Texas Longhorns: Donald Hawkins

Seventeen Big 12 players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft. Many other Big 12 alums will have a chance at the next level as undrafted free agents.

Below is a list of undrafted players who reportedly have agreed to free agent deals. This is not a final list, as teams are still working to sign undrafted free agents. But these are the players we know of so far.

Baylor
Iowa State
Kansas
Kansas State
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
TCU
Texas
Texas Tech
West Virginia
Shortly after Texas' worst NFL draft weekend in more than 75 years, six Longhorns ended the day with good news.

Texas made national news Saturday when it failed to produce a selection in the NFL draft for the first time since 1937, a shutout that nobody saw coming and led to a long day of mockery for the program.

But once the draft ended with Memphis safety Lonnie Ballentine being named Mr. Irrelevant with the 256th pick, the phones began ringing and the undrafted free agent deals got rolling.

Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas' highest-rated draft prospect, inked a deal with the Seattle Seahawks to join an already-stacked defensive line.

Jeffcoat was ESPN's No. 106-rated prospect entering the draft and No. 9 at his position. He watched as 22 ends were drafted ahead of him. Questions about his scheme fit, versatility and injury history seemed to be the reason for his drop, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told a reporter he passed because Jeffcoat was a "tweener."

“Going to work in the great northwest. Hello Seattle! #humble&hungry," Jeffcoat wrote on his Twitter account after signing with the defending Super Bowl champions.

One encouraging number for Jeffcoat's chances: Since 2010, the Seahawks have signed 15 undrafted free agents to their 53-man active roster.

Former Texas wide receiver Mike Davis, who was expected to be a mid-round pick, landed with the Oakland Raiders. The first message he posted on his Twitter page after learning of his destination was to Derek Carr, the Raiders' second-round QB selection out of Fresno State.

For the sixth year in a row, no Texas offensive linemen were selected in the draft. Guard Trey Hopkins signed with the Cincinnati Bengals and tackle Donald Hawkins inked a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Cornerback Carrington Byndom signed with the Carolina Panthers and defensive tackle Chris Whaley, who is still recovering from a torn ACL, will get a chance to play for the Dallas Cowboys.

Whaley is a particularly interesting fit there since the Cowboys signed Henry Melton this offseason, another Texas running back-turned-defensive tackle who also happens to be coming back from an ACL tear.

The contracts that Jeffcoat and his undrafted Texas teammates agreed to are three-year deals worth a little less than $1.5 million over the life of the deal, but the only guaranteed money in unrestricted free agent deals come from a signing bonus and, for some, a partially guaranteed base salary.

One surprise among Texas' free-agent hopefuls was kicker Anthony Fera. The consensus All-American and Lou Groza Award finalist did not sign with a team on Saturday, and a source close to him said few teams had expressed interest thus far. If that doesn't change soon, Fera's ticket to the league will have to come through tryouts.

Texas had six former undrafted free agents playing in the NFL last season: Justin Tucker, Phil Dawson, Fozzy Whittaker, Lyle Sendlein, David Snow and Cullen Loeffler.


Texas hosted its pro day on Wednesday and put its senior prospects to the test in front of representatives from all 32 NFL organizations. Here’s how the Longhorns' top draft prospects fared and a look at who helped their stock.

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
AP Photo/Michael ConroyJackson Jeffcoat, shown at the NFL combine, says he's open to playing wherever a pro team wants him.
DE Jackson Jeffcoat: Texas’ top draft prospect did not participate in testing or the 40-yard dash because he was satisfied with his NFL combine times.

With father and former Dallas Cowboys lineman Jim Jeffcoat in attendance, Jeffcoat did positional drills and displayed the work he’s been putting in on dropping into coverage. Jeffcoat checked in at 6-foot-3 and 253 pounds said he’s open to playing 4-3 end, 3-4 outside linebacker or whatever else an NFL defensive staff would ask of him.

“When it comes down to it, it’s football,” he said. “Whatever a coach tells me to play, I’ll do it. It’s exciting to see they want me to play a hybrid outside linebacker rush guy. It’s fun watching Brian Orakpo and Sam Acho do it, so it would be fun to do the same thing.”

WR Mike Davis: Going into the day, perception was Davis had a chance to raise his draft stock if he put up an impressive time in the 40-yard dash.

The 6-foot, 197-pound deep threat did not run at the NFL combine, so he did have plenty to prove Tuesday. Davis looked sharp in his passing drills with former SMU and Eastern Washington QB Kyle Padron throwing to him. The 40 time? A solid 4.48.

A likely mid-round selection, Davis said he’s receiving good interest so far and has visits scheduled with the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys.

K Anthony Fera: For Fera, preparing for the draft has meant lots of work on his kickoffs. The consensus All-American and Groza Award finalist was Texas’ placekicker and punter but hadn’t done kickoffs in two years thanks to Nick Rose’s strong leg. NFL scouts want to see him boom the ball, and he did just that on Wednesday.

“I hit them to the back of the end zone every time, and one of them hit the roof, so I thought I did pretty well,” Fera said.

The Saints, Titans, Browns and Jaguars could be searching for their kicking solutions in this draft and Fera should be in the running to be the first kicker selected.

OG Trey Hopkins: A 42-game starter at Texas, Hopkins has a chance to be the Longhorns’ first drafted offensive lineman since Tony Hills (2008). He came away proud of his 28 reps on the bench press and said interest is picking up, with a meeting with the Cleveland Browns already set up.

“I want people to know I play all positions on the offensive line,” Hopkins said. “I can snap, play tackle in games. And of course guard is where I played the most. I’m comfortable doing any of them.”

CB Carrington Byndom: It’s possible no Longhorn helped his draft stock more than Byndom on Wednesday. The three-year starting cornerback knew there were questions about his speed, and he’s confident he answered those with a time of 4.37 in the 40-yard dash.

“I think a lot of scouts had me running a lot slower than that,” Byndom said. “I could’ve done a little better on my position work, but there’s still time for that.”

He has one workout lined up and is hoping his performance Wednesday will spark more interest in the weeks ahead.

DT Chris Whaley: A left knee injury ended Whaley’s senior season in November, at a time when Mack Brown believed he was playing like a surefire NFL draft pick. Now Whaley is trying to get healthy, get back on the field and get drafted.

The 6-foot-3, 273-pound defensive tackle said he’s about three months away from being fully healthy again, but received positive feedback from NFL doctors about the progress of his knee’s recovery. Whaley participated in the NFL combine and did only one event at the Texas pro day, knocking out 22 reps on the bench press.

OT Donald Hawkins: At 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, Hawkins knows that, like Hopkins, he’s capable of lining up at a variety of offensive line spots. He thinks he can be a swing tackle-guard but isn’t sure what to expect when draft day arrives. Hawkins’ 40 time wasn’t immediately available, but he hit 20 reps on the bench press.

S Adrian Phillips: The two-year starter set out to prove he’s worthy of a late-round selection and believed he helped his case. While there was some uncertainty about what he ran in the 40 -- some said 4.44, others thought it was closer to 4.5 -- Phillips emerged feeling confident about his coverage work and hoping he’ll hear his name called in the draft.

Brown, Texas saved year one game at a time

November, 14, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Mason Walters was reminded Monday of this bit of trivia: Texas' last six opponents have won a total of 23 games. Its final three foes are 23-4.

Daunting stuff for a team that finally entered the BCS standings this week, right? The offensive lineman crunched the numbers for a moment, then produced a firm answer.

"We only have to beat one of those teams this week," Walters said. "I think that's the way we do it."

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesMack Brown had turned Texas' season around by convincing the Longhorns to just take it one week at a time.
That's the company line for the Longhorns this season, repeated and reinforced week after week until players started realizing just how effective that myopia can be.

How did coach Mack Brown pull this all off? How did he take a team on the brink at 1-2, one that lost its quarterback and had too many injured starters, and swing this season with a six wins in a row?

The easy answer is that Texas had talented players all along, that somehow this group came together and starting playing up to its experience and potential. These assistant coaches probably aren't receiving their due credit.

But Walters' answer speaks to the mentality Brown has stubbornly preached since Texas' second loss. His Longhorns avoided disaster by living one day and one game at a time.

Brown couldn't control the chatter about his job status. He couldn't control the perception that Texas' season was in a shambles. He and his coaches stuck to what was in front of them: Beat Kansas State. Start 1-0 and start over.

Two months later, it's clear that mentality has trickled down to his players and taken hold in the locker room. Nobody is questioning their focus. Cornerback Quandre Diggs, as confident and hardheaded a leader as Texas has, isn't letting anyone look ahead.

"I don't want to hear about the games we have following Oklahoma State. I really don't care," Diggs said. "I just want to win this week and that's all I care about. I don't care about a Big 12 championship in the future, because that kind of thinking gets you beat. I'm worried about this week."

Brown is teaching a master class in crisis management right now. Those focused on finding a way to replace him in 2014 are missing out.

It's not that Texas players lacked focus in losses to BYU and Ole Miss. It's about how they've responded since. They held a players-only meeting after the Ole Miss defeat. The goal, lineman Donald Hawkins said, was to throw out the hard feelings and put aside differences. This was a mature enough team -- 17 upperclassmen were starting at the time -- to recognize the fork in the road and the way to find the right path.

"We really did, after taking those two losses, figure out that, wow, this is kind of a cutthroat environment we're in after a loss," Walters said. "If we win each one every week, things can only get better."

Added Diggs: "Win the week. Win the day. That should've been our goal from the jump."

Meanwhile, their head coach had to find a way to ignore everything being said about him and his program. Brown would joke that, at Texas, everyone wants the head coach fired after every loss. Publicly, he'd argue the national chatter didn't matter.

The only way to shut people up is by winning. And he's doing just that.

"What's the saying? A wolf doesn't concern himself with the opinions of sheep," Hawkins said.

And now that the noise is dwindling, we can step back and recognize what Brown is accomplishing.

He believed Texas would be good in 2013 if quarterback David Ash had a strong junior year. Ash hasn't played in nearly two months. Starting tackle Josh Cochran is out. Top linebacker Jordan Hicks is done for the year, and now leading rusher Johnathan Gray and defensive tackle Chris Whaley are too.

Yet his team keeps rolling. The Longhorns climbed out of their two-loss hole one test at a time. That's all Brown has asked of them.

The week of the Oklahoma game, national writers were asking Case McCoy and others to defend Brown and to explain why he was still the right man to lead Texas. The responses were understandably defiant. So were the results.

"I play every week as if it's my last," McCoy said. "He's coaching every week like it's his last. It can only trickle down when people see that."

And McCoy says he believes his coach is having as much fun as ever right now. Brown says the postgame locker room after beating West Virginia in overtime last weekend was one of the best he has ever witnessed. He sees an inspired team.

What the players see is a coach who keeps fighting. Walters hopes Brown looks back on 2013 as one of the best coaching jobs he has ever done. But the Longhorns have to take care of business in the next four weeks for any of that to matter.

"If we reflect too much on it, and don't focus on the next week," Walters said, "it's going to get pretty real pretty quickly."

Planning for success: Texas

October, 31, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Case McCoy had no business wearing such a clean uniform as he walked off the Amon G. Carter Stadium field early Sunday morning.

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.

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy and Dominic Espinosa
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDominic Espinosa (right) has helped keep Case McCoy upright and Texas' offense running.
McCoy has not been sacked in three of the Longhorns’ last four games. He’s gone down five times this season and three times in Big 12 play. The lineup of tackles Donald Hawkins and Kennedy Estelle, guards Trey Hopkins and Mason Walters and center Dominic Espinosa is finally finding consistency after years of scrutiny.

“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.”

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 7 in the Big 12:

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.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesBlake Bell had one of the worst performances statistically by an OU QB since 2005.
Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma. While Texas found its identity in the Cotton Bowl, the Sooners seemingly lost theirs. The defense’s Achilles' heel resurfaced from last season, as Oklahoma couldn’t stop the run. That made the Sooners vulnerable against deep passes, which McCoy capitalized on with a pair of long touchdowns. As much as the defense struggled, the offense looked completely lost. Blake Bell took four sacks, threw two interceptions and was utterly miserable on third down. Bell’s QBR on third down, in fact, was 0.1 percent (he had been 89.8 on third downs coming into the game). Bell wasn’t much better the rest of the game with an Adjusted QBR of 2.8, which was the fourth-worst single-game adjusted QBR of any FBS quarterback this season. Curiously, Bob Stoops said the offensive staff didn’t feel comfortable running Bell in this game. And the Sooners couldn’t figure out which running back to feature, with no back receiving more than seven carries. This is a team that doesn’t look like it knows who it is all of a sudden.

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.

[+] EnlargeDaje Johnson
AP Photo/Brandon WadeDaje Johnson delivered Texas' first punt return for a touchdown since 2009.
Special-teams players of the week: Texas returner Daje Johnson, Texas kicker Anthony Fera and Iowa State returner Jarvis West.

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

Texas depth chart preview: Offense

August, 20, 2013
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The Texas Longhorns have yet to release their official depth chart for the season opener, and don’t be surprised if that comes out later this week. But why wait?

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.

Quarterback

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.

Running back

Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron, Jalen Overstreet

Shipley-Davis
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesJaxon Shipley (left) and Mike Davis are set to start at receiver, but after them, the depth gets dicey.
Gray is your likely starter, but Brown and Bergeron will see the field plenty in the first few weeks. Gray acknowledged Monday that Texas is using more two-back sets in practices, which could mean more snaps and opportunity for all three running backs this fall. Bergeron is earning rave reviews for losing weight without losing his ability as a thumper, and Brown appears to be fully healthy. He’s got to stay that way. What’s Overstreet’s role? Hard to tell right now. He might be a utility back/slot guy who shines late in nonconference games, but right now it seems unlikely he’ll assume the duty of Wild formation quarterback. Gray is just too good in that role.

Wide receiver

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.

Tight end

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.

Tackle

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.

Guard

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.

Center

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.

Placekicker

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.
AUSTIN, Texas -- You’re not supposed to mess with a good thing, right?

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.”

[+] EnlargeDonald Hawkins
Tim Heitman/US PresswireDonald Hawkins, a junior college transfer in 2012, could find his starting job in peril because of another junior college lineman.
Seniors Mason Walters (38 career starts), Trey Hopkins (29) and Donald Hawkins (11) and juniors Dominic Espinosa (26) and Josh Cochran (20) enter fall camp as the incumbents and received nearly all of the first-team reps in the Longhorns’ first two days of practice this week.

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.”

Opening camp: Texas Longhorns

August, 5, 2013
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Texas is the next Big 12 team who'll begin preseason camp. Let's have a closer look at the Longhorns.

Schedule: Texas will have its first practice Monday after players reported on Sunday. In a somewhat surprising decision, the Longhorns will host three open practices for fans at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. They'll all be this week, beginning with Thursday and Friday's 7:30 p.m. ET practice and followed by an 8 p.m. ET practice on Sunday.

Setting the scene: It's no understatement to say this season could define Mack Brown's tenure at Texas. If the Longhorns turn the corner and find themselves in a BCS game come January, he'll have successfully turned around Texas. He'll have a strong team returning in 2014 and an uptick in recruiting that signals greener pastures ahead and a more placid end to his career in Austin, whenever that happens. If we see an 8-9 win season or worse, an amazing run in the 2000s will have led to a post-Colt McCoy downfall and Brown likely won't be around to coach those 2014 and 2015 recruits. It'll color how he's remembered and this season will have a huge impact on what the next three to four years look like at Texas.

All eyes on: The defense. We're not going to learn anything about David Ash in preseason camp, but the defense has to show signs that it's capable of bouncing back from last season's nightmare that gave up more rushing yards than any team in Texas' history. Manny Diaz stuck around, and the Longhorns brought back 2004 defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to analyze film and do other tasks to help out, mostly from his home in Los Angeles. The personnel is there with the return of Jordan Hicks and stars Jackson Jeffcoat and Quandre Diggs, but this unit has a lot to prove. We'll get an idea of their progress in camp.

Key battle: Offensive tackle. Sophomore Josh Cochran (right) and junior college transfer Donald Hawkins (left) both turned in good efforts a year ago, but Cochran missed the spring with a broken leg. Junior college tackle Desmond Harrison has finally joined the team and could complicate that race. Texas may shift some guys around, like the versatile Trey Hopkins, but the battle for the tackle spot should be one to watch over the next month.

On the mend: Jeffcoat (pectoral) and Hicks (hip) are finally both healthy and ready to go, and the best news of all for Texas is Hicks being given a medical redshirt. That makes him a junior again this season and means he didn't waste last season when he missed 10 games. Jeffcoat has dealt with pectoral injuries in consecutive seasons as well as a high ankle sprain as a freshman. He's got to stay healthy.

Breaking out: Peter Jinkens. The sophomore linebacker had a big finish to the season after grabbing his first start against Iowa State. He had three tackles for loss and a sack against Kansas State, and nine tackles and a pick against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl win. He's got a lot of speed at 6-foot-1 and 218 pounds roaming the outside, and earned playing time at both weak and strongside.

Outlook: Texas has the potential to be better than any team in the Big 12 with a talented defense, experienced quarterback, deep stable of running backs and a physical, experienced offensive line. Still, all you have to do is look at games against Oklahoma and Kansas a year ago for a healthy, fair dose of skepticism. That's how a team that won nine games a year ago and returns 19 starters gets picked fourth in the Big 12 by the league's media. These Longhorns have a ton to prove, and a bit more experience and talent to do it than they've had in any year since 2010.

Quotable: Brown, on the struggles over the past few years. "We're a quarterbackdriven league, and if you just look at the last ten years, this league has been known for the best quarterbacks in the country and the best passers and the best offenses. So the fact that we've struggled at quarterback for two years on and off is a true fact that we've struggled as a team some because he touches it every time. ... So when you think about the importance of that player at all levels of our game, it is really, really key, and that's why we're so excited to have David with experience, with maturity, with confidence not only in himself but in his team. He's leading the team much better, and they believe in him right now."

Burnt Orange Breakdown: OL Greenlea 

July, 16, 2013
7/16/13
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During the summer, HornsNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Texas roster -- excluding the Longhorns' 2013 recruiting class -- in our Burnt Orange Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1 Mike Davis, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 76 Garrett Greenlea
Sophomore tackle


During the summer, HornsNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Texas roster -- excluding the Longhorns' 2013 recruiting class -- in our Burnt Orange Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1 Mike Davis, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 51 Donald Hawkins
Senior offensive lineman



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AUSTIN, Texas -- Rare is the time when a coach singles out players from others.

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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AUSTIN, Texas -- The thin, burnt-orange offensive line that has broken apart and allowed Texas to be pushed from good to bad is supposed to be fixed this time around.

Stacy Searels, who has long bemoaned the lack of talent, bodies and blocking ability of his charges along that line, has earned the praise of Texas coach Mack Brown, not only for Searels' patience but also his persistence in rebuilding that line.

[+] EnlargeStacy Searels
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsTexas offensive line coach Stacy Searels finally has enough depth in his group to have a two-deep.
"He didn't know until he got here there were only seven scholarship guys that were going through spring practice," Brown said. "He has done a tremendous job of reloading our offensive line."

Reloading might not be the right word to use there, as such a term leads one to believe the line was recently loaded. It has been several seasons since that argument could be made. Texas hasn’t produced an NFL lineman since 2008. Prior to that, Brown’s program had seven offensive linemen drafted over a nine-year span -- a healthy number and one that exceeds the production of Alabama and Oklahoma over the same time period.

So Searels has been more pouring a foundation than restocking the shelves. And now the time has come to find out if there are cracks or if Texas is ready to build on a solid base.

Heading into 2013, the offensive line has all five starters returning. Four of those players were also starters on the 2011 offensive line, while the fifth, Donald Hawkins, came in as a junior college transfer after that season. Those starters did have less-than-stellar performances throughout 2012, however, and, quite frankly, were shoved around by TCU, Oklahoma, Kansas State and a few other teams.

Texas, with its loaded backfield, averaged 3.4 rushing yards per attempt against the six ranked opponents it played in 2012. Against TCU, Oklahoma and Kansas State, the Longhorns failed to reach 100 yards rushing and averaged 3.0 rushing yards per attempt.

It's safe to assume those types of numbers have not exactly locked down a starting job for every player who started along that offensive line. To that end, Texas does have a potential new tackle waiting in the wings in the form of junior college transfer Desmond Harrison.

His arrival should signal some shifts along the line at every position, save for Josh Cochran at the opposite tackle spot.

"He [Cochran] is a tackle, so you'd leave him there," Brown said. "But the fact that Trey Hopkins has played everywhere, Donald Hawkins could play different places, guard or tackle, just gives you a lot more flexibility for depth. [Sedrick] Flowers would be a center or guard. You wouldn't move him outside. But you have flexibility and you have to look at that great freshman class coming in, too, to see if any of those guys are ready to play."

Texas signed five offensive linemen in its 2013 class and could play at least one of those. Darius James, who was ranked No. 17 in the ESPN 150, appears to be the odds-on favorite to be that player. He could fill in at the guard spot and also has some center in his background.

Since Texas wants to average about 84 plays per game, it is not unreasonable to believe that up to 10 linemen could see time in each game. To believe that Texas had that many linemen available in the past would have been a ludicrous assumption.

Even last season, Texas could barely go beyond six offensive linemen. But given the emergence of Kennedy Estelle (tackle) and Flowers (guard), plus the improved health of Camrhon Hughes (tackle), the arrival of Harrison and James makes a deeper rotation at least a plausible thought.

"I really think that we can have two-deep, and that will be the first time we have been two-deep around here in a long time," Brown said. "And I think we are -- I know we are headed in the right direction with our depth in the offensive line."
Every Friday, HornsNation's Sean Adams will answer questions from readers. Send him a question on Twitter here.

@Zachrab88 on Twitter: Who on offense [will] turn out to be All-Big 12?

A: Be patient with me because this could take a while and you might even roll your eyes a couple of times. Texas could load up the All-Big 12 team on offense. Texas could have All-Big 12 players at every position on the offense except for tight end, where the numbers won’t merit the selection.


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2012 record: 9-4
2012 conference record: 5-4 (third in the Big 12)
Returning starters: Offense: 10; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners: QB David Ash, RB Johnathan Gray, WR Mike Davis, WR Jaxon Shipley, LT Donald Hawkins, RT Josh Cochran, G Mason Walters, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, LB Jordan Hicks, CB Quandre Diggs, CB Carrington Byndom

Key losses: P Alex King, S Kenny Vaccaro, DE Alex Okafor, WR Marquise Goodwin

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Johnathan Gray* (701 yards)
Passing: David Ash* (2,699 yards)
Receiving: Mike Davis* (939 yards)
Tackles: Kenny Vaccaro (107)
Sacks: Alex Okafor (12.5)
Interceptions: Quandre Diggs* (4)

Spring answers:

1. Under center: Texas has finally ended all the debate about its quarterback situation and settled on David Ash. While Ash has yet to be stellar in his first two years at Texas, the junior has steadily improved -- he was top 25 in pass efficiency rating in 2012 -- and has won the trust of new quarterbacks coach Major Applewhite. Applewhite believes Ash is the quarterback best suited to run the new up-tempo, spread attack.

2. Loaded at linebacker: One year after being the worst tackling team in the Big 12, Texas went into the spring looking to shore up its linebacker position. And it had plenty of options. Texas has seven linebackers who have started at least one game. Included in that group is Jordan Hicks, who is back after missing 10 games last year because of a hip injury. Hicks will team with true sophomores, Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens for what should be a much faster and aggressive unit in 2013.

3. Along the lines: While there were a sprinkling of injuries along the offensive line this spring (Josh Cochran and Trey Hopkins), Texas appears to have finally solved the depth riddle at that position. Tackle Kennedy Estelle was able to get quality snaps and should prove to be a solid backup and Sedrick Flowers finally emerged as an option at guard. While Texas returns all five starter from a year ago along the line, the Longhorns know that in the new up-tempo offense it will have to lean heavily on these backups.

Fall questions

1. Speed thrills: Texas wants to move the ball fast. So fast that the offensive players were even taught how to quickly get the ball back to the official so that they could put it down and Texas could line up and run the next play. But Texas only decided it wanted to play this way in mid-December when there was a change in playcallers from Bryan Harsin to Applewhite. So Texas has only had a handful of practices to get up to speed. With a schedule that has Texas at BYU for the second game of the season there doesn’t appear to be much time to get things perfected.

2. Safety dance: Texas’ defense was the worst in school history and that was largely due to the play of the back seven on defense. And now the best player in that back seven, Kenny Vaccaro, is gone. He was a first-round draft pick. That has left Texas wondering who will step up and make some stop at the safety position. Adrian Phillips takes over for Vaccaro, but he was inconsistent last season. The coaches blamed a shoulder injury and the fact he missed the spring. Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner also missed their share of tackles but both are being called on to be possible starters.

3. Receiving praise: Texas has not had a 1,000-yard receiver since Jordan Shipley in 2009. Mike Davis had 939 yards last year and appears poised to break the 1,000-yard mark this season. But to do that he will need help. And right now there are some questions as to where that help will come from. Texas wants to go with four wide receivers but two of the four players expected to fill those roles -- Cayleb Jones and Kendall Sanders -- are currently suspended because of legal issues. Both will probably be back. But even then, Texas is very thin at wide receiver and needs some other players to step up to help take the double teams away from Davis.

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Discussion: Ash Out Against BYU
Texas quarterback David Ash will not play against BYU on Saturday after experiencing concussion-related symptoms. Kevin Dunn, Dan Neil and David Thomas discuss how this will impact Ash's career and the Longhorns' season.
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