Texas Longhorns: Marquise Goodwin

Days after the NFL draft, some Texas Longhorns fans still scratch their heads in disbelief. How a celebrated college football program -- one with decorated, award-winning athletes -- have zero players drafted into the NFL?

For the first time since before World War II, a Longhorn wasn’t selected in the draft. It became national news, and it’s news that no program wants to have attached to it, let alone one of the nation’s most established programs. When Memphis safety Lonnie Ballentine was selected by the Houston Texans as the 256th pick -- the last pick of the seven-round draft -- it opened the floodgates for barbs thrown by Texas antagonists.

What the draft ineffectiveness failed to do, however, was steer recruits -- committed and uncommitted -- away from the program’s future. If anything, it’s drawn some closer to the vision of new coach Charlie Strong and his staff.

“Some people are taking it all over the top,” uncommitted ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “Those weren’t Charlie’s people; he didn’t develop any of those kids. Why would people want to change their minds off going to a great school like Texas because of something they couldn’t control?”

[+] EnlargeKendall Sheffield
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNKendall Sheffield, the top-ranked player in Texas, said the fact the Longhorns had no draft picks has no bearing on his recruitment.
The draft has forced recruits to answer questions some might feel are slightly unnecessary:

“Will the draft affect your thoughts on Texas?”

“Can you trust the Longhorns to groom you into a pro-ready athlete after college?”

“Do you want to be a part of the laughingstock of college football?”

ESPN 300 cornerback Kendall Sheffield has had to answer some of these questions this week. The top-ranked player in Texas, Sheffield said he still has the Longhorns high on a list of several schools, a list that includes Texas A&M, Alabama, Baylor, Florida State, LSU, Oklahoma, Oregon and USC.

Sheffield admitted to being shocked that the Longhorns didn’t have a draft pick, but to look at the program with a side eye -- particularly with a new coach in charge -- is something that never crossed his mind.

“I don’t know if it plays a role in recruiting. I mean, they’ve still got to rebuild,” Sheffield said. “I know they’re going to still get some big recruits in. For me, I’m going to find the school that’s the best fit for me and the place I feel has the best position coach. The draft won’t have nothing to do with it.”

Jefferson, believed to have Texas high on his list along with Texas A&M, Baylor, Alabama and others, reminded people that while the Longhorns went without a drafted player, Strong's former team at Louisville had three first-round picks in safety Calvin Pryor (No. 18 overall to the Jets), defensive end Marcus Smith (No. 26, Eagles) and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (No. 32, Vikings).

“He knows what he’s doing,” Jefferson said of Strong.

During the Mack Brown era, 58 Longhorns were drafted. Safety Kenny Vaccaro was a first-round pick by the Saints last year. Receiver/return specialist Marquise Goodwin (Bills) and defensive end Alex Okafor (Cardinals) were selected in the third and fourth rounds in 2013.

This year’s crop of undrafted talent included defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and receiver Mike Davis. Jeffcoat was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and the Ted Hendricks Award recipient, recognizing the nation's top defensive end. Davis caught 200 passes in his college career and is one of only four players in school history with 200 or more receptions.

Jeffcoat and Davis, as well as other Longhorns, signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents, which is another reason why recruits aren’t worried about the draft results. ESPN 300 offensive lineman Patrick Vahe -- who committed to Texas during the Brown era and chose to stay committed under Strong -- believes the draft is in full control of a player and not the coach.

Texas’ ability to produce NFL offensive linemen has been sliding in recent years. The Longhorns haven’t had an offensive lineman drafted since tackle Tony Hills in 2008. To assist in further developing linemen, Strong hired former Oklahoma State coach Joe Wickline, who coached NFL linemen Russell Okung, Corey Hilliard and Charlie Johnson at the college level. Okung is fresh off winning a Super Bowl with the Seahawks.

Vahe said he’ll worry about being a pro athlete when that time comes. Right now, he’s focused on being the best college athlete possible, and the 2014 draft isn’t weighing on his decision.

“I think I can learn a lot from [Wickline].” Vahe said. “We talked about his game plan, and I’m putting a lot of trust with him. The rest of it … I think people are just taking it over the top.”

Todd Dodge, head coach at Austin Westlake High School, former head coach at North Texas and a former quarterback for the Longhorns, said a draft should never have an effect on a recruit’s decision.

Dodge played at Texas from 1982-85. In that span, he saw several teammates drafted, including first-round cornerbacks Mossy Cade and Jerry Gray. The 1984 draft class featured 17 Longhorns.

Not having a draftee was an eye-opener, Dodge said, but it shouldn’t be a discussion piece in relation to Texas’ recruiting -- particularly with the changing of the guard at head coach.

“If Coach Strong and his staff are on the road making their rounds and people are using common sense, they’ll judge them by what they see,” Dodge said. “Texas has always been in the hunt for great players in the state of Texas. If there’s any doubt, you can always point to the players drafted from Louisville. Coach Strong has a track record that’s proven.”

As for the jokes from rival schools, Vahe understands that they come will with the territory, whether the program goes winless or earns a BCS championship. He also understands that the way to silence some of the jokes is by producing in practices and games and later during NFL combines and workouts. He believes a change for the better is near for the program.

“People love to talk, but it’s nothing big, really,” Vahe said. “I know [Strong] just got there, and they’re all going to start a new era. Hopefully I’ll be one of those who helps start the new era.”
AUSTIN, Texas -- Kenny Vaccaro, Alex Okafor and Marquise Goodwin already have stopped thinking about what was -- the NFL draft -- and started to work on what will be -- their respective NFL futures.

Really it’s that type of drive that is what made the three Longhorns NFL players in the first place.

Kenny Vaccaro wanted to wait a year.

The simple reason was that the Texas safety wanted to be the best, the first safety taken in the NFL draft when his time came. That time was Thursday night as Vaccaro, after a four-year career at Texas, was indeed the first safety selected -- the 15th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

"I have been grinding my whole life, literally since I was 4 years old, for this opportunity, and it is finally here," he said.

[+] EnlargeKenny Vaccaro
John Albright/Icon SMITexas safety Kenny Vaccaro is the Longhorns' 10th top 20 pick in the last 10 years
And now he will go to the New Orleans Saints and go down as Texas’ 10th top-20 pick in the last 10 years.

"Kenny Vaccaro is one of the best football players we have ever had,” said Texas coach Mack Brown. “He is tough, he’s smart, he’s a playmaker and he practiced like he was in a game every day. He is very passionate about football. He brings leadership and he brings toughness."

Vaccaro was one of the few who brought those qualities to a Texas defense that suffered through the 2012 season. In that defense he was pushed into several different positions as well as a leadership role.

"When we’ve approached him with some tough defends, or some tough ideas, asking him if he thinks he could do this, he was always willing to take on the difficult role to maybe make things a little bit easier for a younger player that we’re trying to take care of within the scheme of things," said defensive backs coach Duane Akina. "Ultimate team player. Very flexible. He can play man-coverage, in the deep-half or deep-third. He can blitz."

All of those qualities and a few more piqued the Saints' interest.

"I think he’s got that toughness and that suddenness that you’d like at that position," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "I think he brings a physical dimension to the game he plays with. He’s been well-coached. They do a great job there defensively. There were a lot of things we liked about him. That versatility is unique, and something that I think is beneficial."

The NFL draft continues today with the second and third rounds. Texas defensive end Alex Okafor has been projected to be taken somewhere within those two rounds. Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin has been projected to be selected somewhere in the draft, but in a later round.

But for Vaccaro, the wait is over.

Four downs: Defense in the details 

March, 6, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- Each week Sean Adams looks at a few topics around the Texas Longhorns and college football.

First down: Winning is in the details ...

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Four downs: Expect a big year from Gray 

February, 27, 2013
Each week Sean Adams looks at a few topics around the Texas Longhorns and college football.

First down: Longhorns in the NFL draft

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Four downs: Texas NFL evaluations 

February, 20, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- Each week Sean Adams looks at a few topics around the Texas Longhorns and college football.

First down: Texas and the NFL draft

I was able to talk to ESPN Draft Expert Mel Kiper Jr. about Texas' draft eligible players, and he gave his assessment of all three players.

[+] EnlargeKenny Vaccaro
AP Photo/Eric GayKenny Vaccaro is moving up Mel Kiper's Big Board and should be a first-round pick in April's NFL draft.
On safety Kenny Vaccaro, Kiper said, “He can cover and he can hit. He can play run and match up in coverage. He is moving up my board, and he is a mid-first [round] grade.” Vaccaro was No. 18 on Kiper's latest Big Board, which was released on Feb. 13.

Kiper said about Alex Okafor, “He can transition from power to quickness fairly easily and that was helped but playing inside during some of his career at Texas. I look for him to be a late first-round pick, but could go early in the second round depending on trades and needs.”

Marquise Goodwin received a lot of praise from Kiper, saying, “He is arguably the fastest and most explosive receiver in this NFL draft. He has had some drops, but when they used him he was explosive. He is a solid third-rounder right now and could move up.

Second down: Has Texas shed its label of being soft?

One of the oldest rumors in college football and one of the hardest stereotypes for the Texas Longhorns to break has been the label of being soft. It comes and goes and is probably seen as being accurate right now. With the success that Texas has had since Mack Brown has been at Texas, that label has to be somewhat of a myth. Texas is in the top five in producing NFL players, but some tend to think that the trend is heading south.

I asked Kiper about it and he gave me some clarity, “I don’t think it is applicable to these kids (Vaccaro, Okafor and Goodwin), but that sentiment has definitely been out there over the last five to seven years. There’s no doubt about that.”

In the end, Texas will have to earn its way out of the soft label if they have attained it again. I have a sneaky suspicion that the offensive line classes from 2012-14 will shed that label fairly quickly.

Third down: Do off-the-field issues affect the on-the-field play?

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AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas heavily invested itself in special teams in 2012.

The Longhorns, however, saw few returns.

It was 81st in kickoff return defense. It was 37th in kickoff return yards, despite having an Olympian and another player, D.J. Monroe, with top-end speed.

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Position breakdown: Receiver 

February, 13, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- When last Texas unfurled four wide receivers with a quarterback who proved to be slightly more than adequate (Colt McCoy), six players caught 30 or more passes.

Last season, with a quarterback not near the stature of McCoy but not a slouch either, only Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley had more than 30 receptions.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallMike Davis returns at Texas' top deep-threat and playmaker.
So to say changes in the new-yet-old spread offense are afoot or at hand for the Texas wide receivers is an understatement of well, Texas-sized proportions.

The first of those changes might be to find more wide receivers. While Texas does have its top two wide receivers, Davis and Shipley, back in the fold, it has lost Marquise Goodwin (26 catches) and has no other wide receiver who had more than 10 catches in 2012. Bryant Jackson has the most with eight. Next in line are Cayleb Jones and John Harris with two each.

So the priority now becomes finding bodies to throw on the field and to throw to. And, really beyond the aforementioned Davis, Shipley, Jackson and Jones (Harris is being switched to a hybrid tight end spot), there are not that many from which to choose.

There are at most three more legitimate candidates who complete Texas’ complement of wide receivers: Kendall Sanders, Marcus Johnson and Daje Johnson. In total, that is seven players. Remember in 2009, Texas had six true wide receivers each catch at least 30 or more balls. So the depth at the position is not optimal but, to retread the maddening catch-all that Mack Brown uses to gloss over actual explanations, it is what it is.

And with that, here it is:

Davis and Shipley: Each should push into at least the 60s in receptions as more one-on-one coverages are thrown their way with more receivers in pass patterns. This spring, play-caller Major Applewhite will need to experiment with how much to utilize Davis as a deep threat while also continuing to foster the chemistry between quarterback David Ash and Shipley.

Keeping Davis mentally engaged is another crucial component this spring. The rising senior briefly toyed with the idea of leaving for the NFL draft. And sometimes when that happens, a player who has a bad practice or two can be nagged with regrets that he didn’t leave. Davis has shown in the past that he mentally can be pulled away from the game. But, on the flip side of that, as a junior Davis showed that he had matured and was dedicated.

Shipley should emerge as a clear winner in the switch to spread. Given his abilities, that is a win for the entire Texas program.

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Horns Snapshot: WR Jacorey Warrick 

February, 3, 2013
To gear up for 2013 national signing day, HornsNation’s William Wilkerson is breaking down every commitment in the Longhorns' 2013 recruiting class.

Vitals: Wide receiver Jacorey Warrick, Houston/Cypress Falls | 5-foot-10, 168 pounds

[+] EnlargeJacorey Warrick
Max Olson/ESPN.comFour-star wideout Jacorey Warrick is coming off a knee injury but should be ready for summer workouts.
Committed: Feb. 26, 2012

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Four downs: It all starts up front 

January, 23, 2013
First down: It all starts up front

I love football. I love big plays. I love pretty athletes with a beautiful stride breaking down angles and creating separation. How can you not love the special speed of players such as former Longhorns Jamaal Charles, DJ Monroe and Marquise Goodwin and current Longhorn Daje Johnson?

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AUSTIN, Texas -- Dana Holgorsen’s run game was going nowhere.

And since Texas was only on West Virginia’s schedule once, the Mountaineers coach was searching for answers.

[+] EnlargeDaje Johnson
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDaje Johnson showed promise in his limited touches as a freshman.
"We had to do something," he said after the decision to move wide receiver Tavon Austin to running back.

That decision paid off, as Austin went for 344 rushing yards against Oklahoma.

"It probably should have been done four years ago," Holgorsen said in the postgame. "Moving him around and giving him some different matchups was probably a pretty good idea."

It’s an idea -- an epiphany, if you will -- that Texas needs now, so that three years from now, when rising sophomore Daje Johnson is on the doorstep of exhausting his eligibility, as Austin was, the Longhorns coaches are not looking back, lamenting and mumbling, "You know, if we would’ve ... "

Now, while Johnson is not quite as mercurial or shifty as Austin, he does have similar abilities. And as he grows into the game, so too will his repertoire. But in the run game, those talents need to be fertilized.

As a freshman, Johnson only touched the ball on running plays an average of 2.2 times per game. (He was suspended the first game of the season.) He averaged 7.5 yards per run.

(Read full post)

Ah, decisions. Coaches make them and then everyone criticizes them. Of course, not all of them are bad. Many are celebrated. For Texas this year it was a little bit of both. This week, HornsNation takes a look at the top five critical decisions made by Texas in 2012 and the result of each of those. Today, at No. 2, is Case McCoy leading the Longhorns to a come-from-behind win vs. Kansas.

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Video: LHN takes stock of the Longhorns

January, 4, 2013

HornsNation reporter Sean Adams and LHN analyst Ahmad Brooks both agree that the stocks for Alex Okafor and Marquise Goodwin have increased significantly following impressive performances in the Alamo Bowl.

Texas 10: Final 2012 power rankings 

December, 31, 2012
HornsNation wraps up its rankings of Texas' players for the season:

1. Alex Okafor: The soft-spoken defensive end raised his voice and his game this season. Okafor nearly won the West Virginia game for Texas, and he was the most dominant player on the field in the bowl game. He carried the respect of his teammates because of his talent and work ethic.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
John Albright / Icon SMIJohnathan Gray finished his freshman season with 701 yards rushing and four total touchdowns.
2. Kenny Vaccaro: The linebackers and other safety spot were a mess this season, forcing Vaccaro not only to carry younger players but to play in different spots. He became a stop-gap player in the back seven and was able to shut down just about every receiver he manned up against.

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Film review: Examining Applewhite's debut 

December, 31, 2012
Take away the good and the bad, and you’re left with what might’ve mattered more about Texas’ Alamo Bowl win: The change.

We do not know what offensive philosophies are bouncing around inside Major Applewhite’s head these days. In the months to come, his influences and experience will endure rigorous research by those hoping to nail down what Texas’ new offensive play caller will have up his sleeve for 2013.

[+] EnlargeMajor Applewhite
John Albright/Icon SMIMajor Applewhite spread the Texas offense out and got the ball to playmakers in his first game as play-caller.
He had time only for little tweaks leading up to the 31-27 bowl victory over Oregon State. The full vision gets installed from now until the end of August.

But on Saturday night, Applewhite did drop some hints. Here’s what we learned about his offense’s future after his playcalling debut.

1. The spread

Applewhite says he wants a balanced offense, a scheme that can win games on the ground and in the air. Oregon State required more pass than run.

A review of the film shows that, out of 65 plays on offense, he called 30 shotgun pass plays and 14 shotgun run plays against the Beavers.

David Ash was under center only eight times on the night, and four were pass plays.

What does that say? It could be the product of playing from behind or of Oregon State’s strong run defense, but don’t mistake the results.

Texas went to shotgun sets on 67 percent of its offensive snaps, and that paid off rather handsomely in the second half. This was the first time all season Texas won a ballgame by throwing (34 attempts) more than rushing (31).

“Tonight, the way we needed to win the game was to spread them out, throw it, clear some loose lanes for the quarterback to run the ball and be effective,” Applewhite said after the game.

Is the spread Texas’ best way to win in 2013? Applewhite has this spring and summer to find out.

2. Pushing the pace

The stats might not show it, but Texas thrived when it upped its offensive tempo in the second half.

The Longhorns ran 65 plays. Nothing new there -- Texas went for 65-plus in eight other games in 2012. No meaningful changes in time of possession, either.

But David Ash’s fourth quarter performance spoke volumes. He hit on his final seven passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Six of his eight completions went for 10-plus yards.

He overcame a shaky first half and played with poise late. A faster-paced, shotgun-heavy attack clicked when the stakes were high late.

This wasn’t a no-huddle, hurry-up attack, but Applewhite did cite Oregon’s success against OSU as a motivation for spreading out and speeding up.

After spending 2012 trying to convince itself it could play SEC-style power ball, could Texas swing the other way on the offensive spectrum under Applewhite?

3. At last, speed

Remember Marquise Goodwin? He was in the London Olympics. Pretty fast dude. Had a good game against Ole Miss.

We hadn’t heard much from Goodwin since. He touched the ball on offense a total of 12 times in Texas’ final seven regular-season games.

Texas’ new OC made sure Goodwin’s final game as a Longhorn was a triumphant one. For all the clamoring to get D.J. Monroe and Daje Johnson the ball, it was Goodwin for whom Oregon State had no answer.

“This game is about speed,” Applewhite said. “It's about speed and explosive players.”

He loses Goodwin and Monroe, but Applewhite won’t be hurting for speedsters next season: Johnson and receivers Kendall Sanders, Marcus Johnson and commit Jacorey Warrick are legit home-run threats. Next season could be very good to some or all of them.

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Texas Longhorns Show Out On Pro Day
The Texas Longhorns produced several eligible NFL Draft athletes who participated in Pro Day Tuesday afternoon in Austin, Texas.