Texas Longhorns: Jake Raulerson
Last year, 21 high school seniors enrolled early in the Big 12. Below is a breakdown of the outcomes from their first college seasons:
QB Chris Johnson: A highly-touted, four-star signee, Johnson got a valuable extra spring working under coach Art Briles. But Bryce Petty was healthy and tremendous all season and Seth Russell proved to be a more than a viable backup, prompting Johnson to redshirt. After Petty and then Russell, Johnson appears to be the next in a budding line of superb Baylor QBs.
OT Shawn Curtis: Curtis was the top recruit in the Cyclones' 2013 class. Though Jacob Gannon and Brock Dagel seem entrenched at the tackle positions, Curtis will have ample opportunity to work into the two-deep this fall.
LB Alton Meeks: The versatile Meeks settled in as a linebacker in Ames. He too redshirted, and he too could step into the two-deep next season.
DB Colin Spencer: Spencer, who redshirted last season, was recruited as a defensive back but has since been moved to halfback/flanker with the Jayhawks looking for pass-catching help.
K Matthew McCrane: Watched as Jack Cantele won the starting place-kicking job as a sophomore. Will have to wait awhile before getting another shot.
WR Dannon Cavil: Cavil turned heads with his combination of size and speed in the spring, and he seemed primed to break into the receiving rotation. But that never happened, and he wound up redshirting. With 2013 starters Jalen Saunders and Lacoltan Bester gone, Cavil will have another chance at playing time this spring.
S Ahmad Thomas: Thomas created a buzz in the spring, but couldn’t topple veterans Quentin Hayes, Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson. He is vying for a starting job this spring and figures to be a key part of the secondary in 2014.
DE D.J. Ward: The No. 1-rated player from the state of Oklahoma, Ward endured qualifying issues that kept him from participating for much of spring ball. Then during the preseason, he had to have his spleen removed, which forced a redshirt. Ward has talent, but he needs to catch a break.
DE Naim Mustafaa: The Cowboys swiped this four-star recruit just in time to get him enrolled for spring ball. But Mustafaa left the team over the summer. He landed at Miami, but he bolted from there too during the season.
LB Deoundrei Davis: Davis spent the year redshirting and recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in high school. The Longhorns remain stacked at linebacker, so Davis will have another season to improve his strength and agility.
C Jake Raulerson: Raulerson also redshirted, giving him the opportunity to bulk up as he moved to the interior of the line. He should back up senior Dominic Espinosa this season and is on track to be the center of the future.
QB Tyrone Swoopes: Former coach Mack Brown controversially pulled Swoopes’ redshirt midway through the season, but Swoopes never unseated Case McCoy and attempted only 13 passes the entire season. Swoopes has all the tools, but will need to show more polish this spring to make a serious run at Texas’ influx starting quarterback job.
QB Zach Allen: The Horned Frogs had massive issues at the quarterback spot after Casey Pachall suffered a broken forearm, but Allen never was called on for help and redshirted instead. He’s battling Trevone Boykin and Tyler Matthews for the job this spring, and the pressure will be on to make an impression to the new offensive regime, with Grayson Muehlstein and Foster Sawyer set to join the QB competition over the summer.
TE Bryson Burtnett: After redshirting last season, Burtnett could help the Horned Frogs as a blocking tight end this fall.
OT Eason Fromayan: Also redshirted last season. Tackle is a position of concern for TCU, but there are other options that appear to be ahead of him in the pecking order early in spring ball.
QB Davis Webb: Kliff Kingsbury’s first QB signee, Webb had quite the rollercoaster first season. With the favorite to start, Michael Brewer, ailing with a back injury, Webb had a golden opportunity to seize the starting job. Instead, walk-on freshman Baker Mayfield beat him out. Webb made the most of his opportunities when they came, though. After Mayfield suffered a knee injury, Webb led Tech to a come-from-behind win at West Virginia. After Mayfield transferred, Webb delivered one of the best bowl performances of any QB, throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns in a convincing win over heavily-favored Arizona State. As the only scholarship QB currently on campus, Webb is finally the clear-cut starter going into 2014. And if he builds on his bowl showing, he could have a monster sophomore campaign.
LB Hodari Christian: Christian redshirted last season. Considering the Mountaineers are loaded with experience at linebacker, it could be some time before Christian steps onto the field defensively.
S Malik Greaves: Greaves too redshirted in 2013 and is currently listed this spring as the third-team “spur” linebacker behind K.J. Dillon and Marvin Gross.
QB Chavas Rawlins: Rawlins went through spring ball with the Mountaineers, but he left the program after spring ball because the coach that had recruited him, Jake Spavital, left West Virginia to become the quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator at Texas A&M. Rawlins ended up enrolling at Duquesne.
WR Daikiel Shorts: Shorts was arguably the most impressive true freshman during the preseason for West Virginia and ended up starting nine games. He also tied for the team lead with 45 receptions and figures to be a playmaking cornerstone in Morgantown.
RB Wendell Smallwood: Smallwood started out helping on special teams, but he eventually carved out a role on the offense as a third-team running back behind Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith. He finished the season with 221 rushing yards on 39 carries. Even though carries will be competitive to get again, Smallwood’s versatility should cement him a role in the offense.
How's he going to put this group together? A look at the battle to replace four former starters:
Departed: Left guard Trey Hopkins (42 career starts), right guard Mason Walters (51) and left tackle Donald Hawkins (23) are graduating, and former starting right tackle Josh Cochran elected to end his playing career due to a recurring shoulder injury. The junior had started 23 of his 30 career games. Backup center Garrett Porter also graduates. Walters’ 51-game start streak tied for longest in the nation among lineman at the end of 2013.
Spring contenders: OT Kennedy Estelle, OT Desmond Harrison, OT Kent Perkins, OT Garrett Greenlea, OT Camrhon Hughes, OG Sedrick Flowers, OG Curtis Riser, OG Rami Hammad, OG Darius James, OG Taylor Doyle, OG Alex Anderson, C Dominic Espinosa, C Jake Raulerson
Summer contenders: C Terrell Cuney, OT Elijah Rodriguez
The skinny: Yep, that’s a crowded field. Lot of big bodies, not a lot of experience among them.
Espinosa is the elder statesman of the group, having started all 39 games of his career. He and Harrison are the only seniors of this group, and Harrison hasn’t played meaningful minutes yet.
We don’t know what many of these linemen are capable of entering spring ball because so few have seen the field, but the bar has been set high for the members of Texas’ 2013 signing class. Former Texas coach Mack Brown considered that group -- Harrison, Perkins, Hammad, James and Raulerson -- the best offensive line class he had ever signed.
Will new offensive line coach and OC Joe Wickline agree? He recruited several of his new pupils during his days at Oklahoma State, but he has no reason to stick to the plan laid out by the previous staff. If the younger linemen beat out the veterans, they’ll play.
The best of the bunch, at least based on 2013 performances, could be Estelle and Perkins. Estelle, a junior, started eight games in place of Cochran and had some promising moments. Perkins was too good to redshirt as a true freshman. Harrison is the wild card of the group and has been an enigma during his time in burnt orange.
As for the guards, Flowers had the full respect of Walters and Hopkins and is finally getting his chance. The highly-touted James redshirted as a freshman, as did Hammad. They’ll battle Riser this spring. Anderson, an early enrollee from New Orleans, could challenge them as well.
That’s how it looks on paper, but keep this in mind: Wickline isn’t afraid to move linemen around and cross-train them at other positions. That preparation paid off for several of his Cowboy linemen over the years. The way this group looks today could be very different come August.
Prediction: Expect movement and possibly a few surprises. It’s all up to Wickline and who makes an impression on him in spring ball. The safest bets to start are probably Espinosa, Estelle and Flowers. Don’t be surprised if James or Hammad win out for the other guard spot, and for Perkins to take a lead over Harrison exiting spring ball. These second-year linemen are legit.
Until then, we’re counting down everything you need to know entering next season and the next era of Texas football. This week, we’re breaking down the five position groups with the most room to improve in 2014. We’ve already broken down No. 5 (tight ends), No. 4 (defensive tackles) and No. 3 (safeties). Here’s No. 2 on the list.
The players: Dominic Espinosa, Kennedy Estelle, Sedrick Flowers, Kent Perkins, Curtis Riser, Desmond Harrison, Rami Hammad, Darius James, Jake Raulerson, Garrett Greenlea, Taylor Doyle, Camrhon Hughes, Alex Anderson, Terrell Cuney, Elijah Rodriguez
Last year: Texas entered last season feeling good not only about its starting five, but also its depth for the future. Four of Texas opening-day starters (Donald Hawkins, Trey Hopkins, Mason Walters, Josh Cochran) have moved on. This group was impressive and physical on its best days and maddeningly inconsistent on its worst.
Enter Joe Wickline, regarded as one of the nation’s finest offensive line coaches and the architect of some excellent lines at Oklahoma State. He’s in charge of calling the offense, and his linemen will have to establish an identity.
What’s missing: Experience. Espinosa has plenty of it, with 39 career starts. Estelle has eight starts. Perkins and Flowers have one each. And that’s it. Flowers is a guy the departed starters greatly respected, and his chance to earn a job is now. Harrison was supposed to develop into the starting left tackle but had too many setbacks last season.
The previous staff believed they’d signed their best line class ever in 2013 (James, Perkins, Harrison, Hammad, Raulerson), and it wouldn’t be shocking if several of those guys break into the lineup in 2014.
Moving forward: How will Wickline perceive what he’s inheriting? That’s always the big question when a new coach arrives. Oklahoma State offered scholarships to at least seven of these Texas linemen, so you’d think Wickline is familiar with many of these guys.
It’s also safe to say nobody is guaranteed a starting job along this line. Finding 10 trusted linemen from this group is just as important as a strong starting five. Bring on the competition, and let’s see how Wickline works his magic this spring.
Texas’ offensive line is as experienced as any in the country this fall. All five starters return and have a combined 124 career starts under their oversized belts.
So why is each of them at risk of losing their jobs? Because, in 2013, Texas thinks it has a chance to have not just a good offensive line, but a great one.
“If one of these guys coming in is better than the starters, we will replace them, without question,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “And they know that. We’ve told them that.”
But for the first time in his tenure at Texas, third-year offensive line coach Stacy Searels has options. He’s wanted 10 offensive linemen he can lean on, 10 he can trust. Thanks to two years of strong recruiting, the cupboard is now well-stocked.
The star of that two-year talent infusion could very well be a lineman who arrived in Austin only three weeks ago: Desmond Harrison.
He’s never put on pads for the Longhorns, and the sum total of his experience in the program is one fall practice. But the 6-foot-8, 310-pound offensive tackle is already the talk of fall camp after wowing his new teammates.
“He is huge. He’s a massive human being,” Hopkins said. “Probably the only person I’ve seen stand next to Mason and make him kind of look short.”
If the touted transfer from Contra Costa (Calif.) College is everything he’s hyped up to be, Harrison could become the starting left tackle by the end of the month. If that’s the case, the rest of the line would be in for a reshuffling.
Hawkins, a junior college transfer last year, could move from left tackle to guard, prompting Hopkins to take over the center duties. Or he could bump off Cochran for the right tackle job. Or he could get benched.
“Your position could change, and you could be second- or third-string really quick,” Walters said. “The guys we have here now really want to play. We have a lot of bodies and talent right now. I love it. We want to be as good as possible, and you have to have somebody pushing you.”
Harrison isn’t the only threat. Brown and Searels have high hopes for four true freshmen who have a serious shot a cracking the two-deep.
“This recruiting class for offensive linemen could be one of the best offensive line classes ever before they finish at Texas,” Brown said. “I can’t wait to see them when we put the pads on. I’m really excited about them. We haven’t been able to find these guys and get these guys on campus like this. It’s going to be fun to watch them. Don’t know how soon that will be, but our future is very bright there.”
Kent Perkins is already working as the second-string right tackle. Guards Darius James and Rami Hammad and center Jake Raulerson lined up with the third-team offense Tuesday. Several could be worthy of serious playing time this fall.
If they are good enough, that puts Searels in somewhat of a difficult position. How does he explain to three seniors and two juniors that the freshmen must play?
Walters and the rest of the veteran linemen have been through a lot together. When Searels arrived in the spring of 2011, the 6-foot-6, 320-pound guard was one of only seven scholarship linemen in the program. He’s started 38 straight games because Texas really had no choice. He and Hopkins have lined up together for 25 of Texas’ last 26 games.
“[Hopkins has] grunted at me before and I knew exactly what he was saying,” Walters said. “That’s just with all of us. You can tap somebody on the shoulder at a certain time and we all know what to look for on certain plays.”
They share that bond with Cochran and Espinosa, both of whom started as true freshmen. Through the good times and the bad these past two years, they survived together. There has to be some intangible value to that.
But the veterans know this is a meritocracy. Searels had six offensive linemen he trusted in crunch time last season. He needs more than that. The added depth comes at a critical time, when an up-tempo scheme will require more rotating to keep the line fresh and effective.
No matter what, Searels needs 10 good men. And that’s only going to make his five starters work even harder.
“Our togetherness is big, and I think that helps with the guys who have been around for a while,” Walters said. “But at the same time, Coach Searels has definitely made it clear he’ll play the five best.”
1. Ash a year older, wiser
We’ll have a lot more on this topic in a future story, but David Ash made quite an impression during his two hours of media time on Tuesday.
Ash is proud of the fact Mack Brown and Major Applewhite put their full faith in him this spring. He’s excited about the up-tempo scheme and its possibilities. He knows he can bring a lot more to the table in 2013.
“I think I have the ability to do a lot of things,” Ash said. “I can throw any ball. What I’m going to get better at is taking what the defense gives me. Sometimes they give the quarterback the run. If they do, I have no doubt I can take advantage of that.”
That’s confidence. You didn’t see a ton of it in 2012 as Ash battled injury, Case McCoy and his own inconsistency. The seniors in attendance have faith in him. Now it’s time to find out what he’ll do with that trust.
2. Brown unfazed by No. 4 rankings
Brown didn’t squeeze in any serious potshots at the SEC Conference, but he did take time during his 20-minute press conference Tuesday to applaud the parity of the Big 12.
He chuckled when asked, with Phil Steele ranking the Longhorns No. 4 in the nation and conference media tabbing them No. 4 in the league, where his team truly did fit on that scale of expectations.
“I really like the first guy better,” Brown said, referring to Steele. “I don’t know about his merit, but I like it better. Who knows? You know, I do think that we have the most balanced league in the country right now, top to bottom.”
The days of two or three teams dominating the conference are long gone, he said, and anyone can beat anyone. He pointed to the most obvious example -- Texas at Kansas last fall -- as proof.
“When you look at us being voted fourth, I thought what we saw is the numbers are all really, really close, and people are confused on who they think may win this conference championship,” Brown said. “That's a compliment to our league.”
3. Jeffcoat ready to return
For Jackson Jeffcoat, senior season started the October day he found out he wouldn’t play again in 2012.
The preseason All-Big 12 defensive end is proud to say his second pectoral injury in two years is now in the rearview mirror. He has been fully cleared for the start of fall camp next month and is ready to start hitting again.
"I’m just excited to get out there with my teammates, and it’s really helped me grow,” Jeffcoat said. “Being out there and seeing things like a coach and talking with coach about things, it’s different. You see different things. I helped players out and I learned.”
Perhaps that’s the silver lining for Jeffcoat -- he’s glad he got a chance to help Cedric Reed prepare for the starting role and that his absence ended up letting Texas develop its depth on the line.
We heard good things about Shiro Davis, Bryce Cottrell and Caleb Bluiett this week, too, though they’re primarily pass rushers right now. Oscar Giles could have some serious options for rotations this fall.
4. Hopkins likes OL depth
Trey Hopkins insisted he and the four returning members of the Texas offensive line don’t feel threatened by the addition of the best incoming line class of Brown’s tenure.
In fact, the senior guard said he’s excited to see what the five linemen -- Darius James, Kent Perkins, Rami Hammad, Jake Raulerson and juco transfer Desmond Harrison -- can do to provide depth in 2013, especially when an up-tempo scheme likely will call for more substituting up front.
“There’s a lot of competition. That only makes everyone else rise,” Hopkins said. “They can come in, and I expect them to work hard. They’ve shown they’ll work hard. That’s going to be an energy booster for the rest of the team. Everyone knows now you can’t take a lazy step, or the guy behind you will be the guy in front of you pretty soon.”
5. Odds and ends
• Texas officials confirmed Tuesday that linebacker Jordan Hicks officially was approved for a medical redshirt for the 2012 season. Hicks is still considered a junior with two years of eligibility remaining.
• Harrison had his first workout with the team on Monday after enrolling last week. Hopkins called the 6-foot-8 tackle a “massive human being” and has been impressed by his demeanor.
• No update on the status of wide receiver Cayleb Jones and when he’ll resume working out with the team. Jones was suspended this spring and has not been with the program during the summer.
• One interesting note on newly hired football analyst Greg Robinson: He’ll continue to live in Los Angeles this fall and likely will visit Austin only for home-game weekends. Robinson, whose primary duty is to break down opponents’ film, had a similar role with the Seattle Seahawks last year.
Darius James, Kent Perkins and Jake Raulerson were all ESPN 150 recruits and Rami Hammad had close to 50 offers. That doesn’t even include junior college offensive tackle Desmond Harrison, who many project will start at left tackle for Texas this season.
Those players coming in combined with the youth already in place on the roster, means that the Longhorns aren’t in dire need of offensive linemen again in 2014. At least not the degree they were needed this time a year ago.
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The magnitude of Sione and Maea Teuhema’s commitments to Texas on Thursday might not truly be felt for a while, considering Maea, the more highly-touted of the two, won’t graduate until 2015.
But make no mistake about how gigantic a victory this is for the Longhorns. If there were a fly on the wall inside Texas’ football offices when the coaches got word of the commitments, that fly assuredly saw plenty of chest bumping and high-fives.
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There were uncertainties going into Saturday’s festivities. What was known was that several dozen of the top sophomores in the state were going to travel here for a first in the history of Texas football, and that it was going to be structured similar to a junior day.
Other than that, questions ran rampant. How many offers would go out? Would anyone commit? What were recruits saying when it was done?
Here’s a look at five things we learned from Texas’ first sophomore day:
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Schedule: The Longhorns begin spring practice on Thursday and will host a spring game on March 30.
What's new: Offensive playcalling duties have fallen to co-coordinator Major Applewhite now, who was promoted when partner Bryan Harsin left to become Arkansas State's head coach. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz mulled a move after the season, but ultimately stuck around to help revive a defense that struggled in 2012.
On the mend: Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat will likely be limited after undergoing surgery on a torn pectoral, but linebacker Jordan Hicks should return following a hip injury that cost him his 2012 season and a sexual assault charge that was eventually dropped stemming from an incident during the Longhorns' bowl trip.
Stepping up: Kenny Vaccaro's versatility will be tough to replace, but figuring out who will try and fill his role at safety will be huge for Texas' defense during the spring. My money is on Mykkele Thompson, but don't rule out junior Josh Turner or even a position move for physical junior cornerback Quandre Diggs.
New faces: Texas is welcoming a handful of early enrollees this spring, headlined by quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. Offensive lineman Jake Raulerson, the 2013 class' first commit, is also enrolled along with linebacker Deoundrei Davis and tight end Geoff Swaim, the nation's No. 4 junior college player at the position.
Breaking out: Linebacker Peter Jinkens already made an impact as a true freshman, but don't be surprised if he leaves spring practice with a starting gig, beating out a few older players like Steve Edmond and Kendall Thompson. Jinkens earned a start against Iowa State and snagged an interception in Texas' Alamo Bowl win over Oregon State, but the 6-foot-1, 213-pounder from Dallas could be a budding star in a linebacking corps that needs help after a disappointing 2012.
Under the radar: Texas struggled in the kicking game throughout 2012, making just 11 of 19 attempts, the lowest percentage of any Big 12 team. Nick Jordan had to carry the load as a freshman while Penn State transfer Anthony Fera battled a groin injury. They'll be back to battle this spring, and though it won't get much attention in a camp loaded with intrigue, its importance can't be overstated for a team that doesn't hang points by the buckets and played in six games decided by one possession a year ago.
All eyes on: Quarterback David Ash. Being just OK is no longer acceptable. He was reasonably efficient last season with a passer rating of over 153, but faltered late in the season and struggled with inconsistency. If Texas is going to be great, he has to be great, and most importantly, consistent. No more well-deserved benchings in favor of Case McCoy. Ash limited his interceptions and was fifth in the league in passer rating, but he's got to be even better as a junior.
Yet, every position remains open.
And while four of the recently signed offensive linemen will not make it to campus until the summer, the coaching staff can start evaluating how the current handful of returning starters reacts to the new no-huddle offense. If they do not excel in their evaluations, Texas at least now could have viable options to replace a few of them.
Tackles: Since Desmond Harrison is not enrolled yet so it is tough for him to be a part of the spring conversations. Although returning tackle Donald Hawkins will probably get extra work inside in preparation for Harrison’s arrival. Texas has a few guys it can and wants to throw into that tackle position this spring with Kennedy Estelle chief among them. Estelle played last season but had a shoulder injury that forced him to the sideline. He has a big, athletic body and can run so he might be very well suited for a no-huddle attack. Camrhon Hughes is a player Texas was extremely high on last spring but a knee injury in the offseason cost him playing time. Texas is hoping Hughes can participate throughout the spring so they can determine how and when to use him.
Returning starter Josh Cochran might move sides, but he is not likely to move from the tackle spot.
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First down: Getting recruits on campus is only part of the deal
We have also seen Alabama and most of the SEC dominate the rankings and, consquently, the national championship game, for the last seven years, with Alabama winning three of the last four national titles.
Before you get too excited about the rankings, coaching staffs still have to develop the talent once it gets to campus.
They have to build a fighter’s mentality in a group of young men and get them to pull in the same direction. The have to develop leaders instead of looking for them.
Recruiting is like having potential -- you have to do something with it or else you get fired.
Second down: The pressure of 2013 just increased
I watched ESPN’s national signing day show on ESPNU starting at 7 a.m. CT on Wednesday morning and was wondering when the University of Texas would get its first mention.
At 10:41 a.m., Texas was finally mentioned before cutting away to Mack Brown.
Texas has some work to do. It was not too long ago that ESPN College Gameday, College Football Live and shows about national signing day could not go for 30 minutes without the University of Texas being part of some conversation.
Slowly over the last few years some goodwill has eroded from the monster program that is Texas. Let us not kid ourselves, Texas is a program that could have a good 2013 and be right back in the crosshairs of favorable conversation by media everywhere around the country.
While it might be easy to turn around the conversation, Texas better figure out how to do it. The ‘chip on your shoulder’, ‘backed into a corner’ and ‘no respect’ angles only work for a while before you discover that you just aren't very good.
2013 continues to be a "must win 10 games (in the regular season)" type of season.
Third down: Impact of the 2013 recruiting class
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Searels had been coaching SEC offensive lines -- first at LSU, then Georgia -- since 2003. The assumption, fair or not, was that he’d whip the Longhorns line into shape and up to the standards of college football’s most dominant conference.
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Each of the following players have officially sent in their letters of intent, and here's who's heading to the 40 Acres.
- No. 17: Darius James, C, Kileen, Texas
- No. 76: Kent Perkins, OT, Dallas
- No. 113: Jake Raulerson, OT, Celina, Texas (early signing, enrolled)
- No. 119: Jacorey Warrick, WR, Houston
- No. 148: Antwuan Davis, CB, Bastrop, Texas
- No. 151: Deoundrei Davis, LB, Cypress, Texas (early signing, enrolled)
- No. 215: Jake Oliver, WR, Dallas
- No. 252: Chevoski Collins, ATH, Livingston, Texas
It's a really small class for Texas with just 15 signees after signing 28 players a year ago and 22 and 25 the previous two seasons. But the Longhorns are sitting at No. 14 in our ESPN class rankings, down a spot from where they began the day.
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