Texas Longhorns: Dominic Espinosa
Center Dominic Espinosa, a 40-game starter for the Longhorns, announced Tuesday on his Twitter account he will not seek a sixth season of eligibility. He started every game for Texas in 2011, 2012 and 2013 but suffered a season-ending ankle injury that required surgery during the Longhorns' opener against North Texas.
I can't imagine a better place to graduate and play football. Texas, thanks for the memories. pic.twitter.com/W5318BzWbF— DOM (@DomEspinosa) November 25, 2014
As expected, nose tackle Desmond Jackson declared Monday that he will return for one more season. He's redshirting this year after going down with a Lisfranc fracture in his right foot against UCLA. He has played in 41 games and started 16 in four seasons.
The Longhorns' Senior Night home game against TCU is Thursday. Two more Texas senior starters, linebacker Jordan Hicks and receiver John Harris, also could have an option for a sixth year due to past injuries.
Here are the Big 12 players that made each list:
- BJ Finney, Kansas State
- Dominic Espinosa, Texas
- Joey Hunt, TCU
- Tom Farniok, Iowa State
- Ty Darlington, Oklahoma
Monday, the Maxwell (player of the year), Bednarik (defensive player of the year) and Hornung (most versatile player) watch lists were released.
Below is the rest of the preseason watch list schedule:
- Lou Groza Award, best place-kicker
- Ray Guy Award, best punter
- Bronko Nagurski Trophy, best defensive player
- Outland Trophy, best interior lineman
- Jim Thorpe Award, best defensive back
Monday, July 14
- Butkus Award, best linebacker
- Lombardi Award, best lineman
Tuesday, July 15
- Biletnikoff Award, best receiver
Wednesday, July 16
- Davey O’Brien Award, best quarterback.
Thursday, July 17
- Doak Walker Award, best running back
Friday, July 18
- Walter Camp Award, best player
No. 55 Dominic Espinosa
Recruitment rewind: A local kid from Cedar Park, Texas, Espinosa was a four-star recruit and ESPN's No. 3 center prospect in the class of 2010. He had early offers from the likes of LSU, Texas A&M, Tennessee and Stanford, but when Mack Brown extended an offer at a February junior day, he committed on the spot. Espinosa moved from tackle to center before his senior year at Cedar Park and notched 179 knockdown blocks on the year.
Career so far: Espinosa redshirted in 2010, then surprised many by winning the starting center job in fall camp as a redshirt freshman. He's been in the starting lineup ever since and enters his senior season with 39 career starts. No player in the 2014 roster has started more games. Espinosa earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors from the league's coaches as a junior.
Best-case scenario for 2014: There are a ton of question marks with this Texas offensive line entering 2014. Espinosa isn't one of them. He'll hold down his job for 13 more games and, thanks to new offensive line coach Joe Wickline's tutelage, should become a more consistently dominant blocker. He's a sharp player, a good leader, and he's going to get better.
Worst-case scenario for 2014: At this point, unless something changes dramatically, it's hard to picture another player beating Espinosa out for the center job. Jake Raulerson and Terrell Cuney are good, young players. Darius James is also capable of playing some center. They'll get their chance down the road. Wickline could try other players out at center if he thinks he needs to make a change, but entering fall camp, there's no reason to expect that. Only an injury or truly poor play is going to get Espinosa bumped from the lineup.
Future expectations: Could Espinosa develop into an All-Big 12 lineman this fall? There are a few good centers in this league -- Kansas State's BJ Finney, TCU's Joey Hunt and Iowa State's Tom Farniok stand out -- and Espinosa probably isn't on their level just yet. He still has plenty to prove if he hopes to compete for a spot in the pros, but Espinosa has the benefit of a year with arguably the nation's best offensive line coach and has all that experience. We haven't seen his best ball yet.
There’s no perfect way to capture how experienced a team is or estimate how that will affect its fortunes in 2014. But a deep dive into the raw data revealed some intriguing takeaways about which Big 12 squads might be loaded and which ones are reloading.
We’ve scanned the post-spring rosters for every Big 12 team and added up the total number of career starts for each and every returning player.
The unvarnished answer: Texas leads the Big 12 in returning starts, not only as a team, but also in career starts on offense and on defense.
Here are the results, sorted by offense, defense and the combined total along with how each unit ranks in the Big 12:
Here’s the caveat: Texas was No. 1 in the Big 12 in career starts last year, too.
The Longhorns had a combined 627 career starts on their roster by the end of 2013 and still went 8-5. The jury is still out on whether that team overachieved or underachieved, but having more experience than everyone else didn’t save Mack Brown’s job.
That Texas is tops in these categories shouldn’t be much of a surprise. From 2010-12, Brown put 46 true freshmen on the field. Many of them became starters early on, and UT brings back 31 players with starting experience this fall.
Surprised to see Oklahoma State at the bottom of the charts? Don’t be. Though OSU is making a lot of folks’ preseason top-25 lists, the Cowboys are very young.
This was the second-most-experienced team in the league last season with 592 career starts by the end of 2013. Between graduating seniors and some spring departures, OSU lost a total of 449 career starts this offseason.
Only five Oklahoma State defenders with starting experience return. Lineman Daniel Koenig is the only offensive player with double-digit career starts. Keep that in mind if this ends up being a rebuilding year for the Cowboys.
You’ll notice Baylor is also near the bottom of the Big 12 in terms of returning starting experience. Not a big shock there, since last year’s conference champs have to replace more than a dozen starters.
Baylor’s coaches would argue those numbers are misleading, though, and they might be right. For Bryce Petty, being a fifth-year player is probably more valuable than having 13 career starts. And some of its better defenders -- Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings, Orion Stewart -- played major minutes in 2013 but weren’t credited with starts.
TCU’s defense ranks No. 2 in the Big 12 in returning starts with 170. Its offense lost only 85 total starts this offseason, second-fewest in the league behind Texas Tech (82). Might that be a recipe for a comeback season?
Oklahoma, the consensus league favorite for 2014, ranks third in the Big 12 in all three total start categories. The Sooners bring back 29 players with starting experience.
One more observation: For the teams at the bottom of last year’s Big 12 standings, these experience numbers provide some encouragement.
Iowa State’s offense ranks No. 2 in the conference in total career starts. Kansas has 18 players on offense with starting experience. West Virginia has 31 players who’ve started games.
Again, how much these numbers play a factor this fall is impossible to say. But they do at least give us a baseline measurement of how experience each Big 12 roster possesses, and an indication of which ones might need big production from young players to fight for the title belt.
Last season the strongest position of the league was defensive back, headlined by Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett, Ahmad Dixon, Aaron Colvin and Ty Zimmerman, among others.
But those players are all gone. So what will be the strongest position in 2014?
With such players such as TCU’s Devonte Fields, Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper and Texas’ Cedric Reed returning, we believe it will be defensive line.
Maybe you think it will be another position such as receiver, which includes All-American hopefuls Antwan Goodley and Tyler Lockett, and a host of potential 1,000-yard threats such as Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley.
Perhaps it’s your opinion that the strength of the Big 12 will be at linebacker, where Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU bring their entire units back, and virtually everyone else has at least one proven performer returning.
Maybe the conference’s best unit is the offensive line, with experienced centers BJ Finney (Kansas State), Dominic Espinosa (Texas) and Tom Farniok (Iowa State); talented tackles Spencer Drango (Baylor), Le'Raven Clark (Texas Tech) and Daryl Williams (Oklahoma); and versatile stalwarts Cody Whitehair (Kansas State), Quinton Spain (West Virginia) and Daniel Koenig (Oklahoma State).
Or with Baylor’s Bryce Petty, Kansas State’s Jake Waters, Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight, do you believe quarterback is on its way back to becoming the dominant position in a league that not long ago was the nation’s preeminent conference for that position?
Tell us by voting in the weekly Big 12 poll.
Here’s how the positions of the league rank going into 2014:
1. Defensive line: This was easily the most difficult position to rank by team, as line figures to be the defensive strength of TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs had the league’s best run defense last season, and on top of returning basically the entire unit, will be adding back 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. The Sooners are also loaded, led by All-Big 12-caliber ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips, and the could also go three-deep across the board next year. The Longhorns have two potential first-round picks up front in tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. And Baylor coach Art Briles is already on record stating his D-line could go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Collectively, this should be the best the conference has been at the position since Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh roamed the middle five years ago.
2. Wide receiver: The league has two superstars at receiver in Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, who have the résumés to garner preseason All-American consideration. But they aren’t the only prolific playmakers here. Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley are all capable of 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Baylor might feature the best receiving corps in the country, Oklahoma State is a solid nine deep and West Virginia returns its entire starting lineup from last season. Even Kansas has the nation’s second-leading receiver from 2011 in Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Assuming the league’s quarterbacks can get them the ball, this could be another banner year for the Big 12’s pass-catchers.
3. Linebacker: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU return virtually their entire linebacker units from last year. And from Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson and Kansas State’s Jonathan Truman to Baylor’s Bryce Hager and Oklahoma State’s Ryan Simmons, the rest of the league basically has at least one proven linebacker coming back, too.
4. Offensive line: The strength of the Big 12's offensive lines resides in experienced centers and talented tackles. Kansas State’s BJ Finney, Texas’ Dominic Espinosa and Iowa State’s Tom Farniok are all four-year starters with a combined 113 career starts. At tackle, Baylor’s Spencer Drango, Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark and Oklahoma’s Daryl Williams have NFL futures. The league also boasts three other very stout and versatile players up front in Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, West Virginia’s Quinton Spain and Oklahoma State’s Daniel Koenig, all three of which can man either guard or tackle.
6. Running back: Half the teams lost their leading rushers from last season, and that doesn’t include Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams switching positions to linebacker. The Longhorns pose a potentially devastating one-two punch in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, and the Mountaineers could go five-deep with Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. But the rest of the league will be leaning on potential more than past performance. That said, there is a lot to like in Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly, TCU’s B.J. Catalon, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill and Oklahoma’s Keith Ford.
7. Defensive back: With Gilbert, Verrett, Dixon, Colvin, Zimmerman, Cook and Byndom all gone, this position took a major attrition hit. Thanks to Sam Carter, Chris Hackett and Kevin White, TCU remains well stocked in its secondary. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have veterans back, too. Everywhere else, there is rebuilding to be done. But the next wave of secondary stars appears to be on its way. Cornerbacks Nigel Tribune (Iowa State), Justis Nelson (Texas Tech) and Daryl Worley (West Virginia) all started as true freshmen. So did Oklahoma State corner Kevin Peterson and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, who are now both juniors. It might not be long before defensive back is a strength of the league again like it was last season.
- Ty Darlington (Oklahoma): Darlington appears to be the heir-apparent to All-American Gabe Ikard at center; Darlington has appeared in 12 games along the Oklahoma offensive line in his career.
- Dominic Espinosa (Texas): Espinosa will be a four-year starter for the Longhorns and is tied with Kansas State's B.J. Finney for the most career Big 12 offensive line starts with 39.
- Tom Farniok (Iowa State): Farniok will be entering his fourth year as Iowa State's starting center; he's been an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection the past two seasons.
- B.J. Finney (Kansas State): Finney will also be a four-year starter and is a reigning first-team All-Big 12 center.
- Joey Hunt (TCU): Hunt started all 12 games for the Horned Frogs last season as a true sophomore.
After each lineup, read our final takes on our teams. Then, decide who drafted best in the weekly Big 12 poll.
BRANDON CHATMON’S TEAM
- QB: Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
- RB: Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
- WR: Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
- WR: Tony Pierson, Kansas
- WR: Daje Johnson, Texas
- WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
- LT: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
- LG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
- C: Tom Farniok, Iowa State
- RG: Dominic Espinosa, Texas
- RT: Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma
- DE: Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
- DT: Malcom Brown, Texas
- DT: Chucky Hunter, TCU
- DE: Cedric Reed, Texas
- WLB: Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
- SLB: Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
- NB: JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas
- CB: Daryl Worley, West Virginia
- FS: Dante Barnett, Kansas State
- SS: Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
- CB: Kevin White, TCU
MAX OLSON'S TEAM
- QB: Davis Webb, Texas Tech
- RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor
- RB: Johnathan Gray, Texas
- WR: Antwan Goodley, Baylor
- WR: Jaxon Shipley, Texas
- IR: Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
- LT: Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
- LG: Quinton Spain, West Virginia
- C: B.J. Finney, Kansas State
- RG: Daniel Koenig, Oklahoma State
- RT: Troy Baker, Baylor
- DE: Devonte Fields, TCU
- DT: Andrew Billings, Baylor
- DE: Shawn Oakman, Baylor
- DE: Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma
- OLB: Frank Shannon, Oklahoma
- ILB: Bryce Hager, Baylor
- OLB: Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
- CB: Quandre Diggs, Texas
- SS: Sam Carter, TCU
- FS: Terrell Burt, Baylor
- CB: Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
JAKE TROTTER’S TEAM
- QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor
- RB: Malcolm Brown, Texas
- WR: Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
- WR: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
- WR: Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
- TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
- LT: Spencer Drango, Baylor
- LG: Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
- C: Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
- RG: Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
- RT: Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
- DE: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
- Nose: James Castleman, Oklahoma State
- Tackle: Travis Britz, Kansas State
- OLB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma
- ILB: Ben Heeney, Kansas
- ILB: Paul Dawson, TCU
- OLB: Brandon Golson, West Virginia
- CB: Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
- SS: Karl Joseph, West Virginia
- FS: Chris Hackett, TCU
- CB: Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
Below is a recap of the first 15 rounds of the draft from the past two days, followed by rounds 16-22.
As another reminder, this is NOT a Top 25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league lies, and the different strategies to putting a team together from the league’s present talent pool.
- 1. QB Bryce Petty, Baylor
- 2. OT Spencer Drango, Baylor
- 3. OLB Eric Striker, Oklahoma
- 4. DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
- 5. OT Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
- 6. WR Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
- 7. WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
- 8. TE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
- 9. RB Malcolm Brown, Texas
- 10. DT Travis Britz, Kansas State
- 11. DT James Castleman, Oklahoma State
- 12. CB Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
- 13. SS Karl Joseph, West Virginia
- 14. FS Chris Hackett, TCU
- 15. LB Ben Heeney, Kansas
- 1. WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
- 2. DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
- 3. DE Cedric Reed, Texas
- 4. OT Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
- 5. DT Malcom Brown, Texas
- 6. DT Chucky Hunter, TCU
- 7. CB Daryl Worley, West Virginia
- 8. CB Kevin White, TCU
- 9. OG Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
- 10. SS Dante Barnett, Kansas State
- 11. C Tom Farniok, Iowa State
- 12. LB Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
- 13. CB JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas
- 14. OT Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma
- 15. WR Daje Johnson, Texas
- 1. DE Devonte Fields, TCU
- 2. WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor
- 3. DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor
- 4. QB Davis Webb, Texas Tech
- 5. LB Frank Shannon, Oklahoma
- 6. CB Quandre Diggs, Texas
- 7. SS Sam Carter, TCU
- 8. LB Bryce Hager, Baylor
- 9. DT Andrew Billings, Baylor
- 10. OT Daniel Koenig, Oklahoma State
- 11. CB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
- 12. RB Shock Linwood, Baylor
- 13. C BJ Finney, Kansas State
- 14. OG Quinton Spain, West Virginia
- 15. OLB Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma
- Olson: WR/RB Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
- Chatmon: OLB Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
- Trotter: OLB Brandon Golson, West Virginia
- Analysis: "To combat the offensive attacks I would face in the Big 12, I'm going with a 3-4 on defense. Golson, who led the Big 12 in forced fumbles last season, is another playmaking outside linebacker who would fit in nicely in this scheme opposite Striker." -- Trotter
- Trotter: LB Paul Dawson, TCU
- Chatmon: C Dominic Espinosa, Texas
- Olson: RB Johnathan Gray, Texas
- Analysis: “I ended up getting a potential All-Big 12 running back in the 17th round. So I feel pretty good about that. Gray should be healthy for the opener, and he leads all returning Big 12 rushers with 86 rushing yards per game last season." -- Olson
- Olson: OT Troy Baker, Baylor
- Chatmon: SS Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
- Trotter: OG Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
- Analysis: "I wanted a safety who is comfortable in holding his own in coverage, while also having the ability to make plays all over the field. Hayes is the guy. With Worley, Shepherd, White, Barnett and Hayes in the secondary, I can unleash the rest of my defense on the quarterback and feel comfortable about my secondary holding its own against anyone." -- Chatmon
- Trotter: OG Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
- Chatmon: WR Tony Pierson, Kansas
- Olson: SS Terrell Burt, Baylor
- Analysis: "With Max and Brandon hoarding centers, I needed to attack the interior of my offensive line. Kasitati can excel manning either guard or center, and Glowinski is one of the league’s top returning guards." -- Trotter
- Olson: OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
- Chatmon: WR Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
- Trotter: WR Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
- Analysis: "The guys I wanted for my second guard spot weren't available at this round, so I'm going with the mammoth "Big V" Vaitai (6-foot-6, 308 pounds) and moving one of my other tackle selections inside. I ended up with a fairly good offensive line, which was pretty much my plan going in." -- Olson
- Trotter: CB Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
- Chatmon: WR Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
- Olson: LB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
- Analysis: “I picked up Bundrage in the previous round to seal up what I feel is the best all-around receiving corps, even if I didn’t get Goodley or Lockett. Tribune, the only true freshman to play for Iowa State in the past two seasons, is a corner with a ton of upside and, paired with Kevin Peterson, should provide me plenty of tenaciousness against the pass.” -- Trotter
- Olson: WR Jaxon Shipley, Texas
- Chatmon: QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
- Trotter: C Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
- Analysis: “I just got the steal of the draft, and I knew I would wait until the final round to do so. As soon as Jake snapped up Petty, I knew I would be content with Davis Webb or Trevor Knight and wouldn’t draft a quarterback until the final round. The fact that Max opted for Webb made things even better for me as Knight has the versatility to run a run-heavy offense or spread things out and use his arm. He fits perfectly with the versatility I was striving for with each pick.” -- Chatmon
Heading into 2013, virtually no one viewed Duke as a possible threat in the ACC. But with the third-most career offensive line starts returning in the country, the Blue Devils won their first ACC Coastal Division title.
Of course, offensive line experience doesn’t necessarily guarantee a winning team.
And the lack of it doesn’t preclude success, either.
Baylor ranked 98th nationally in offensive line experience last year and wound up winning its first Big 12 title. Oklahoma State ranked 109th and won 10 games.
Yet examining an offensive line’s experience can be a useful indicator in determining how a team might fare.
Michigan State was ninth in career offensive line starts going into last season and won the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl. Florida State was one spot behind the Spartans and captured the national title.
No team, actually, entered 2013 with more offensive line starts than Texas, which led the nation with 124. For all their issues elsewhere, which included losing starting QB David Ash for the year, the Longhorns still had a chance to win the Big 12 on the final day of the regular season.
Underscoring the strength of its veteran offensive line, Texas ranked third in the Big 12 in rushing and second in fewest sacks allowed.
This year, Oklahoma is the Big 12 leader in career offensive line starts coming back, and one reason why many people are picking the Sooners to open in the top 5 of the polls.
Guard Adam Shead and tackle Daryl Williams are entering their third seasons as starters. Oklahoma also will be returning guard Tyler Evans, who, before tearing his knee twice in successive years, was a three-year starter. Tackle Tyrus Thompson and guard Nila Kasitati also have a lot of starting experience, and round out what could be Oklahoma’s most imposing offensive line since 2008.
The team with the second-most returning starts up front in the league? That's Iowa State.
Because of injuries, the Cyclones had to use nine different starting offensive line combinations last season. But now, they return 87 career starts along the line, including six players with at least eight career starts. Four year-starting center Tom Farniok leads the way with 35 career starts. He joins Texas center Dominic Espinosa and Kansas State center B.J. Finney as the only three offensive linemen in the Big 12 with at least 30 career starts; Espinosa and Finney both have 39.
Below is a breakdown of career offensive line starts returning across the entire league, from most to least:
Tyler Evans 29, Adam Shead 28, Daryl Williams 24, Tyrus Thompson 16, Nila Kasitati 7, Ty Darlington 1, Dionte Savage 1, Derek Farniok 1
Iowa State: 87
Tom Farniok 35, Jacob Gannon 12 ,Brock Dagel 11, Oni Omoile 9, Jamison Lalk 8, Daniel Burton 8 ,Ben Loth 2, Jacob Dunning 1, Ben Boesen 1
Texas Tech: 75
Le'Raven Clark 26, Jared Kaster 13, Rashad Fortenberry 13, Alfredo Morales 13, James Polk 7, Baylen Brown 3
Kansas State: 70
B.J. Finney 39, Cody Whitehair 25, Boston Stiverson 6
Spencer Drango 22, Troy Baker 15, Desmine Hilliard 13, Blake Muir 12 (Hawaii), Pat Colbert 2
Aviante Collins 22, Joey Hunt 13, Tayo Fabuluje 12, Halapoulivaati Vaitai 7, Jamelle Naff 2, Patrick Morris 1
Dominic Espinosa 39, Kennedy Estelle 8, Sedrick Flowers 1, Kent Perkins 1
West Virginia: 45
Quinton Spain 26, Mark Glowinski 12, Marquis Lucas 4, Tyler Orlosky 3
Oklahoma State: 38
Daniel Koenig 22, Chris Grisbhy 8, Brandon Garrett 4, Devin Davis 2, Zac Veatch 1, Paul Lewis 1
Ngalu Fusimalohi 12, Mike Smithburg 8, Pat Lewandowski 6, Damon Martin 5, Zach Fondal 3
1. Oklahoma (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Sporting News has listed the Sooners as its preseason No. 1 team in the country, due in large part to Oklahoma’s offensive line. That might be going overboard, but the Sooners have a wealth of experience and depth returning up front, which includes four starters. They’ll get even deeper once guard Tyler Evans is cleared this summer, as expected (he was running this spring). Evans has missed the past two seasons with knee injuries but was a three-year starter before getting hurt.
3. Texas (3): The Longhorns will feature one of the eldest lines in the Big 12, with its projected starting front comprising two seniors and three juniors. Right guard Taylor Doyle emerged this spring at the biggest question spot, but Texas has other options inside with Rami Hammad, Curtis Riser and the versatile Kent Perkins. Center Dominic Espinosa is the anchor of this group, which will be asked to establish itself with the running game in Charlie Strong’s first season.
4. Baylor (4): The Bears are still waiting for left tackle Spencer Drango to return from last season’s back injury, but right tackle Troy Baker showed no lingering effects of the knee injury he suffered last spring. With the depth inside and with Kyle Fuller locking up the center job, there are no weaknesses with this cast -- provided Drango gets healthy and gets back to the field.
5. Oklahoma State (5): The Cowboys are also waiting for their left tackle to return from an injury he suffered last season. Devin Davis has NFL potential but has been slow to recover from an ACL tear last preseason. The Cowboys seemed to also be in a fix at center with their top-two players at the position from last fall moving on from the program with eligibility still remaining. But Paul Lewis slid over from guard this spring and stabilized that spot. Daniel Koenig is an All-Big 12 caliber player and capable of playing tackle or guard. He’ll continue to man left tackle, at least until Davis returns.
6. Texas Tech (6): Tech received some welcome news during spring ball with starting right tackle Rashad Fortenberry being granted an extra year of eligibility. The Red Raiders have one of the best returning tackles in the league on the left side in Le’Raven Clark, and two juco tackles they’re high on in Shaq Davis and Dominique Robertson. With Jared Kaster and Alfredo Morales also returning as starters inside, Tech’s offensive line should be much better than last season's.
7. West Virginia (7): The Mountaineers have the league’s most reliable one-two punch at guard in Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski, who have 38 career starts together. The rest of the line, however, is a question. Left tackle Adam Pankey impressed coach Dana Holgorsen early in the spring and won a starting job before the Gold-Blue Game. If Pankey pans out, the Mountaineers could be a load up front.
8. Iowa State (8): The Cyclones had disastrous luck with the health of their offensive line last season, but that should pay off in 2014 with so many different players having gotten experience. Left tackle Brock Dagel has immense upside, and center Tom Farniok is an All-Big-type player. But the Cyclones were especially pumped with the development of sophomore right guard Daniel Burton, who is physical and one of the smartest players on the team. If they get better luck with good health, this could wind up being a very a tough and balanced unit.
9. TCU (9): The Horned Frogs welcomed the return of tackle Tayo Fabuluje, who left the team before the start of the season last fall. Fabuluje, however, missed several practices with an ankle injury, allowing redshirt freshman Joseph Noteboom to move ahead of him on the depth chart. Fabuluje will have a chance to earn his spot back in the spring opposite Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who replaced Fabuluje last season. But the way the 2013 season went, the Horned Frogs can’t have too many reliable offensive tackles. Juco transfer Frank Kee impressed during the spring and should lock down a starting spot at guard next to center Joey Hunt, who did a nice job of adapting to the new offense during the spring. With 6-foot-7, 350-pound Matt Pryor also likely to fit in somewhere in the rotation, the Frogs will definitely be bigger up front than they were in 2013 -- and probably better, too.
10: Kansas (10): Because he can get in and out of the pocket, Montell Cozart winning the starting job should help the offensive line. The fact that new offensive coordinator John Reagan is also an offensive line coach should be a boost, as well. The Jayhawks have several battles up front that will continue into the fall, including center, where walk-on Joe Gibson made a huge impression during the spring.
Three things we learned in the spring:
1. Strong isn’t messing around. From his high-intensity practices, to his willingness to stop and restart practice if the vibe isn’t right, to demanding players walk the half-mile uphill to the fields, the first-year coach is out to bring back a toughness that went missing with the Longhorns in recent years.
2. Texas will have two play-callers and, potentially, a handful of playmakers on offense in 2014. Offensive Joe Wickline and assistant head coach Shawn Watson will call plays, and Watson gets the final say. They know what they have in RB Malcolm Brown and WRs Jaxon Shipley, Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders, who all earned good reviews this spring.
3. Defensive line will be the strength of Texas’ defense, led by a pair of All-Big 12 caliber veterans in DE Cedric Reed and DT Malcom Brown. Senior Desmond Jackson is holding down the other interior spot, and Shiro Davis is emerging as the replacement for Jackson Jeffcoat. Depth behind them still a question mark, but those four starters are the real deal.
Three questions for the fall:
1. Quarterback. Duh. The foot fracture David Ash suffered before the final week of spring ball only amplified the scrutiny of this spot. Tyrone Swoopes had a few flashes and also some struggles in the spring game. Don’t be surprised if former USC QB Max Wittek joins the program in May and makes this a real competition, along with freshman Jerrod Heard.
2. The linebackers remain a source of uncertainty exiting spring ball, with Jordan Hicks among the three veterans at that spot who missed spring practice. DC Vance Bedford should feel good about Steve Edmond (his play, not his words), Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens back there, and Demarco Cobbs is back from injury, but who’s starting by the end of August?
3. Wickline comes to Austin with a reputation for being one of the nation’s top offensive line coaches. He’ll have a nice challenge finding his best five this fall. Center Dominic Espinosa might be the only lock among the Longhorns’ potential starters up front, and Wickline could choose from any number of lineup combinations for the opener.
One way-too-early prediction:
Presuming that Texas gets its quarterback affairs in order, this has the look of a nine-win team coming out of spring ball. How the Longhorns players buy in this summer and into fall camp will go a long way toward raising (or lowering) those expectations. Three of Texas’ first six games in 2014 come against likely preseason top-10 teams, so the Horns have to get a lot better between now and then.
AUSTIN, Texas -- With all the talk about culture change and the confusion over coordinators and the conundrum at quarterback, an important question didn’t really get answered this spring.
What is Texas’ new offense going to look like?
You have to wonder how the Longhorns' offensive leaders are handling a third consecutive year of transition. They've played in a pro-style offense for Bryan Harsin and an up-tempo spread under Major Applewhite that got scrapped for a run-heavy attack. Now they have to master a brand new playbook constructed by two coaches.
Perhaps that's why assistant head coach Shawn Watson focused on bringing Texas' offense back to basics this spring.
"Getting our base formations, personnel groups, the base run taught, the base protection, the base pass," Watson said. "We haven't gone much past that because we wanted to bring that to detail."
Bringing everything "to detail" is a concept Watson throws around a lot when talking about where the Longhorns are and where they need to be. It's not about starting from scratch. It's about learning to execute the new plays exactly as they're drawn up. Master the minutia first.
"Everyone has really stepped up to the challenge," Shipley said after the spring game. "We’ve put in new stuff throughout the whole spring and this was the first time to really go through all of the plays. This is not going to be all of it, we’ll have more stuff to put in and it’ll improve."
The new staff intended to stay especially vanilla in its Orange-White spring game. They showed nothing groundbreaking, and would've been hard-pressed to anyway with just one true scholarship quarterback available. But center Dominic Espinosa expects a number of new wrinkles by the end of August. No need to show off now.
"That was a little taste of what we’re trying to do," Espinosa said after the scrimmage.
Knowing what to reasonably expect from this unit in 2014 is tricky. At Louisville, Watson says it all came together in Year 2. Over his three-year stint, the Cardinals ranked No. 3 in FBS in completion percentage, No. 2 in fewest turnovers and top 10 in yards per attempt.
Teddy Bridgewater can take credit for much of that efficiency, but he thrived in part because his offense was built on a sturdy foundation.
Pair that with the philosophies of Joe Wickline, whose Oklahoma State offensive lines paved the way for one of the nation's best spread run games, and you can put together a picture of a powerful system.
Envision an offense that pounds inside-outside with the run to set up a four-wide passing game, one that can also go under center and grind with two tight ends. And, on top of that, a capability to go tempo and adjust on the fly when its quarterback heats up.
Or maybe Watson and Wickline have something entirely different in mind. They have a long summer to concoct something special for an offense that's unmistakably loaded at running back and receiver.
After two years of transitions, mixed messages and changing demands, there's merit in taking it slow and doing this right. That was Watson's mindset going into the spring game.
"It is more about the players right now and putting them out there and seeing what we have now," Watson said.
The next few months are a different story. Watson and Wickline know what they've got in these players. Now they must figure out what to do with them.
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).
Celebrating Black History Month With Texas HC Charlie Strong
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