Texas Longhorns: Dominic Espinosa
How's he going to put this group together? A look at the battle to replace four former starters:
Departed: Left guard Trey Hopkins (42 career starts), right guard Mason Walters (51) and left tackle Donald Hawkins (23) are graduating, and former starting right tackle Josh Cochran elected to end his playing career due to a recurring shoulder injury. The junior had started 23 of his 30 career games. Backup center Garrett Porter also graduates. Walters’ 51-game start streak tied for longest in the nation among lineman at the end of 2013.
Spring contenders: OT Kennedy Estelle, OT Desmond Harrison, OT Kent Perkins, OT Garrett Greenlea, OT Camrhon Hughes, OG Sedrick Flowers, OG Curtis Riser, OG Rami Hammad, OG Darius James, OG Taylor Doyle, OG Alex Anderson, C Dominic Espinosa, C Jake Raulerson
Summer contenders: C Terrell Cuney, OT Elijah Rodriguez
The skinny: Yep, that’s a crowded field. Lot of big bodies, not a lot of experience among them.
Espinosa is the elder statesman of the group, having started all 39 games of his career. He and Harrison are the only seniors of this group, and Harrison hasn’t played meaningful minutes yet.
We don’t know what many of these linemen are capable of entering spring ball because so few have seen the field, but the bar has been set high for the members of Texas’ 2013 signing class. Former Texas coach Mack Brown considered that group -- Harrison, Perkins, Hammad, James and Raulerson -- the best offensive line class he had ever signed.
Will new offensive line coach and OC Joe Wickline agree? He recruited several of his new pupils during his days at Oklahoma State, but he has no reason to stick to the plan laid out by the previous staff. If the younger linemen beat out the veterans, they’ll play.
The best of the bunch, at least based on 2013 performances, could be Estelle and Perkins. Estelle, a junior, started eight games in place of Cochran and had some promising moments. Perkins was too good to redshirt as a true freshman. Harrison is the wild card of the group and has been an enigma during his time in burnt orange.
As for the guards, Flowers had the full respect of Walters and Hopkins and is finally getting his chance. The highly-touted James redshirted as a freshman, as did Hammad. They’ll battle Riser this spring. Anderson, an early enrollee from New Orleans, could challenge them as well.
That’s how it looks on paper, but keep this in mind: Wickline isn’t afraid to move linemen around and cross-train them at other positions. That preparation paid off for several of his Cowboy linemen over the years. The way this group looks today could be very different come August.
Prediction: Expect movement and possibly a few surprises. It’s all up to Wickline and who makes an impression on him in spring ball. The safest bets to start are probably Espinosa, Estelle and Flowers. Don’t be surprised if James or Hammad win out for the other guard spot, and for Perkins to take a lead over Harrison exiting spring ball. These second-year linemen are legit.
1. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose their captain in All-American Gabe Ikard, who kept the line together through several moving pieces. Those pieces, however, are almost all back. Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams are steady veterans at tackle. Inside, guards Dionte Savage and Nila Kasitati both started the Sugar Bowl, and former starter Tyler Evans returns after sitting out the last two years with injury. The Sooners also have been grooming Ikard’s replacement at center in Ty Darlington, who has played well in a reserve role the last two years. Even without Ikard, this is a seasoned unit.
3. Texas: The Longhorns return veteran center Dominic Espinosa, who has 39 career starts. But with three starters gone, the Longhorns really need the light to come up for Desmond Harrison. The talent is there, and if Harrison can put it all together, he’ll give Texas a much-needed bookend on the left side. There’s potential elsewhere in freshman guard Rami Hammad and sophomore tackle Kent Perkins, who could both earn starting roles this spring. The biggest addition to this group will be new assistant Joe Wickline, who worked magic with the offensive lines in Stillwater.
4. Baylor: The Bears need left tackle Spencer Drango to make a healthy recovery from his back injury. After Drango was injured in November, Baylor struggled at times to keep quarterback Bryce Petty upright. Departing unanimous All-American guard Cyril Richardson is irreplaceable, though Desmine Hilliard had a solid sophomore season at right guard. Sophomore Kyle Fuller looks ready to take over at center, but the Bears will need another piece or two to emerge. The skill talent is in place for the Baylor offense to keep humming. How the players up front perform will determine whether it will.
5. Oklahoma State: The key for the Cowboys here will be a healthy return of left tackle Devin Davis. Davis might have been Oklahoma State’s best lineman last season, but suffered a torn ACL during a preseason that knocked him out for the year. Davis has NFL ability, and if he resumes his role, that will allow Daniel Koenig to move back to right tackle. The O-line in Stillwater was something never to worry about because of Wickline’s masterful track record of mixing and matching to get a right fit. It will be interesting to see how the line performs next season with Wickline now at Texas.
7. West Virginia: The good news is that the Mountaineers should be superb inside. Quinton Spain is one of the best returning guards in the league, and Mark Glowinski had a solid season at the other guard spot. Tackle, however, is the biggest question on the entire squad going into the spring, outside QB. Coach Dana Holgorsen said Friday that guard Marquis Lucas would be swinging to the outside to compete with Adam Pankey, Marcell Lazard and Sylvester Townes.
8. Iowa State: A healthy Tom Farniok at center would go a long way in stabilizing an inconsistent offensive line that gave up a Big 12-high 38 sacks last season. Farniok was never healthy last year, and it showed. The Cyclones are excited about the potential of Brock Dagel as a cornerstone at left tackle. Jacob Gannon will battle Jake Campos for the other tackle spot, while Jamison Lalk, Oni Omoile and juco transfer Wendell Taiese will compete for the guard spot opposite Daniel Burton. Under the new offensive regime, this line could enjoy huge improvement from 2013.
9. TCU: The line was one of many reasons why the TCU offense struggled so much in 2013. Getting Matt Pryor on the field would be a big help. Pryor is massive at 6-foot-7, 350 pounds, and could fill a need a tackle. Getting Tayo Fabuluje back after a year away from football could help, too, assuming he’s not too rusty. Juco guard Frank Kee, who chose the Horned Frogs over Oklahoma, could fill a spot inside immediately. True freshman Ty Barrett, the prize in a hotly contested recruiting battle, could challenge for time quickly, too.
10. Kansas: John Reagan takes over at offensive coordinator and line coach, and he’ll have some talented newcomers to weave into the rotation. Devon Williams and Keyon Haughton both arrived as three-star guards from Georgia Military College. Haughton is already on campus and could start right away. Freshman Jacob Bragg, the No. 3 center recruit in the country, could vie for time immediately, too, at the vacancy at center (2013 backup center Dylan Admire has moved to fullback/tight end).
Until then, we’re counting down everything you need to know entering next season and the next era of Texas football. This week, we’re breaking down the five position groups with the most room to improve in 2014. We’ve already broken down No. 5 (tight ends), No. 4 (defensive tackles) and No. 3 (safeties). Here’s No. 2 on the list.
The players: Dominic Espinosa, Kennedy Estelle, Sedrick Flowers, Kent Perkins, Curtis Riser, Desmond Harrison, Rami Hammad, Darius James, Jake Raulerson, Garrett Greenlea, Taylor Doyle, Camrhon Hughes, Alex Anderson, Terrell Cuney, Elijah Rodriguez
Last year: Texas entered last season feeling good not only about its starting five, but also its depth for the future. Four of Texas opening-day starters (Donald Hawkins, Trey Hopkins, Mason Walters, Josh Cochran) have moved on. This group was impressive and physical on its best days and maddeningly inconsistent on its worst.
Enter Joe Wickline, regarded as one of the nation’s finest offensive line coaches and the architect of some excellent lines at Oklahoma State. He’s in charge of calling the offense, and his linemen will have to establish an identity.
What’s missing: Experience. Espinosa has plenty of it, with 39 career starts. Estelle has eight starts. Perkins and Flowers have one each. And that’s it. Flowers is a guy the departed starters greatly respected, and his chance to earn a job is now. Harrison was supposed to develop into the starting left tackle but had too many setbacks last season.
The previous staff believed they’d signed their best line class ever in 2013 (James, Perkins, Harrison, Hammad, Raulerson), and it wouldn’t be shocking if several of those guys break into the lineup in 2014.
Moving forward: How will Wickline perceive what he’s inheriting? That’s always the big question when a new coach arrives. Oklahoma State offered scholarships to at least seven of these Texas linemen, so you’d think Wickline is familiar with many of these guys.
It’s also safe to say nobody is guaranteed a starting job along this line. Finding 10 trusted linemen from this group is just as important as a strong starting five. Bring on the competition, and let’s see how Wickline works his magic this spring.
So let’s make life a little easier for Texas’ new head coach. Here’s an early breakdown of how Texas’ offensive depth chart might look in 2014, based on who’s slated to return and the incoming freshmen. On Wednesday, we’ll break down the Longhorns defense.
Keep in mind, a lot can and will change between now and the end of August. All of these players have to prove themselves to a new regime. You could see lots of movement, position changes and reshuffling between now and the season opener against North Texas.
David Ash, junior
Tyrone Swoopes, sophomore
Jerrod Heard, freshman
Malcolm Brown, senior
Johnathan Gray, junior
Joe Bergeron, senior
Donald Catalon, freshman
As long as Gray heals up 100 percent from his torn Achilles, Texas will have one of the best rushing duos in the Big 12. Brown was a revelation to end the season and could be in for a big senior campaign. Bergeron will work his way back into the mix. Catalon and D'Onta Foreman will provide depth as freshmen, and one could contribute early.
Jaxon Shipley, senior
Daje Johnson, junior
Jacorey Warrick, sophomore
Shipley is the leader of the group and should be in for a big season, no matter the offense. Will Strong’s staff give Daje one more chance? No guarantees he’s still on the roster by the fall. Warrick earned praise in practice and limited playing time.
Kendall Sanders, junior
Montrel Meander, redshirt freshman
Jake Oliver, redshirt freshman
This is the year Sanders can take a big step forward. He’s a legit playmaker whose role will expand. Meander made a strong impression in his redshirt year and is a big, athletic target. He and Oliver will battle for snaps and should contribute in 2014.
Armanti Foreman, freshman
Emanuel Porter, freshman
Johnson made some big plays and had a nice rapport with Case McCoy. He can stretch a defense and burn corners deep. Should see big opportunities this fall. Foreman and Porter are instant-impact guys among in large group of incoming freshman receivers, and keep an eye on Lorenzo Joe, too.
Geoff Swaim, senior
Greg Daniels, senior
M.J. McFarland, junior
Swaim, a junior college transfer, was a revelation as a blocker in 2013. Daniels got the job done as a blocker, too, but neither had many opportunities as receivers. Let’s hope the next staff can salvage the career of McFarland, who got stuck on special teams this season but needs to become a trusted pass-catcher.
Desmond Harrison, senior
Kennedy Estelle, junior
Mack Brown still believed Harrison will develop into an NFL first-rounder before he’s done, though his first season was a disappointment. If he’s not the solution at left tackle, you could see Estelle or several others move over. Estelle has mostly played right tackle and had some good moments in eight starts, but was suspended from the bowl for grades.
Sedrick Flowers, junior
Darius James, redshirt freshman
The departing senior linemen were big fans of Flowers, who they considered starter-quality throughout 2013 even if he was mostly a reserve. This is his spot to take. James needed a redshirt year to get back in shape, but he has the potential to be one of Texas’ best.
Dominic Espinosa, senior
Jake Raulerson, redshirt freshman
The new veteran leader of the line, Espinosa has 39 career starts under his belt and improved as a junior. Hard to see him losing his spot. Raulerson continues to put on muscle and will have a long, successful career. Texas also adds incoming freshman Terrell Cuney here.
Curtis Riser, sophomore
Rami Hammad, redshirt freshman
Riser is entering his third year in the program and seems likely to be the favorite for this spot, but don’t count out Hammad. He redshirted as a freshman and missed part of the season with an arm injury, but he’s as impressive as any first-year lineman the Longhorns had.
Kent Perkins, sophomore
Josh Cochran, senior
Perkins earned one start as a freshman and should be an All-Big 12-caliber tackle by the time he’s done in Austin. It’s hard to peg what’s next for Cochran, who lost enough weight from a shoulder injury to necessitate a move to tight end. The former starter could end up at either spot in his final season.
Nick Jordan, sophomore
Good luck to whoever must replace Anthony Fera, the All-American and Groza Award finalist. Jordan strugged as a freshman in 2012 but got a year off and seems most likely to assume the kicking duties, though there will be competition.
In Texas’ 30-7 victory at TCU, McCoy had once again not been sacked. After playing half a game on a wet grass field, his white jersey and white pants ended up faring quite well.
He has his offensive line to thank. And they’ll remind him who deserves the credit.
“Oh I know, trust me,” McCoy said. “They let me know.”
That Texas offensive line is playing so well and so consistent, with dominant showings against the Horned Frogs and Oklahoma, that the unit is almost unrecognizable today. Yet it’s rolling with four of the same five usual guys.
“We’re grading out well, everyone is playing well,” Espinosa said. “The biggest thing is everyone playing together, all five at the same time. We’re getting everyone on the same page on every play.”
Entering the year, Mack Brown had repeatedly preached the need for 10 linemen who can play at any moment. Texas has seven or eight at this point. But this starting five is doing just fine without much help.
Estelle, a sophomore, has filled in for the injured Josh Cochran at right tackle and, in the opinion of Walters, has the “extreme confidence” of his teammates.
Those fellow linemen have started a combined 132 games in their Longhorn careers. Add in Cochran’s two-plus years and that number climbs to 155. A line that experienced is supposed to be this good.
“They’re older. I know that’s weird to say because you have Kennedy, a younger guy, but Kennedy is playing like a veteran,” McCoy said. “Those guys have pulled him in. It’s fun to play behind those guys. I never have a worry stepping on the field with those five.”
The confidence that Texas’ current five is showing makes life a bit less stressful for offensive line coach Stacy Searels. He signed one the most highly touted freshman class of linemen that Texas has had in Brown’s tenure. They were supposed to compete for starting jobs from day one. They simply haven’t had to this fall.
Same goes for junior college tackle Desmond Harrison, who came in with NFL-caliber expectations and hasn’t lived up to them yet. He’s getting time to develop and won’t be shoved into the lineup until he’s ready.
What has the starters playing so well, just in time for their games against the Big 12’s best defensive lines? It could be Texas’ commitment to running the ball -- 60 rushes against OU, 52 against TCU -- and the mere fact that run blocking is easier than pass blocking.
That’s not how Espinosa sees it. The balance that Texas has managed to strike under McCoy with a power run game and big-play passing has helped get opposing defenders on their heels.
When those plays aren’t working, those watching the ball blame linemen. When everything is clicking, the big guys up front don’t get talked up much. That’s just how they like it.
“It’s nice not getting all that kind of scrutiny,” Espinosa said. “We know we played two great defenses the past two weeks, some of the best in the Big 12. So it definitely gives us confidence knowing how we were able to run the ball against both those teams. It definitely helps us the rest of the year, knowing what we’re capable of.”
And just what is this line capable of going forward, after their best games in a long, long time?
“We want to go out there and be the best offensive line in the nation,” he said. “That’s our goal and that’s what we’re going to do. If that’s getting more physical and giving the quarterback more time, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Mack Brown has now literally weathered storms twice this season, with markedly different results. He found himself, and his team, surprisingly well-prepared for the unusual circumstances of Texas’ 30-7 win over TCU on Saturday.
“I wish somebody had told me before Brigham Young how to handle that,” Brown said Monday.
His team didn’t respond well. Texas struggled on offense and didn’t show up on defense in the 40-21 loss. Brown blames himself for how his team handled the delay. He thought their wait would be as brief as 20 minutes, so his players prepared accordingly.
Then more lightning struck, and 20 minutes became an hour, then an hour and 50 minutes. Getting fired up to start a game two or three times isn’t so easy.
With that experience under his belt, Brown took a new approach when Texas and TCU were sent back to their respective locker rooms on Saturday. They had no expectations for when the game would resume.
“We told them we’ve got no clue,” Brown joked.
What ensued was a delay of 3 hours, 6 minutes. About an hour in, Brown and his coaches accepted it was going to be a long night.
“It just kept continuing and kept continuing,” Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom said.
This time, when the players hit the locker room, the pads came off right away. The Longhorns approached the break, which came with 6:08 left in the second quarter, as if it were an extended halftime.
They went over in-game adjustments, though both teams were prohibited from reviewing film of the first quarter and a half. They held position meetings. And then they went back to waiting.
“We told them, ‘Do anything you need to do to get yourself ready to go back out,’” Brown said. “Go to sleep. Take your pads off. Listen to music. Walk around. Talk with your buddies. Doesn’t matter.”
That low-pressure approach seemed to help. So did breaking into the halftime PB&Js and the postgame food supply -- copious amounts of chicken tenders -- around 9:30 p.m.
Coaches reviewed and tweaked their plans. Some took naps, though Brown couldn’t. He had to work with game officials and TCU coach Gary Patterson to hammer out a plan for the rest of the night.
For Texas, the locker room vibe was much different this time around. They’d taken a 17-7 lead into the break and had plenty to talk about, and plenty more to feel good about.
“We went in there with some points on the board,” center Dominic Espinosa said. “I think going in there we felt it out already and knew how they were going to come at us and what was going to work for us. That definitely gave us some confidence.”
Brown and Patterson agreed to finish out the second quarter, remain on the field for a brief halftime and then kick off the third quarter. They agreed on a five-minute intermission, which later got cut down to three, and huddled their teams on the sidelines during the commercial break-length intermission.
Finally, around 10:45 p.m., they were cleared to begin warmups. The game resumed at 11 p.m. CT and finished just after 12:30. Despite the slippery conditions and long layoff, no Texas players went down with injuries in the second portion of the game.
And this time, they came out firing. The Longhorns defense forced TCU to punt on eight of its nine drives after the break. Texas came away with 10 points on its first two possessions to put the game away.
Nobody was more relieved after the 186-minute delay than Brown. His coaches didn’t panic. His players didn’t either, and more importantly, they were ready to play.
“I thought the fact that they did not waver, and I couldn’t tell any difference in the attitude in the team when they came back out than when they went in, that’s huge,” Brown said. “That’s huge for your team to be mature enough to handle all of those circumstances and just go play.”
Team of the week: Texas. Not only did the Longhorns pull off the biggest Red River upset in 17 years, they completely reversed the outlook of their season. At 3-0 in the Big 12 standings, Texas is right in the middle of the conference race. The Longhorns also finally found an identity in Dallas, which could make them a tough out during the second half of the season. The Longhorns ran the ball with authority between the tackles behind their experienced offensive line, which took pressure off quarterback Case McCoy. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, meanwhile, disguised his defenses beautifully and utilized Texas’ speed in timely blitzes. Baylor remains the favorite to win the Big 12 crown. But Texas, which travels to Baylor in the regular-season finale, could be a factor. What a difference a week makes.
Big (offensive) men on campus: The Texas offensive line, Kansas State quarterback Daniel Sams and Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro.
The most experienced offensive line in the Big 12 blocked like it at the most opportune of times. Kennedy Estelle, Mason Walters, Dominic Espinosa, Trey Hopkins and Donald Hawkins paved the way for Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown to become the first Texas duo to top 100 rushing yards apiece in the same Red River game. The Bevos up front also kept McCoy upright, as the Texas quarterback was not sacked all day and barely pressured, either.
In Manhattan, Sams played valiantly in K-State’s 35-25 loss to Baylor. He rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns and almost single-handedly kept the Wildcats scoring with the high-powered Bears. Sams' late interception that effectively ended the game was a huge mistake. But his 86.1 Adjusted QBR was 13th-best in college football for the week. Sams now is second in the Big 12 in Adjusted QBR (86.5) for the year, trailing only Baylor’s Bryce Petty (95.1).
Amaro continues to be a security blanket for Texas Tech’s true freshman quarterbacks. Against Iowa State, he had his best game yet with nine receptions for 143 yards. Amaro leads the Big 12 with 47 receptions. Teammate Eric Ward is second with 34.
Big (defensive) men on campus: Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller, Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon and Texas defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed.
Along with Sams, Mueller was a major reason the Wildcats were in the game in the fourth quarter. In what might be the defensive highlight of the season in the Big 12 so far, Mueller stripped Petty while simultaneously recovering the fumble to set K-State with field position in the third quarter that would turn into a go-ahead touchdown. Mueller finished with seven tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup.
Dixon, meanwhile, came up with the defensive play of the game, as he beelined to the sideline to intercept Sams with four minutes to play. Off the turnover, the Baylor offense sealed the victory with a touchdown that put the Bears up two scores.
Jeffcoat and Reed, meanwhile, were terrific against the Sooners. The swarming defensive end duo totaled three sacks and kept the Oklahoma running backs from bouncing much of anything outside.
Johnson delivered the dagger to the Sooners with a weaving 85-yard punt return touchdown late in the third quarter, which put the Longhorns ahead 30-13. It was Texas’ first punt return touchdown since Jordan Shipley did it in 2009. Fera came up big on special teams, too. He nailed a 43-yard field goal right before halftime that stymied the Sooners’ momentum from a long Roy Finch kick return that led to a touchdown the previous drive. Fera also nailed 50- and 31-yard field goals to be perfect on the day.
West kept the Cyclones above water in the first half as the Iowa State offense struggled. His 95-yard kickoff return -- Iowa State’s first non-onside kick return for a touchdown since 1994 -- tied the game in the first quarter 7-7. West later added a 38-yard punt return, and he finished with three receptions for 36 yards.
Play of the week: With the Red River Rivalry tied 3-3 in the first quarter, Texas' Adrian Phillips came off the edge untouched on a third-down zone blitz and slammed into Bell. The hit caused Bell’s pass to flutter behind intended receiver Jaz Reynolds and into the arms of defensive tackle Chris Whaley, who rumbled 31 yards for the touchdown. The Longhorns never gave up the lead the rest of the way.
Stat of the week: Bell’s QBR against Texas was the lowest by an Oklahoma quarterback since Rhett Bomar posted a 1.6 against Tulsa in 2005.
Quote of the week: "We love the guy. We’re playing for the guy. You all keep writing those articles bad about him. We’ll keep playing for him." -- McCoy on coach Mack Brown
With so few position battles in this year’s fall practices, it’s time to make start projections on how the depth chart will look when Texas takes the field Aug. 31 against New Mexico State.
Today, we look at Texas’ offensive depth. On Wednesday, we’ll break down the defense. Here’s where the Longhorns appear to stand with only a few days left in camp.
David Ash, Case McCoy, Tyrone Swoopes, Jalen Overstreet
No surprise here. Ash has been solid throughout the fall and pretty much exactly what we’d expected. He’s the unquestioned quarterback of this team, and his fellow Longhorns have bought in. A sore hamstring has limited Swoopes to some extent lately, and it’s still unclear if he’s the mop-up guys or a redshirt candidate. McCoy would still be the first guy off the bench if Ash gets hurt, but he’s got to cut down on his turnovers.
Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron, Jalen Overstreet
Mike Davis, Jaxon Shipley, Kendall Sanders, Daje Johnson, Marcus Johnson, Jacorey Warrick, John Harris, Bryant Jackson
The good news is Davis and Shipley are back and practicing. The bad news is that too many other guys aren’t. Sanders is the clear No. 3 receiver, but he’s suspended from the opener. Jackson had a chance for some first-team reps, but the foot injury he suffered Sunday drops him down this list. Everyone has praised Daje Johnson for his maturity this summer, and he’s going to be a dangerous threat in the slot. Warrick has garnered the most attention of the four freshman receivers, but several of them could be in the mix to play against New Mexico now that Jackson is out. The sleeper is Harris, who could get some play at outside receiver, and we don't know when Marcus Johnson will return.
Geoff Swaim, M.J. McFarland, Greg Daniels
This could be one of the few surprises of the preseason depth chart. Swaim has been better than Texas coaches expected, both as a receiver and blocker, and the juco transfer is definitely rising. Ash had strong praise for his play Monday. McFarland, the guy everyone expects to start, is still too inconsistent but has the potential to be a big-play guy over the middle in this offense. We didn’t list a fullback since Texas is going to more spread looks, but sophomore Alex De La Torre appears to be the favorite to hold down that job.
Donald Hawkins, Josh Cochran, Desmond Harrison, Kennedy Estelle, Kent Perkins
Harrison was expected to easily take over the left tackle job in fall camp, but he hasn’t practiced since Aug. 5 due to his academic issue. So, for now, Hawkins stays at left tackle and Cochran maintains his right tackle job. Estelle has made big strides entering his sophomore year, and of all the touted freshmen offensive linemen, it was Perkins who cracked the two-deep early on in camp and has impressed his fellow linemen. Until Harrison’s situation gets resolved, expect Estelle and Perkins to contribute right away.
Trey Hopkins, Mason Walters, Sedrick Flowers, Curtis Riser, Rami Hammad, Darius James
Hopkins continues to get a little work at center, but Texas must prepare for the possibility that Harrison is unavailable and appears likely to stick with Hopkins and Walters on the starting line. Hopkins says the starting linemen hardly consider Flowers a backup at this point due to his experience, and he’ll be one of the first guys off the bench to relieve Hopkins and Walters. Riser is also stepping up in his second year in the program. Hammad has been as good as advertised, and while James started in less than idea playing shape, he’s coming along. It’s hard to tell, though, whether those two freshmen play or redshirt at this point.
Dominic Espinosa, Trey Hopkins, Garrett Porter
Espinosa would likely be the odd man out if Harrison gets back in the mix and earns the left tackle job, but right now he’s safe. If he were to go down, it stands to reason that Texas would feel comfortable with Hopkins at center and Flowers or Hawkins at left guard. Porter is the No. 2 or No. 3 guy in this group and appears to remain ahead of freshman Jake Raulerson in the pecking order.
Anthony Fera, Nick Jordan
This is seemingly one of the few unanswered questions among starting jobs. Fera, the Penn State transfer, is healthy this fall and impressing with his leg. He’s likely the favorite to start off as placekicker over Jordan, but realistically the guy who loses out now could get another shot at some point this season if the starter struggles.
Texas’ offensive line is as experienced as any in the country this fall. All five starters return and have a combined 124 career starts under their oversized belts.
So why is each of them at risk of losing their jobs? Because, in 2013, Texas thinks it has a chance to have not just a good offensive line, but a great one.
“If one of these guys coming in is better than the starters, we will replace them, without question,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “And they know that. We’ve told them that.”
But for the first time in his tenure at Texas, third-year offensive line coach Stacy Searels has options. He’s wanted 10 offensive linemen he can lean on, 10 he can trust. Thanks to two years of strong recruiting, the cupboard is now well-stocked.
The star of that two-year talent infusion could very well be a lineman who arrived in Austin only three weeks ago: Desmond Harrison.
He’s never put on pads for the Longhorns, and the sum total of his experience in the program is one fall practice. But the 6-foot-8, 310-pound offensive tackle is already the talk of fall camp after wowing his new teammates.
“He is huge. He’s a massive human being,” Hopkins said. “Probably the only person I’ve seen stand next to Mason and make him kind of look short.”
If the touted transfer from Contra Costa (Calif.) College is everything he’s hyped up to be, Harrison could become the starting left tackle by the end of the month. If that’s the case, the rest of the line would be in for a reshuffling.
Hawkins, a junior college transfer last year, could move from left tackle to guard, prompting Hopkins to take over the center duties. Or he could bump off Cochran for the right tackle job. Or he could get benched.
“Your position could change, and you could be second- or third-string really quick,” Walters said. “The guys we have here now really want to play. We have a lot of bodies and talent right now. I love it. We want to be as good as possible, and you have to have somebody pushing you.”
Harrison isn’t the only threat. Brown and Searels have high hopes for four true freshmen who have a serious shot a cracking the two-deep.
“This recruiting class for offensive linemen could be one of the best offensive line classes ever before they finish at Texas,” Brown said. “I can’t wait to see them when we put the pads on. I’m really excited about them. We haven’t been able to find these guys and get these guys on campus like this. It’s going to be fun to watch them. Don’t know how soon that will be, but our future is very bright there.”
Kent Perkins is already working as the second-string right tackle. Guards Darius James and Rami Hammad and center Jake Raulerson lined up with the third-team offense Tuesday. Several could be worthy of serious playing time this fall.
If they are good enough, that puts Searels in somewhat of a difficult position. How does he explain to three seniors and two juniors that the freshmen must play?
Walters and the rest of the veteran linemen have been through a lot together. When Searels arrived in the spring of 2011, the 6-foot-6, 320-pound guard was one of only seven scholarship linemen in the program. He’s started 38 straight games because Texas really had no choice. He and Hopkins have lined up together for 25 of Texas’ last 26 games.
“[Hopkins has] grunted at me before and I knew exactly what he was saying,” Walters said. “That’s just with all of us. You can tap somebody on the shoulder at a certain time and we all know what to look for on certain plays.”
They share that bond with Cochran and Espinosa, both of whom started as true freshmen. Through the good times and the bad these past two years, they survived together. There has to be some intangible value to that.
But the veterans know this is a meritocracy. Searels had six offensive linemen he trusted in crunch time last season. He needs more than that. The added depth comes at a critical time, when an up-tempo scheme will require more rotating to keep the line fresh and effective.
No matter what, Searels needs 10 good men. And that’s only going to make his five starters work even harder.
“Our togetherness is big, and I think that helps with the guys who have been around for a while,” Walters said. “But at the same time, Coach Searels has definitely made it clear he’ll play the five best.”
No. 55 Dominic Espinosa
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Football, after all, is a team sport. And Texas likes to take that concept to a new level. Take, for instance, any question about a quarterback from the two previous seasons. Almost every answer was started with "Both those guys," not putting one above the other or either above the team.
But Texas has turned the page and in a new era of accountability and, in an effort to applaud individual efforts, Texas coach Mack Brown dispensed with the regular lumping together of players when asked about who has stood out to him. Instead, the veteran coach had no problem pointing fingers at those individuals who have excelled, thereby also possibly pointing one at those who need to pick up the pace.
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Here are the results:
Who has the most to gain this spring and who has the most to lose?
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Yet, every position remains open.
And while four of the recently signed offensive linemen will not make it to campus until the summer, the coaching staff can start evaluating how the current handful of returning starters reacts to the new no-huddle offense. If they do not excel in their evaluations, Texas at least now could have viable options to replace a few of them.
Tackles: Since Desmond Harrison is not enrolled yet so it is tough for him to be a part of the spring conversations. Although returning tackle Donald Hawkins will probably get extra work inside in preparation for Harrison’s arrival. Texas has a few guys it can and wants to throw into that tackle position this spring with Kennedy Estelle chief among them. Estelle played last season but had a shoulder injury that forced him to the sideline. He has a big, athletic body and can run so he might be very well suited for a no-huddle attack. Camrhon Hughes is a player Texas was extremely high on last spring but a knee injury in the offseason cost him playing time. Texas is hoping Hughes can participate throughout the spring so they can determine how and when to use him.
Returning starter Josh Cochran might move sides, but he is not likely to move from the tackle spot.
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Vitals: Offensive lineman Darius James, Harker Heights, Texas/Harker Heights | 6-foot-5, 340 pounds
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Spring Game Wrap-Up: April 19
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
TBD North Dakota State Iowa State TBD Louisiana Tech Oklahoma TBD North Texas Texas TBD Stephen F. Austin Kansas State TBD Samford TCU TBD Central Arkansas Texas Tech 3:30 PM ET West Virginia Alabama 8:00 PM ET Florida State Oklahoma State