s because Jackson Jeffcoat did it all last fall: Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, All-Big 12, consensus All-American, Ted Hendricks Award, team MVP, team captain, soon-to-be NFL draft pick.

“Every time I looked up on Twitter,” Reed said, “he was winning a new award.”

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed is ready to grab the spotlight on Texas' defensive line.
And Reed couldn’t have been happier for his teammate and friend. He’d continued a proud tradition of elite defensive ends at Texas, following in the footsteps of the likes of Brian Orakpo, Alex Okafor, Sam Acho, Sergio Kindle and several other NFL ends.

Reed knows he’s next and that he’ll play under Texas-sized expectations in 2014. He chose to return for his senior season because he wants to go out and earn all those things his predecessors achieved.

“There were a lot of goals I set coming into college,” Reed said.

He showed the potential to be as good as any of those former Longhorn ends in his first season as a starter, with 79 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 16 QB pressures and a team-high five forced fumbles.

For most of the season, Reed was as good as Jeffcoat and sometimes better, with eight of his sacks coming in Big 12 play and typically at critical moments. And that was just the start.

The 6-foot-6 senior is bulking up beyond the nearly 260 pounds he played at last season and believes he’s prepared to take over where Jeffcoat left off. If this all goes as planned, Reed is about to become a national name.

But there is change, and lots of it, to face over the next few months. The most obvious: a new coaching staff and a new defense. New defensive line coach Chris Rumph has already made a big impression after one week of spring practice.

“His credibility comes from Alabama. He has a lot of guys in the league,” Reed said. “But I’m learning from him how to be a man, mostly. He’s got on me these last few days just about little stuff I can fix. It’s not stuff so much I can fix on the football field, but more of as a man that I can carry over to the football field.”

Playing for Rumph means learning a new language and terminology, but Reed says that hasn’t been a stumbling block so far. He’s happy to receive some next-level learning, especially when it comes to technique.

One week in, it’s already obvious to Reed how much this Longhorn program is about to change under Charlie Strong’s watch. That hit the players quickly during their first practice on Tuesday, when Strong and his staff turned the pace up a noticeable notch.

“After the first five periods, I think I was winded,” Reed said. “I was like, yeah, this is going to be different.”

Then there will be mastering the defense that Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford devise. The new head coach knows he’s working with some big-time talent up front as he plans a multiple defense that can roll out 4-3 or 3-4 looks.

“You look at those guys up front with Cedric and Malcom [Brown] and Tank [Jackson[ and [Shiro] Davis, you’ve got some guys you can move around and guys that are in place that are big-bodied guys,” Strong said. “But they’re also athletic enough that you can take your parts and move them around and put them where you need to.”

This is a defensive line Strong can build his scheme around, one he can trust to get pressure. He also needs to be able to trust Reed as a leader in the locker room.

That’s a role Reed is happily accepting. He’s played with enough vocal defenders that he said he got by on being quiet and simply putting in his work. He doesn’t want it to be that way anymore.

He’s speaking his mind now, telling teammates what they need to hear and getting on them for the little stuff. Reed says Rumph has been hinting at this lately. Texas’ defensive line needs starters who aren’t afraid to speak up.

“Guys look up to me more. You can tell,” Reed said. “It is a leadership role that you take as a senior, that you finally realize once you get on the field with all the guys that they give you the pathway to go first and stuff like that. I feel like I am a lot stronger, I am a lot faster, I put on some weight -- a lot of us put on a lot of weight -- and I feel like I know the game a lot more.”

He can thank Jeffcoat and all his predecessors for setting the example. The former Texas defensive end likes to tell Reed: “You’ve got to do better than me.” This fall, Reed plans to prove it.
The 2013 season featured one of the most competitive races for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, with at least a half-dozen defenders in the mix.

Ultimately, Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett shared the award. Both are now gone, leaving the race wide open again in 2014. But the league will still have several formidable candidates for the award.

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsTCU's Devonte Fields had a sophomore season to forget, but has the talent to be one of the Big 12's best defensive players.
Going into last season, returning TCU defensive end Devonte Fields was actually the favorite to grab the honor. After all, as a true freshman in 2012, he captured the Associated Press’ Defensive Player of the Year award in the league (Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown won the coaches' honor). But after wreaking havoc as a rookie, Fields was not a factor in his second year. He was slapped with an offseason suspension that sidelined him in the opener against LSU. When he returned, he looked out of shape and was hardly the same player. And then Fields suffered a foot injury that ultimately forced a season-ending procedure in October. Despite a disappointing sophomore campaign, he still has the talent to be one of the most destructive defensive forces in college football.

Fields isn’t the only league defender coming back who is capable of getting to the quarterback.

Kansas State end Ryan Mueller, Texas end Cedric Reed and Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker ranked second, third and fourth in the Big 12 behind Jeffcoat in sacks last season.

In his first season as a starter, Mueller emerged from nowhere to become one of the best all-around defenders in the conference. He led the Wildcats in sacks, tackles for loss, quarterback hurries and forced fumbles. In a league stacked at defensive end, Mueller became a first-team All-Big 12 selection.

Reed was just as prolific as Mueller, but was overshadowed playing alongside Jeffcoat. Reed led the Big 12 in forced fumbles, and was virtually unblockable around the edge by the end of the season. Reed considered an early jump to the NFL, but elected to return to anchor coach Charlie Strong’s first defense at Texas.

But as good as Mueller and Reed were, no Big 12 defender had a stronger finish to the season than Striker. In his first year as a starter, the sophomore flashed signs of his potential in September, hammering Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees on the game’s third play to force a pick-six. By the bowl season, not even two-time defending national champion Alabama could contain him. Striker racked up three sacks in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and jarred the ball loose from Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron in the final minute that led to an Oklahoma touchdown to seal the stunning win.

SportsNation

Of these candidates, who is the best bet to win Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2014?

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Discuss (Total votes: 4,473)

Several other players in the conference are capable of breaking into the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year discussion. The Baylor defensive line duo of tackle Andrew Billings and end Shawn Oakman is stacked with potential. Oklahoma’s Geneo Grissom finally unlocked his with three sacks and a touchdown fumble recovery return in the Sugar Bowl, and could be primed for a big senior season. Fellow Sooners defensive end Charles Tapper was the only underclassman to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors last season. Texas’ Jordan Hicks could be as good as any linebacker in the league if he could ever stay healthy. And on top of Fields, the TCU defense features safety Sam Carter and tackle Chucky Hunter, who have been stalwarts in the Big 12 the last two years.

But only five players can be included in this poll. And Baylor inside linebacker Bryce Hager, who has as much experience as any player in the league, netted the final slot. Hager will be a three-year starter, and he led the Big 12 in tackles his sophomore season, in which he earned second-team all-conference honors. Hager repeated the honor last year despite missing the final month of the season with a hernia injury that required offseason surgery. When healthy, Hager is as sure a tackler as any returning defender in the league.

Now, it's your chance to weigh in: Of Hager, Fields, Mueller, Reed and Striker, who is the best bet to capture Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors next season?
Editor's note: This is the second part of a week-long series breaking down Texas’ most important spring position battles when the Longhorns begin practice in two weeks.

Moving on: Jackson Jeffcoat, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and All-America defensive end. Good luck finding another one of those, Texas! (Ah, wait, Cedric Reed is very good, too.) Jeffcoat overcame injuries and played up to his five-star potential in his final season as a senior. He was versatile enough to play on several spots on the Horns’ defensive line under Greg Robinson, and Jeffcoat’s production will be difficult to replicate. Texas also loses top backup Reggie Wilson, a fellow senior.

[+] EnlargeDerick Roberson
Miller Safrit/ESPN Derick Roberson, Texas' top-rated signee, should make an impact on the defensive line in his freshman season.
The contenders: We know Reed is the real deal. But who’s ready to earn a starting job and line up on the other side of the senior-to-be?

The top contenders are Shiro Davis, Caleb Bluiett and Bryce Cottrell. Each one is entering his third year in the program and contributed to some extent last season.

There’s also Derick Roberson, a true freshman from San Antonio who was an Under Armour All-American and Texas’ top-rated signee at No. 78 in the ESPN 300. Texas could also consider signee Jake McMillon an end, though the previous staff that recruited him projected the Abilene (Texas) lineman as a defensive tackle.

Moving forward: The most touted of the veteran trio is Davis, a Shreveport, La., native who flipped from LSU to Texas on signing day two years ago. He played as a true freshman and sophomore, primarily in mop-up time and as a rotational backup. He has shown he can rush the passer.

Bluiett is an interested case study in being too versatile. He’s a terrific athlete -- you should’ve seen him on a baseball diamond in high school -- who has floated around between defensive end and tight end during his two seasons with the program. He earned a start against Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl at defensive end and one of his two career tackles was an 11-yard sack.

Cottrell, another late find in the 2012 class, played in 11 games this past season and had one sack and a pass breakup. Even if two of these three do not start, they’re poised to see the field plenty in 2014.

And then there’s the much-hyped Roberson, who could stand to spend a year in the weight room with Pat Moorer putting good weight onto his long frame. But chances are he’s too talented to keep on the sidelines this fall. He’s more like Davis than the other two -- a speed rusher who can at least help on third downs early in his career.

Predictions: Davis does just enough in the spring to hold onto his front-runner status, and Bluiett emerges as the most likely to challenge the junior for the gig. Expect Davis to win out in the end if he brings his best. Roberson arrives in the summer and turns heads from the beginning, prompting Chris Rumph to work him into the rotation as a freshman. Rumph wasn’t afraid to play freshmen at Alabama last season, and he’ll put Roberson to work in a limited role.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: DL

February, 24, 2014
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Monday with defensive line. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the defensive lines at the moment:

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesOklahoma end Charles Tapper will lead the Big 12's best defensive line in 2014.
1. Oklahoma: D-line began as a weakness but quickly turned into a strength under first-year position coach Jerry Montgomery. End Charles Tapper was an All-Big 12 selection as a sophomore, and tackle Jordan Phillips was on his way to earning similar honors before a back injury ended his season prematurely. Both players are back. So is Geneo Grissom, who had three sacks in the bowl win over Alabama. Nose guard Jordan Wade earned a starting role late in 2013, and Chuka Ndulue will be a starter for a third season. Basically, the entire rotation returns. If Phillips rebounds from the injury, this could prove to be Oklahoma’s finest D-line since 2009, when NFL All-Pro Gerald McCoy roamed the middle.

2. TCU: DE Devonte Fields, the Associated Press’ Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman in 2012, had an empty season in 2013 thanks to a suspension, then a season-ending foot injury. If Fields can return to the player he was, TCU will be formidable up front. Chucky Hunter was a second-team All-Big 12 pick inside last season, and he’ll be flanked by an array of experienced tackles in Davion Pierson, Jon Lewis and Tevin Lawson, who were all part of the rotation last season. Ends Terrell Lathan, James McFarland and Mike Tuaua, who combined for 11 sacks in 2013, all return as well. TCU's D-line figures to be as deep as any in the league.

3. Texas: Cedric Reed, one of the best sack men in the Big 12 last season, returns after giving the NFL a cursory thought. The Longhorns have to replace Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat on the other side, but ESPN 300 recruit Derick Roberson, the No. 8 DE in the Class of 2014, could help right away. The Longhorns should also be stout inside, with run-stuffing tackles Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson back to clog the middle.

4. Kansas State: Ryan Mueller, who was eighth nationally with 11.5 sacks last season, comes back after a breakout All-Big 12 season. Travis Britz is an all-conference-caliber tackle and gives K-State one of the better one-two punches on the D-line in the league. Joining them will be Terrell Clinkscales, who was the No. 4 junior college DT in the 2014 class. The Wildcats pried Clinkscales away from Nebraska, and at 315 pounds he could be the perfect complement to Britz, who relies more on quickness.

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
John Rivera/Icon SMIBaylor defensive end Shawn Oakman will play a bigger role next season.
5. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose two-time All-Big 12 tackle Calvin Barnett. James Castleman, however, will be a three-year starter, and end Jimmy Bean had a career night in the Cotton Bowl with three tackles for loss. The key to the Cowboys fielding one of the better lines in the league again will be whether Ben Hughes, Vincent Taylor and/or Vili Leveni can emerge inside after redshirting in 2013. All three are promising prospects, especially Taylor, who was an ESPN 300 recruit in the 2013 class.

6. Baylor: The Bears feature two of the more intriguing defensive linemen in the league. DE Shawn Oakman, a former Penn State transfer with tremendous length at 6-foot-9, finished sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss last season, but he tailed off in Big 12 play. Baylor will ask him to play a much bigger role along the line, and he has the potential to give the Bears a unique playmaker there. On the inside, Baylor will lean more on Andrew Billings, who was part of the DT rotation as a freshman. If both Billings and Oakman play up to their vast potential, Baylor could be a handful up front.

7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose their two best defensive linemen in Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush, and Tech got pushed around up front anyway last season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury recognized this deficiency and signed four juco defensive linemen, all of whom have a chance to play immediately. Of the returning linemen, Branden Jackson was by far the most productive, totaling nine tackles for loss and four sacks as a starter.

8. Iowa State: Like Texas Tech, Iowa State loaded up on immediate defensive line help, signing three juco defensive ends in Dalyou Pierson, Terry Ayeni and Gabe Luna, who is enrolled already for spring ball. Those three together with All-Big 12 honorable-mention selection Cory Morrissey and sophomore Mitchell Meyers should give Iowa State a solid rotation at end. Rodney Coe, who started the last four games, will anchor the Cyclones inside.

9. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose two of three starters along the D-line, including second-team All-Big 12 end Will Clarke. West Virginia is hoping for big things from DE Kyle Rose, who started as a sophomore last season. Dontrill Hyman will likely fill a starting role on the other side, though he could get pushed for time by Eric Kinsey and Noble Nwachukwu, who both will be in their third year in the program. The Mountaineers will lean on Christian Brown and Darrien Howard at nose guard. Howard was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and played as a freshman. There’s some talent and potential here.

10. Kansas: Despite also losing two starters, the Jayhawks have experience up front. Defensive captain Keon Stowers is back after manning the middle in 2013. Ben Goodman returns as well in Kansas’ “buck” role, and he is coming off a very solid sophomore season. Goodman’s backup, Michael Reynolds, and rotation players Tedarian Johnson and Ty McKinney give the Jayhawks depth.

Who to watch in spring: Shiro Davis

February, 24, 2014
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Editor's note: This is the first part of a weeklong series taking a closer look at Texas players worth watching when the Longhorns begin spring practices in three weeks.

No Jackson Jeffcoat and no Oscar Giles means a whole new world for Texas’ defensive ends going into the 2014 season.

[+] EnlargeShiro Davis
John Albright/Icon SMIAfter showing flashes last season, it's time for junior defensive end Shiro Davis to live up to his recruiting hype.
Their best player, Jeffcoat, graduated and is off to the NFL after becoming the Big 12’s best defensive player in his senior season. You could call him the undisputed leader of this unit, but truthfully that was the job of Giles, the former assistant coach who recently took a job at Louisiana Tech after nine seasons under Mack Brown at Texas.

What Texas does have, fortunately, is another All-Big 12-caliber defensive end ready to lead the way in Cedric Reed. On his finest days as a junior, Reed was just as good as Jeffcoat and probably better. He came back for one more season because he wanted to finish things on the right note.

But he’s going to need a sidekick. Why not Shiro Davis?

The 6-foot-3, 250-pound junior enters his third year in the program with every opportunity to take on such a role.

He’d been behind Jeffcoat, Reed and Alex Okafor ever since he arrived on campus as a high school All-American and ESPN 150 recruit who made a last-second flip from LSU to Texas on signing day. The Shreveport, La., native left his home state for a chance to do big things in Austin.

There’s no better time than now. Davis has appeared in 20 career games, with five of his 18 tackles coming behind the line of scrimmage. After two seasons as a situational pass rusher, a starting job is there for the taking.

Davis will no doubt have competition from players such as fellow third-year players Caleb Bluiett and Bryce Cottrell, as well as incoming freshman Derick Roberson. And Davis will have to surpass the expectations of Chris Rumph, his new position coach from Alabama.

But Davis is used to high expectations, and they were raised the day he made his signing day stunner and signed with Texas. He played the understudy and passed up a redshirt to get on the field midway through his freshman season. He’ll need a strong showing in the spring to get where he wants to be in 2014.

Think about Texas’ recent run of defensive ends: Reed, Jeffcoat, Okafor, Sam Acho, Sergio Kindle, Brian Orakpo. The Longhorns have been loaded with NFL-caliber talent off the edge, to the point that it probably gets taken for granted.

Is Shiro Davis the next big name on that list? He’s got all the talent necessary, and he finally has opportunity. It's time to put it all together.
Monday, we revealed the five best student sections in the Big 12, and Texas was not included among the top five.

That didn't sit well with Texas cornerback Quandre Diggs, who went on Twitter to post his frustration with the Longhors' student fan culture while also offering suggestions:


 


Texas defensive end Cedric Reed also weighed in:


Diggs and Reed could be on to something. The Longhorns have not had the best home-field advantage in recent years, losing at least two home games in each of the last four years. Improving the fan culture at Texas will be something that new athletic director Steve Patterson and coach Charlie Strong will have to consider as they try to restore Texas football back to the nation's elite.

Big 12 mailbag

January, 31, 2014
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In today's mailbag, we exclusively discuss our Big 12 Top 25 player countdown of 2013, which concluded earlier today. No matter how rational or irrational, all grievances were heard.

To the 'bag:

Jon D. in Davis, Calif., writes: You wrote in your Top 25 Big 12 player countdown that no defense figured out how to stop Jace Amaro. Well, he only had four catches for 55 yards in the Baylor game. Yeah, I would say Baylor stopped him. Those aren't exactly eye-popping numbers for the No. 1 player in the Big 12.

Jake Trotter: You conveniently leave out the fact that Amaro had two touchdown catches in that game. Or that Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon sent him to the locker room late in the first half with a hit up high. Sure, Amaro eventually came back, but he wasn’t the same after that hit. So if you count injuring Amaro as a means of stopping him, then yeah, I guess you’re technically right.


Brandon Thompson in Fort Worth, Texas, writes: How is the Big 12 Player of the Year No. 2 on this list? That makes no sense.

Jake Trotter: This is actually a very good question. And I agree, a compelling case could be made for Petty atop the list. But to me, “player of the year” and “best player” are two different things. A player of the year award has a team element to it. In other words, what effect, tangibly and intangibly, did that player have on his team, and in turn, how did that team perform as a result? That’s why I felt like Oklahoma State linebacker Caleb Lavey should have been in the discussion for the Big 12 defensive player of the year. By no means was Lavey even close to being the “best” player in the Big 12. But he was the glue and emotional leader of Oklahoma State’s stark defensive turnaround. Likewise, Petty was the engine of the Baylor scoring machine, and Baylor winning its first Big 12 championship was no small feat. Petty was also a better player than Lavey, and pretty much everyone else in the league. But Petty was surrounded with other big-time players, including three other players in our top 12 (running back Lache Seastrunk, wideout Antwan Goodley and guard Cyril Richardson). Amaro produced despite playing with a pair of rotating true freshman quarterbacks. We believed, in a vacuum, Amaro was the more dominating force – and the “best” player in the league.


Josh in Dallas writes: I saw that you put Petty at No. 2. I am a Baylor fan and have enjoyed this past season. But I was not impressed with Petty when the competition stepped up. The first half of the season his receivers were wide open, but in the final five games, it looked like he was still looking for Tevin Reese to be out there. Am I being too harsh?

Jake Trotter: If we had done this countdown in early November, there’s no doubt Petty would have been No. 1. But in his last three games, Petty produced Adjusted QBRs (scale 0-to-100) of 70.5, 75.8 and 62.1 -- far below what his season average had been. That doesn’t even include his Oklahoma State performance, in which he put up big stats after the final score was no longer in doubt to salvage a QBR of 89.3. Petty still had a tremendous season. But when Baylor was missing key offensive players because of injury, his production dipped.


Jake in Dallas writes: Jake, since it’s widely accepted that the two best defensive ends in the Big 12 were the Texas duo of Cedric Reed and Jackson Jeffcoat, you'll understand everyone dismissing your top 25 big list. Ryan Mueller ahead of Reed?

Jake Trotter: It couldn’t have been that widely accepted. Mueller was a coaches first-team All-Big 12 selection, along with three other defensive ends. Reed was not one of them.


James in Houston writes: Hey guys, I was a little surprised you didn't have Texas Tech LB Will Smith in your Top 25 players list. At No. 23 you have Eric Striker from Oklahoma, who only had 49 tackles and seven sacks. Smith had 120 tackles and five sacks. The other linebackers on that list definitely deserved to be on there. But 120 tackles to 49? Come on!

Jake Trotter: If we only went by stats, this list would have been easy to put together. Smith was a very fine player who had a great season, even if the Texas Tech defense itself struggled at times. But examining Striker’s tackle statistics alone doesn’t tell the whole story. Striker was deployed almost exclusively as a blitzing linebacker, and was the best in the Big 12 in that role -- as Alabama found out in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. We liked Smith, but we liked Texas Tech DT Kerry Hyder even more. Hyder was one of the first players to miss the cut.


Alan in Austin, Texas, writes: Was your ranking and description of Cyril Richardson written before or after the recent Senior Bowl? I think he was ranked too high, based upon his performance against NFL-quality defensive linemen.

Jake Trotter: The 2013 season ended when the final Big 12 bowl game was concluded. We didn’t account for anything that’s happened since. Richardson had a phenomenal final season at Baylor, and we only evaluated him -- and every other player -- in that context.

Top 25 players in the Big 12: No. 3

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
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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 with a list collaboratively selected by Jake Trotter, Brandon Chatmon and Max Olson. We continue the postseason countdown with the No. 4 player in the Big 12.

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
John Albright/Icon SMIA finally healthy Jackson Jeffcoat lived up to the hype he had entering Texas, leading the Big 12 with 13 sacks and 22 tackles for loss.
No. 3: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas

Previous ranking: Jackson was ranked 10th in the blog’s preseason list of the Big 12’s top 25 players.

Making the case for Jeffcoat: He’d shown flashes of what he was capable of doing in the past, most notably in six games in 2012 before a season-ending torn pectoral muscle. But this was the season Jeffcoat finally put it all together. He was finally healthy and a heck of a problem for opposing offenses.

Jeffcoat came back for his senior season with unfinished business on his mind, and that decision paid off with a treasure chest of trophies. A consensus All-American and the winner of the Ted Hendricks Award, Jeffcoat became the Big 12’s best defensive player in his final season.

He led the conference with 13 sacks and 22 tackles for loss and added 86 tackles, three fumble recoveries and a game-clinching interception at Iowa State. All but one of those sacks came in Big 12 play, and Jeffcoat was the only FBS lineman to lead his team in tackles this season.

With Jeffcoat coming off one edge and Cedric Reed on the other, Texas had one of the nation’s more formidable pass rushes. And when the Longhorns began the year 1-2, Jeffcoat was one of the seniors who pulled the team together and saved the season.

The rest of the list:
Our series on the 25 best players in the Big 12 comes to an end today when we reveal the conference's three best players.

We hope this list hasn't been too terribly controversial, but yes, there have certainly been some quality players who did not make the cut. Several can make a solid case for why they should've made our Top 25, including Texas defensive end Cedric Reed, Texas Tech defensive lineman Kerry Hyder, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook, Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney and Kansas State running back John Hubert.

We did not forget about you, guys. We tip our caps to your strong showings in 2013.

And let's not forget the many Big 12 players who would've been among the conference's 25 best had they stayed healthy. Here's a closer look at five big-time players who missed out due to injuries.

Devonte Fields, DE, TCU: The No. 3 player in the blog's preseason Top 25 did not have a sophomore season to remember. TCU shut him down for the season on Oct. 9 due to a foot injury that required surgery. He ended up appearing in just three games due to suspension and injury. The Horned Frogs were wise to end his season early and seek a medical redshirt, and let's hope Fields is back to his dominant self when he returns in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesJohnathan Gray was well on his way to an all-Big 12-caliber season before succumbing to injury in early November.
Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas: A torn right Achilles suffered in a road win at West Virginia ended a sophomore season that could've ended with Gray earning All-Big 12 honors. He emerged as the workhorse of Texas' offense after David Ash was lost for the season and, at 780 yards and four touchdowns, was one pace to become the Longhorns' first 1,000-yard rusher since 2007. If he can get healthy in time for the start of the 2014 season, he'll be on the league's best rushers again.

Trey Millard, FB/RB/TE, Oklahoma: Millard, who ranked No. 11 in our preseason Top 25, brought so many things to the Sooners' offense both in production and intangibles. He was pretty much guaranteed a spot in our postseason list until Oct. 26, when a torn ACL suffered against Texas Tech ended his season and his OU career five games too early. It's a shame we only got to see him touch the ball 28 times is his final season, but Millard and his many niche contributions won't soon be forgotten by Sooners fans.

Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma: Sure, you can argue that OU linebacker Corey Nelson deserves this spot as the Sooners' captain and possible defensive MVP prior to his injury. But losing Phillips to a season-ending back injury in the middle of October was just as damaging, not only to the middle of the Sooners line but also because he seemed on pace to developing into an All-Big 12 caliber talent. He played in four games, missed two, and then was done. Let's hope he can get healthy and back in track as a junior.

Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor: Reese came very close to making our Top 25 despite missing five games this season with a broken wrist. He was one of several Baylor players who went down during the stretch run, and arguably the most critical one. He finished the year with 867 receiving yards and eight touchdowns and only needed 38 receptions to get there. His 22.8 yards per catch average ranked No. 2 nationally, and three of his scores came from 60-plus yards.

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:

Texas Ten: Top Longhorns for 2014

January, 10, 2014
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With three of Texas’ top juniors declaring they will return for their senior seasons on Thursday, we now know who Charlie Strong will be working with in his first season as head coach. A look ahead at Texas’ top 10 returning players going into 2014:

1. DE Cedric Reed, senior

Convincing the All-Big 12 defensive end to return for his senior season was one of Strong’s first major victories this week. The 6-foot-6, 258-pound end was a monster in 2013, racking up 79 tackles, 10 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. He considered going pro after his breakout season but comes back for what should be a significant role leading Texas’ defensive line. Reed made it no secret he wants to win the trophies and awards that Jackson Jeffcoat piled up this season, and he’ll be one of the Big 12’s best as his position next fall.

2. DT Malcom Brown, junior

Texas coaches believed they had a surefire future NFL defensive tackle in Brown when he signed, and he’s played up to those expectations through two seasons. The former top-15 recruit recorded 68 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two sacks and five pass breakups in his first season as a starter and was a handful for opposing linemen. He’ll only get better, and that’s a scary thing for the rest of the conference.

3. RB Malcolm Brown, senior

A finally healthy Brown finished 2013 strong and goes into his final season with plenty of confidence. He finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing yards with 904 and 11 total touchdowns this season and closed out his junior campaign with three straight 125-plus yard games. He’ll be one of the offensive leaders next year.

[+] EnlargeGray
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsA healthy Johnathan Gray will boost Texas' backfield.
4. RB Johnathan Gray, junior

Gray is undoubtedly one of Texas’ three best players when he’s healthy, and he was on his way to a 1,000-yard season before suffering a torn Achilles at West Virginia on Nov. 9. While Gray is optimistic he’ll be back in time for fall camp, the Longhorn staff should proceed with patience. Whenever he returns, Texas will have one of the nation’s better rushing duos.

5. CB Quandre Diggs, senior

If we’re comparing career resumes, you’d probably have to rank Diggs higher on this list. He’s accomplished plenty during his time in Austin, enough that the defensive coaches trusted him to take on the nickel spot as a junior and play all over the field. He collected 58 tackles, a team-best 10 pass breakups and 2.5 sacks but no interceptions. With Carrington Byndom graduating, his role in this secondary is crucial.

6. WR Jaxon Shipley, senior

Shipley caught a team-high 56 passes, so it’s hard to call his junior season a disappointment, but he finished with 589 yards and one touchdown. He got targeted 82 times on the year and should see plenty more with Mike Davis graduating. Shipley’s the go-to guy and always has been.

7. LB Jordan Hicks, senior

Hicks might be ranked too high here, if we’re being honest. He’s missed 19 games in the last two seasons due to season-ending injuries, though in fairness his latest -- a torn Achilles -- was a freak accident while running in coverage. When he’s on the field, he’s one of Texas’ best and a trusted leader.

8. QB David Ash, senior

Not too sure where this guy belongs on the list, but he’s an important asset for whoever becomes Strong’s offensive coordinator. Ash missed 10 games this season with concussion issues but was a top-25 passer in QBR and passing efficiency in 2012. Strong needs this guy back and better than ever.

9. LB Steve Edmond, senior

If you think Edmond should be ranked higher, you might be right. Edmond was enjoying a bit of a breakthrough as a junior, with 73 tackles and two interceptions, before a ruptured spleen suffered against Texas Tech ended his season. He’ll have to battle Dalton Santos for his spot, but he could be in for a strong final season if he embraces the coaching change.

10.WR Kendall Sanders, junior

Lots of players merit consideration for this final spot, most notably Daje Johnson, but we’re going to take a chance on Sanders breaking out in 2014. He caught 37 passes for 361 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore but has the full package of skills -- size, speed, long arms, good hands -- to become a big-time target in place of Davis.
New Texas coach Charlie Strong has plenty of catching up to do when it comes to evaluating his returning talent. The former defensive coordinator should like what he has on defense.

On Tuesday, we brought you a look ahead at the 2014 offensive depth chart for Texas. Here's a breakdown of what the Longhorns are working with on defense. It's a unit that loses key starters but brings back considerable experience.

Remember, this is subject to change plenty in the coming months as Strong's staff shuffles the lineup and discovers new breakout players.

Defensive End
Cedric Reed, senior
Bryce Cottrell, sophomore

Once the new staff is in place, winning over Reed and convincing him to return for his senior season will be an absolute must for Strong. He finished with 10 sacks and 19 tackles for loss as a junior and was just as good as Jeffcoat for most of the season. Between Cottrell and Caleb Bluiett, who started in the Valero Alamo Bowl, Texas must find a significant contributor. Both are under a lot of pressure if Reed goes pro.

Defensive Tackle
[+] EnlargeMalcom Brown
John Albright/Icon SMIMalcom Brown had a solid sophomore season at defensive tackle.
Malcom Brown, junior
Hassan Ridgeway, sophomore

Brown has the makings of becoming an All-Big 12-caliber defensive tackle and maybe more. He’ll be one of the best players on the field for this defense in 2014. Ridgeway is still young and coming along, but showed flashes in limited stints this season. Big potential there.

Defensive Tackle
Desmond Jackson, senior
Alex Norman, sophomore

Tank Jackson has 13 starts and plenty of experience. Norman and fellow redshirt freshman Paul Boyette disappointed in their first year of playing, but Texas is running low on depth here after taking some recruiting hits. Abilene’s Jake McMillon is the only DT pledge left. Strong will have to recruit this spot hard in the next month.

Defensive End
Shiro Davis, junior
Derick Roberson, freshman

There should be some fairly good competition to replace Jackson Jeffcoat, and nobody would be surprised if Davis wins the job. He’s a freakish athlete and speed rusher who flashed in 2013 and needs an expanded role. Roberson needs to put on weight, but he was a sack master in high school and is one of the gems of this class.

Weakside Linebacker
Jordan Hicks, senior
Kendall Thompson, senior

What is Texas getting in year five with Hicks? The injury-prone former five-star recruit went down with a torn Achilles four games into the season and has missed 19 games in the past two seasons. He’s a leader when he’s healthy. This is his last chance. Thompson and Tevin Jackson return to provide depth.

Strongside Linebacker
Dalton Santos, junior
Peter Jinkens, junior

It’s hard to know which direction Texas will go in at some of these spots, as both seem like obvious candidates. That’s the challenge with everyone coming back. The Longhorns’ next defensive coordinator has the luxury of several options with every UT linebacker slated to return next season.

Middle Linebacker
Steve Edmond, senior
Tim Cole, sophomore

It’s entirely possible Santos takes over the middle next season, considering the way he finished this season, but don’t count out Edmond. He had a promising junior year before missing the final two games. Cole got a few opportunities in his debut year, but has work to do.

Cornerback
Quandre Diggs, senior
Sheroid Evans, junior

Diggs had a solid junior season and won’t be turning pro this offseason. He played all over the field in his nickel role, but with Carrington Byndom graduating, that likely means he’ll slide back to corner. The speedy, long-armed Evans has as much potential as anyone in this secondary, but suffered a torn ACL this season.

Free Safety
Mykkele Thompson, senior
Adrian Colbert, sophomore

[+] EnlargeDuke Thomas
John Albright/Icon SMIDuke Thomas made three interceptions in 2013.
Could Thompson’s future be at cornerback? It’s worth considering, especially since he’s not much of a hitter. He started 12 games in 2013 and must finally put it all together in his last season. Colbert is a thumper who could fight his way into the lineup.

Strong Safety
Josh Turner, senior
Leroy Scott, senior

With Adrian Phillips graduating, this is presumably Turner’s spot to lose. He’s played in 37 games. Scott is sneaky good and made a few nice plays this season. It’s time to see what he can do with more responsibility.

Cornerback
Duke Thomas, junior
Antwuan Davis, redshirt freshman

Thomas took a few lumps in his first season of starting, but also led the Longhorns with three interceptions. Davis is a guy coaches would’ve loved to play in 2013, but they didn’t want to burn his redshirt. He’s in for a big-time debut both on defense and special teams.

Punter
Nick Rose, junior
Will Russ, senior

Texas should have a fairly open competition for Anthony Fera’s punting duties. Rose’s specialty is kickoffs, and Russ was hampered by injuries in the past but should be in the mix. So is walk-on Mitchell Becker.

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