Texas Longhorns: Emmanuel Acho

Everything seemed fine on the 40 Acres this time two years ago.

The defensive cupboard was well-stocked and Mack Brown was talking up the squad, openly inviting high expectations for his defense and claiming they might be the best in his time in Austin.

With the Acho brothers up front and three future NFL draft picks in the secondary, who could blame him?

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
Jody Gomez/US PresswireJackson Jeffcoat, above, and Alex Okafor combine to form the Big 12's best defensive end tandem.
"It didn’t turn out that way," Brown said this week.

The Longhorns defense was good, but not good enough. It led the Big 12 in total defense, but forced just 18 turnovers for 11th in the Big 12.

Oh, and Texas went 5-7.

The Longhorns bounced back with eight wins in 2011, and in 2012 the hype is back for a defense loaded with NFL talent once again. There is talk that it might be among the nation's best, if not the nation's best.

"I want our defense to live up to those expectations," Brown said. "All of us sitting here in preseason have expectations, especially at a school like the University of Texas. But, until you produce on the field, and we’ll have a better idea of how they look on Saturday, then we’re not sure how good they will be."

Brown's tempering the expectations a bit this time around, but he knows what he has.

The league's No. 1 and No. 2 defensive ends are anything but an unknown commodity. Both Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor could hear their names called in the first round of next April's NFL draft, though Jeffcoat said this week he wants to stay and get his degree from Texas.

Cornerbacks Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom morphed a question mark at cornerback into one of the team's strengths late in the season, and safety Kenny Vaccaro might be the best overall defender in the Big 12.

The one thing most closely resembling a question mark? The middle of the defense.

"I’ve consistently talked about the loss of the four seniors down the middle," Brown said, "and that we’ve got new, young guys in their places."

Linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson were the vocal leaders of the defense last season, but have been replaced by super recruits Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks, joining a speedster on the outside in linebacker Demarco Cobbs, who played quarterback, receiver, safety and returned kicks and punts in high school.

Tackle Kheeston Randall is gone, too, but the Longhorns look well suited to replace him by plugging juco transfer Brandon Moore and reformed running back Chris Whaley at the top of a rotation of five capable contributors in the middle of the defense.

Adrian Phillips moves up to replace four-year starter Blake Gideon at strong safety opposite Vaccaro.

"Until they prove it on Saturday that they’re ready to show that leadership and show that ability to handle Big 12 football at a fast pace, then we have to wait until they prove it before we can anoint them as a great defense," Brown said.

Here's guessing we won't wait long.

Opening camp: Texas Longhorns

August, 10, 2012
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Camp is open in Austin. Before we get too deep in sweltering hot practices, I'll offer up a quick preview of what you need to know heading into the season.

See more fall camp previews.

Next up: Texas.

Media's predicted finish: Third.

Biggest storyline: Texas was a lot better last year than it was in 2010's five-win season, but how much better will Texas be in 2012? Eight wins won't cut it with the expectations facing this year's team. An offense full of freshmen is now an offense full of sophomores, but the Longhorns are still trying to climb back up the mountain after a Big 12 title in 2009 and two forgettable seasons since. Is this the year the Horns reach the summit once again?

Biggest question mark: Quarterback. No question about this one. For now, coach Mack Brown still says the position isn't settled between David Ash and Case McCoy, but Ash has reportedly received nearly all of the first-team reps since a strong performance in the win over California in the Holiday Bowl. Ash has the bigger upside and more impressive physical attributes, but he's got to start making good on that upside. He'll have plenty of help around him with a strong backfield and two good, young receivers in Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis.

Who needs to step up: The linebackers. Junior Jordan Hicks is the leader of the group, but there's a huge leadership void there with the loss of Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson. That leadership has shifted to guys like Alex Okafor, Kenny Vaccaro and Jackson Jeffcoat. Steve Edmond is a big presence and a promising player at 255 pounds in the middle of the defense, and former blue-chip recruit Demarco Cobbs is ready to take over at the other outside linebacker spot. He missed six games last season with a broken arm, but he's got absurd speed for his position.

Fun fact: Texas has exactly 12 players on its roster who are not from Texas. Who came from furthest away? How about freshman kicker Michael Davidson, from Aberdeen, Scotland.

New addition: Don't underestimate the impact of newcomer Anthony Fera, who gives Texas a huge upgrade at one of its biggest question marks: kicker. He may also get in the mix at punter, but Fera's an experienced kicker who transferred to Texas after the NCAA hammered Penn State with severe sanctions, including a four-year bowl ban. He made 14 of 17 kicks last season. Texas' defense should produce a lot of close, low-scoring games. Here's guessing Fera will have a big influence on how many of those are wins and how many are losses.

Don't forget about: WR Mike Davis. Shipley grabbed a lot of headlines last year, but Davis is still a big talent, too. The junior grabbed 45 passes for 609 yards and a touchdown last year. I'd be shocked if he doesn't have a major boost in production this year.

Breaking out: RB Johnathan Gray. Gray was the nation's top running back in the 2012 recruiting class, and joins Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron in a loaded backfield for the Longhorns. Still, where he fits and what kind of impact he'll have is one of the league's most fascinating developments. It's not every day the nation's Gatorade Player of the Year shows up on a Big 12 campus.

Acho to Browns; Randall to Dolphins

April, 28, 2012
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The long wait for linebacker Emmanuel Acho and defensive tackle Kheeston Randall is finally over.

Acho was picked by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round with the 204th overall selection, and Randall went to the Miami Dolphins 11 picks later in the seventh.

Acho, a 6-foot-1, 238-pound senior, projects as an inside linebacker in the Browns' 4-3 defense. He'll get a chance to back up middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, a six-year veteran who led the team in tackles last season.

The Dallas native earned All-Big 12 honors as senior after leading Texas with 131 total tackles (19 for loss). He recorded only three sacks, though, and ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said that hurt his stock in the draft.

"He's strong, quick and very experienced," Kiper said. "Think about what he did at Texas during his career -- he put up numbers. The only problem is, not a lot of impact plays. ... Too many games, I thought, where he wasn't dominant as his numbers and physical talent suggest he should've been."

Kiper said he felt Acho had the physical talent of a potential second- or third-round draft but lacked consistency on the field.

"He's a gifted athlete," Kiper said. "You thought he would be more dominant game-to-game. He wasn't."

The 6-foot-4, 293-pound Randall, a native of Beaumont, started 35 games at Texas. He was a second-team All-Big 12 selection after recording 34 tackles (five for loss) this season.
ESPN's Todd McShay said one glaring flaw was to blame for Randall slipping to the seventh round.

"When he gets a gap and has an opportunity, he can absolutely disrupt in the backfield, penetrate, make a lot of plays," McShay said. "But the thing is, he doesn’t make many plays in the passing game. He disappears. He only had four sacks in three years as a starter."

The selections of Acho, Randall and fourth-rounder Keenan Robinson may be all Texas has to show for the 2012 NFL Draft. Unless running back Fozzy Whittaker is drafted in the seventh round, this will be the fewest Longhorns selected in a draft since three went in 2005.

Keenan Robinson taken by Redskins

April, 28, 2012
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Keenan Robinson became the first Longhorn selected in the NFL Draft when the Washington Redskins selected the linebacker late in the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Robinson was the No. 119 overall pick and will get a chance to reunite with former Longhorn and two-time Pro Bowler Brian Orakpo in Washington.

At 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds, Robinson projects out as an outside linebacker for the Redskins, a spot where they're already set for the future with Orakpo and 2011 first-rounder Ryan Kerrigan.

The Plano, Texas, native started 39 of his 51 career games at Texas during his five years in the program and earned second-team All-Big 12 and Holiday Bowl Defensive MVP honors last season.

ESPN's Todd McShay called Robinson's measurables "phenomenal" on Saturday but said he didn't think the linebacker reached his potential during his time at Texas.

"I thought early in his career he had star potential, and then he never really improved," McShay said. "He can get from sideline to sideline with the best of them. I think he's one of the best athletes at the linebacker position in this year's class."

Robinson's selection ended Texas' longest NFL Draft drought in more than a decade. No Longhorn was drafted in the first three rounds for the first time since 2000, when sixth-round defensive end Cedric Woodward was UT's only draft pick.

Though he has good range and is solid in man and zone coverage, the knock on Robinson that caused him to fall to late in the fourth round was his ability to take on and shed blocks.

"That's kind of important when you play the linebacker position," McShay said. "He's got to improve in that regard. He's a phenomenal athlete and could pan out but there's a lot of work there that needs to be done there for the Redskins."

Texas linebacker Emmanuel Acho, defensive tackle Kheeston Randall and running back Fozzy Whittaker are still hoping to hear their names called on Saturday during the draft's final three rounds.
WACO, Texas -- One man lays underneath 225 pounds on a bench press, in the midst of proving to NFL scouts he can lift it a whole lot of times.

Around the bench are at least 15 others who won't get a turn, at least not this year. They're there to provide (extremely) vocal moral support.

Maybe their yells of encouragement mean another rep or two from their former teammate. They're going to do everything possible to make sure.

Their presence isn't just for the benefit of the men running 40-yard dashes or bench-pressing 225 pounds as many times as they can -- the results of each task potentially earning them more money on their first NFL contract.

[+] EnlargeEmmanuel Acho
Harry How/Getty Images"If you wait for the three-month stretch after the bowl game, you won't perform at a high level," said Emmanuel Acho.
Players with another year or more before they get a chance to show their stuff to NFL scouts at a pro day or the combine can learn a lot from showing up to pro day, whether they offer moral support or not.

"This is a day about dreams becoming touchable," said Baylor coach Art Briles. "They’re not on paper. They’re not in your head. They’re real. You can see them and touch them."

It's not every day NFL head coaches are walking around a college indoor facility, like they were at Baylor and Texas this week, as well as Stanford on Thursday and tens of others through the spring.

Briles knows the element of the intangible becoming tangible makes pro days special, especially for players who didn't get a prized slot at the NFL combine.

"At the combine, they told us millions of kids play high school football, 65,000 play college football, 350 or so of us get invited to the combine and only 256 get drafted," said Texas linebacker Emmanuel Acho. "That’s a harsh reality to come to grips with. If you come to grips with it in college, you’ll work that much harder."

But for all the cloud-floating that can come with a day when dreams are realized, there are plenty of details younger players can pick up on while scouts scrutinize.

"A big main key was, to me, follow directions and listen to what they’re telling you to do. If you can do that, everything else is up to you," Texas running back Fozzy Whittaker said. "You have all control over following directions and just listen to what they’re saying in terms of running a drill or running a route. Staying outside of cones rather than running inside, just the simple things you can control mentally. There’s a lot of things I’ve seen that’ll affect the coaches, because if you have three guys that do the same drill and they all do it right and the fourth guy messes it up, it’s like, what were you doing the whole time the other guys were doing it?"

There's a lot to focus on for everyone involved with pro days, but the undercurrent is the same for everyone -- from first-round picks to probable post-draft free agents.

"All these guys have worked their way into this," Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. "It's an earned right to get to do what they’re doing."

They earned the right for NFL coaches to see them, but even underclassmen get that opportunity after pro day is over. Some NFL personnel stick around campus for practice in the afternoon to get a jump on seeing up close the players they'll be seeing at next year's pro day.

"Knowledge is power. If they see you have knowledge of the game, it allows you to play fast. If you have knowledge, you have confidence. That’s what they look for," Bennett said. "Kids call it swagger, or whatever it is, but when you're confident in what you’re doing, you play fast. When pros come in here, that’s what they look for, the guys that know what they’re doing and play like they know what they’re doing."

To prepare for pro day, most prospects leave school for training facilities. Baylor's Robert Griffin III spent the past few months in Arizona. Texas linebacker Keenan Robinson went to California. They're away from teammates for months, and when they return in anticipation of a pro day, it's easy for underclassmen to see what those intense training regimens do. Robinson and Griffin saw it in their own teammates.

"The players hadn’t seen me in a couple months, see the transformation that my body has made, just seeing the work ethic I had to get where I am today, how it really helped improve my stock," Robinson said. "When you go out for training, you can’t just go out there lollygagging and being complacent. You have to go every day with a burden on your back and strive to be the best player, because someone else around the country is doing what you’re doing, and maybe more."

Even with those transformations, training can't begin when the bowl game ends.

"The stuff I was able to do today didn’t come from me training after the season was over," Robinson said. "It came from all the hard work and hard labor I put in from the end of my senior year of high school until now."

Said Acho: "If you wait for the three-month stretch after the bowl game, you won’t perform at a high level. But if you work with that same mentality in every individual period before practice and come out here, it’ll be second nature."

Pro days can be pressure-packed, but ultimately, everyone's faced with the biggest truth of a day that often feels enormous: The biggest work NFL coaches want to see is already done.

"The first thing you can do is play hard, because tape doesn’t lie. One NFL coach was telling me, 'We were watching a play and this kid looked like he turned something down.' I mean, they watch everything," Bennett said. "So, when you’re playing and practicing, you better know, somebody’s watching. And it might not just be your coaches, it might be your future coaches."
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Blake Gideon is well aware of the trappings that usually come with being a starting defensive back at Texas.

“A lot of guys have come out of that room and made a lot of money,” Gideon said.

Gideon is trying to be the next one. But his name doesn’t carry the cache of an Aaron Ross, who just signed a new $15 million deal, or Quentin Jammer, a top-10 pick. Nope, he is Blake Gideon, the guy who started 52 games at Texas, the second-most all-time. And, if not for Tuesday’s pro day on campus, he might not have even received a look from the NFL.
[+] EnlargeBlake Gideon
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallBlake Gideon is not projected as an NFL draft pick despite his 52 career starts at Texas.

“I just wanted a chance,” the former Texas safety said.

Gideon, along with 13 other former Longhorns, got their chance to impress more than 50 scouts and coaches Tuesday. The goal was to move the needle and show the NFL that they belonged.

The reality is that aside from three or maybe four players -- Keenan Robinson, Kheeston Randall, Emmanuel Acho and Fozzy Whittaker -- it is a long shot to even turn the pro scouts’ heads.

“It is what it is,” offensive lineman David Snow said.

What it was for Snow was a disappointing day when it came to doing the 225-pound bench press. He is an offensive lineman and needs to display a tremendous amount of upper body strength. He only had 23 reps at 225, the same amount as Whittaker, a 194-pound running back.

“I wish I could do the 225 over again,” Snow said.

A lot of the players probably want do-overs. That is not the way it works.

“You have to come out give it your all and leave it all on the field and on the track,” offensive lineman Tray Allen said.

Allen said he posted a 5.1 time in the 40-yard dash. For a 300-pound player, he did leave plenty out there, but undoubtedly in the coming months he will question whether he could have done better.

Gideon was accepting of his 4.56 in the 40 but said he could post a lower number, as he had in training. Randall chose to participate only in individual drills in the practice bubble, under the watchful eye of scouts. He did not lift or run.

Whittaker only benched, upping his combine total of 20 by three.

Likewise, Robinson was reserved in what he did. But the 6-foot-3, 242-pound prospect might have done just enough to secure a pick in the top three rounds.

“I’ve heard anywhere from end of the first to the fourth,” he said. “I just hope I get in a good situation with a good team.

“I wanted to show them I am a big guy who moves well in space.”

Robinson posted the same time on his 40 as he did at the NFL combine, 4.78. He improved his vertical jump to 36.5 inches and his broad jump to 10 feet, 5 inches.

“All I can do now is sit back and wait and see what happens,” he said.

While many of the players will have individual meetings with teams and additional workouts, that is essentially the same situation everyone is in now. The waiting game has started. So has the worrying game.

But one NFL veteran had some wisdom for his brother.

“Sam told me not to worry about where you get picked, just worry about getting through the door,” said Emmanuel Acho, who opted out of many drills because of a quadriceps injury.

And it appears that the younger Acho has taken that advice to heart.

“Now I can exhale,” he said at the end of the workouts.
We're moving on with our postseason position rankings. Today, it's time for linebackers. If you missed it, here's how I ranked them in the preseason.

At this position, depth is a major factor in these rankings. Additionally, I included nickelbacks in this grouping. Hybrid defensive end/linebackers will be grouped with defensive lines.

[+] EnlargeJake Knott
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireIowa State linebackers Jake Knott, 20, and A.J. Klein combined for 231 tackles in 2011.
More postseason position rankings: 1. Iowa State: The Cyclones top the list after a huge year from their outstanding duo, Jake Knott and A.J. Klein. They combined for 231 tackles in 2011, both finishing among the top four in the Big 12 in tackles. They had 241 together in 2010, but this season Knott played through injuries and Klein was awarded co-Defensive Player of the Year honors from the league's coaches.

2. Texas: The Longhorns will sorely miss an outstanding duo of their own with tons of experience. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho are both NFL-bound after combining for 215 tackles.

3. Oklahoma: The Sooners weren't quite as good as expected in 2011, but part of that was because of a Travis Lewis preseason toe injury that slowed him for much of the season. Lewis, Tony Jefferson and Tom Wort all topped 70 tackles in 2011, and are a solid group.

4. Kansas State: Arthur Brown reinvigorated this group, finishing eighth in the Big 12 with 101 tackles, but the Wildcats linebackers were more than just Brown. Tre Walker and converted safety Emmanuel Lamur combined for 135 stops and helped lead one of the league's most underrated units and a much-improved run defense.

5. Texas A&M: The Aggies' backers were big pass-rushers, though they struggled in coverage this season. Sean Porter was the Big 12's sack champion with 9.5, and Caleb Russell and Jonathan Stewart combined for six more. Damontre Moore is the rawest talent of the bunch, but built on that in 2011, making 72 tackles.

6. Oklahoma State: OSU's group was good, but not great. Alex Elkins' crazy story came to an end with 90 stops in 2011. He showed up everywhere for the Cowboys, but reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year Shaun Lewis didn't quite have the sophomore season some had hoped. Caleb Lavey added some solid play for the turnover-hungry unit, producing 74 tackles and five tackles for loss.

7. Missouri: Zaviar Gooden wasn't quite the impact player Mizzou had hoped, but he was solid alongside a group that's been injury prone over the past two years. Sophomore Andrew Wilson emerged as the team's top tackler with 98 stops, and Luke Lambert added 82 more. A high ankle sprain in the season opener kept Will Ebner off the field, but he'll be back in 2012 after the NCAA granted him a fifth year of eligibility.

8. Kansas: Steven Johnson led the Big 12 with 119 tackles, but the rest of the unit left a lot to be desired. Darius Willis has some potential, but the rest of the team's linebackers have their work cut out for them in 2012. Tunde Bakare also returns from a unit that ranked ninth in the Big 12 in rushing defense.

9. Baylor: The Bears needed help just about everywhere. Elliot Coffey was solid, and finished tied for fourth with 114 stops, but Baylor was eighth in the Big 12 in rush defense. Baylor has solid athlete in the secondary and on the defensive line, but at linebacker, Rodney Chadwick and Brody Trahan leave a bit to be desired. Ahmad Dixon was better in 2011, but still has a lot of potential that needs to be filled.

10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are looking for a new defensive coordinator and the 4-2-5 made a short stop in Lubbock. The Red Raiders were awful everywhere on defense, but especially up front. Nobody in college football was worse at stopping the run, and D.J. Johnson, Daniel Cobb and Cqulin Hubert turned in forgettable performances. Time to get better for 2012.

Breaking down spring camp: Texas

February, 23, 2012
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Another spring camp is opening, and it's time to take a closer look. Today, the Texas Longhorns get started.

Schedule: Practice starts today leading up to the spring game on April 1. Practices are closed to fans and media, though the team will have two open practices, a change from last year, when all 15 practices were closed.

What's new: Not much, as opposed to last year, when the answer was "almost everything." The Longhorns' staff all returned for 2012 after Mack Brown shook up his staff and replaced six assistant coaches after going 5-7 in 2010. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will have to replace defensive leaders Emmanuel Acho, Blake Gideon and Keenan Robinson, but the offense returns 10 starters, including both quarterbacks, David Ash and Case McCoy.

New faces: Quarterback Connor Brewer joins the fold, but the biggest news may have been a shift in recruiting philosophy with new assistants on staff with SEC ties. The Longhorns took a junior college signee for the first time since 2002. Offensive line coach Stacy Searels came from Georgia last season and will have offensive tackle Donald Hawkins from Mississippi to work with. Meanwhile, defensive tackles coach Bo Davis (Alabama) will work with Brandon Moore from Alabama.

Big shoes to fill: Linebacker Jordan Hicks. The Ohio native and No. 1 linebacker in the 2010 class made 55 tackles last season, but without Robinson and Acho, it's Hicks' time in Austin this year. Look out for a big year, and that starts this spring. He's battled through a broken foot, but if he can stay healthy, the sky is the limit for the 6-foot-2, 235-pounder who has added 20 pounds since leaving high school.

Don't forget about: Receiver Mike Davis. He was the team's top target this time last year, but had a slightly disappointing sophomore season and Jaxon Shipley surpassed him as the Longhorns' top receiver. Davis is very talented, though. He and Shipley could both be stars, but don't rule out Davis surging this spring. He turned the coaching staff's collective head last year.

Breaking out: Quandre Diggs was part of the freshman invasion at Texas last year, and he could have made a case for being the best freshman in the Big 12. He's a shutdown corner ready to become a star. In a league with the type of offensive talent the Big 12 has, his skills are invaluable. Don't rule out the sophomore cracking the All-America team next year.

All eyes on: Texas' quarterback battle. Texas will be best off if Ash asserts himself and boxes out McCoy with a strong spring, but there's no guarantee that happens. Ash's physical attributes (size, speed, arm strength) give him a much higher upside than his counterpart, but for now they amount to just that: upside. The two had comparable numbers in 2011 and neither was solid. Will we see separation this spring?
Our countdown of the Big 12's top 25 players continues. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we're revealing a new member of the list every day.

Here's a quick rundown on my criteria for this list.

No. 16: Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas

2011 numbers: Made 117 tackles and 14.5 tackles for loss. He had three sacks, broke up five passes and forced a fumble.

Most recent ranking: Acho was ranked No. 24 in our preseason list of the top 25 players.

Making the case for Acho: Acho's older brother Sam carried Texas' defense in 2010. But it was Emmanuel who took the lead in 2011 as one of the leaders of the Big 12's best defense. Acho, Keenan Robinson and Blake Gideon were the elder statesmen of the unit, but Acho was the most productive.

His 117 tackles led the team by 19 stops and were third-most in the Big 12. His 14.5 tackles for loss were fifth-most in the Big 12. The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder is a solid rock in the middle of the defense and a sure tackler that plays with tons of instinct. He earned an All-Big 12 nod and was a semifinalist for the Academic Heisman and a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy.
The rest of the list:

Four Longhorns invited to NFL combine

February, 7, 2012
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Four Longhorns have been invited to the NFL scouting combine.

Linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, defensive tackle Kheeston Randall and running back Fozzy Whittaker are invited to the event held on Feb. 22-28 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
All those fingers pointing at Bryan Harsin, Case McCoy and Davis Ash should stop and aim their pointers back at the recruiting class of 2008.

[+] EnlargeBlake Gideon
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallBlake Gideon turned out to be one of the more consistent players from Texas' 2008 recruiting class.
That is where Texas’ failings at quarterback started. The Longhorns, who signed just 20 players in 2008, failed to sign a quarterback that year. And there were a few top prospects available in the state of Texas including Andrew Luck (Houston, Stratford), Robert Griffin III (Copperas Cove, Texas/Copperas Cove) Darron Thomas (Houston/Aldine), Kelly Page (Sunnyvale, Texas/Mesquite) and Taylor Cook (Eagle Lake, Texas/Rice).

That Texas didn’t even pursue Luck is still a sore point with many Texas faithful. That Texas is still searching for a replacement for Colt McCoy is just salt in the wound.

If Texas would have snagged just one of those guys -- even the latter two who signed with Ball State and Miami (Ohio), respectively -- it might have had a suitable backup when McCoy left. Someone who could hold things over while Garrett Gilbert redshirted, matured, learned the offense and possibly lived up to his potential.

But instead Texas chose not to take a quarterback because, even at that early stage, it had its eyes on Gilbert. It might be the biggest recruiting mistake of Mack Brown’s 14 years at Texas.

There were a few other mistakes in the class of 2008 just as there are in every class. Of the 20 signed, half became solid contributors and a few, Emmanuel Acho, Aaron Williams, David Snow, Blake Gideon and Justin Tucker became difference makers.

Most underrated: Blake Gideon
Even after starting every game of his Texas career, Gideon is a lightening rod for criticism. Sure, there were some miscues, but Gideon still was a starter on two teams that went 25-2 in his first two seasons. In his last two years he was part of a defense that ranked in the top 11 nationally in total defense in both seasons. The Leander product had 276 tackles (166 solo), 10 INTs, 20 PBU, two sacks, eight TFL, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a blocked punt in his career.

Biggest Get: David Snow
This was an underwhelming class by Texas’ standards. There were no true standouts, except for maybe D.J. Grant. But even the tight end wasn’t heralded as a difference maker.

We'll start taking a look at what each program in the Big 12 needs to deal with during the offseason, whether it be in the spring, summer or fall preseason camp. Maybe all three! Who knows?

Next up: The Texas Longhorns.

Invest in David Ash. Texas will bring on another true freshman this spring, Connor Brewer. The Longhorns have already been down that road. Ash is the most physically gifted of the Longhorns' quarterbacks, and that gives him the most upside. He's been in the program just one calendar year, and he got hardly any practice reps last spring and in the preseason while Texas was trying to prepare Garrett Gilbert to bounce back. If you ask me, forget competition with Case McCoy. Get Ash tons of reps and get him ready to take over in 2012. They'll be better off for it.

Find new defensive leadership. Leadership was one of the Longhorns' downfalls in 2010 after Colt McCoy left. Without Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho and Blake Gideon, the Longhorns have a huge hole once again. Who's going to take over? Senior Kenny Vaccaro's probably the most talented player returning for the Horns, closely followed by junior-to-be Jackson Jeffcoat. What about Alex Okafor, the senior up front? Somebody's got to take hold of this team.

Figure out how the running backs will be used. Texas' backfield next year's going to be real crowded. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron return, and Johnathan Gray, the nation's No. 1 running back and No. 2 prospect overall, will join them. All three could probably start for most teams in the Big 12, if not the country. The Longhorns need to utilize that strength, along with a maturing offensive line. Will offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin debut some new formations to get them on the field? Maybe a Wishbone redux? Copycatting Oklahoma and Oklahoma State's "Backs" or "Diamond" formation? Who takes over for Fozzy Whittaker in the Wildcat formation? Who gets the lion's share of the carries for these Horns? All are questions that have to be answered over the next seven months.

More offseason to-do lists.

Season report card: Texas

January, 9, 2012
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We're offering up grades for each team in the Big 12 after their seasons conclude, so here's a look at how the 8-5 Texas Longhorns graded out in 2011.

More report cards:
OFFENSE: So much for redemption. After a disastrous 2010 season with 10 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, this was Garrett Gilbert's fresh start. He'd have a new offensive coordinator and a new offense. He'd have a productive running game with one of the best running backs in the 2011 recruiting class on campus. He'd have a maturing group of receivers.

(Read full post)

Six seniors to play in all-star games 

December, 30, 2011
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Six Texas seniors have been invited to participate in college all-star games, coach Mack Brown said Friday.

Linebacker Keenan Robinson and defensive tackle Kheeston Randall have been invited to the Senior Bowl.

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