Texas Longhorns: Nick Jordan

Editor's note: This is the fifth and final part of a weeklong series breaking down Texas’ most important spring position battles when the Longhorns begin practice in two weeks.

Moving on: Anthony Fera, who leaves as the most decorated kicker in Longhorns history after a remarkable 2013 season. Fera was the first consensus All-America selection and Lou Groza Award finalist in school history and also one of the Big 12’s best punters. Texas fans figured replacing Justin Tucker would be impossible, but Fera was arguably better in his second and final season in burnt orange.

The contenders: Despite losing Fera, the Longhorns do bring back one experienced placekicker in Nick Jordan and a junior-to-be in Nick Rose who has handled kickoffs for two seasons.

Texas also brings back William Russ, who will be a senior this fall, as well as junior Ben Pruitt, sophomore Michael Davidson and redshirt freshman Mitchell Becker.

Moving forward: After years of divvying up the duties among the staff, Texas finally has a designated special teams coach in Chris Vaughn. He’ll also coach the secondary with Vance Bedford, but is responsible for finding the next Fera on this roster.

This time, though, it seems more likely Texas will go back to having a two- or three-man unit for handling kicks this season. At least, that seems like a likely outcome because of Rose’s specialty -- booming kickoffs. He raised his touchback rate from 36 percent as a freshman to 42 percent in 2013 and should be given an opportunity to earn another role in year three.

Jordan did not appear in a game last season but hit on 9-of-15 field goal attempts as a true freshman in 2012, holding down that job for 10 games while Fera dealt with a groin injury. He hit seven of his final 10 attempts that year and was understandably inconsistent for a rookie. The job should be there for the taking for Jordan this spring.

But Vaughn wants competition. He says he’ll put all his options on the field this spring, put them in pressure situations and find out who stands out.

Russ is a bit of a dark horse in this race, a scholarship player who has dealt with injuries during his career. He and Becker might be the best options at the moment for finding a punter, but there’s no reason to count out Pruitt, Davidson (who recorded one kickoff last season) or anyone else at this point.

Prediction: A too-close-to-call battle in spring ball. Seems like a safe bet right now would be that Jordan is the placekicker, Russ and Becker are battling for punter duties, and Rose continues to hold down the kickoffs. But if someone is good enough to do multiple roles, the staff won't be afraid to consolidate responsibilities.
As we await the start of spring ball, we’ve been examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12. Thursday, we close this series out with special teams.

1. TCU: Honorable mention All-Big 12 place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom was 13 of 14 on field goals inside the 50 last season and drilled a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter at Kansas State. B.J. Catalon was second in the league in kickoff returns and took one to the house in the opener against LSU. Freshman Cameron Echols-Luper took his first punt return 51 yards and had a 41-yarder in the season finale against Baylor. Brandon Carter has had moments in the return game in the past as well. Ethan Perry will be a three-year starter at punter, rounding out a formidable special teams unit.

2. Baylor: Corey Coleman led the league in kick returns, and Levi Norwood scored twice off punt returns. The Bears are loaded with potential game-breakers in the return game and welcome back All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth. If Kyle Peterson proves to be a reliable replacement for departing kicker Aaron Jones, this special teams unit will have no weakness.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAlong with being a top-flight wide receiver, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett can also provide big plays in the return game.
3. Kansas State: The Wildcats feature one of the best kickoff return men in the game in Tyler Lockett, who doubles as an All-American WR candidate. Jack Cantele, the younger brother of All-Big 12 K-State kicker Anthony Cantele, only missed two field goal attempts as a sophomore and nailed a 41-yarder as time expired to beat TCU. Defensive tackle Travis Britz also returns after leading the nation with four blocked kicks.

4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders will feature a lethal one-two punch in the return game in Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, who took a kick back for a touchdown in the bowl game. Receiver Jordan Davis also has return experience. Kicker Ryan Bustin returns after garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose the most explosive return duo in the league in Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch. Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross could be among the players who replace them. Oklahoma boasts the league’s most efficient returning place-kicker in Michael Hunnicutt, who nailed 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. The Sooners have a secret weapon in Nick Hodgson, who led the league in touchback kickoffs last season. Jed Barnett, fifth in the Big 12 in punting average last season, returns as well.

6. Iowa State: The Cyclones had four players make first- or second-team All-Big 12 last season, and departing punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was one of them. Replacing his production won’t be easy, though incoming three-star freshman Colin Downing will try. DeVondrick Nealy, Jarvis West and Aaron Wimberly all had several dynamite moments returning kicks. Cole Netten was 13-of-18 on field goals as a freshman,

7. West Virginia: Nick O'Toole leads the Mountaineers on special teams. The “Boomstache” was 15th nationally in punting last season. The Mountaineers have all their returners back in Wendell Smallwood, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson, though more big plays are needed from this group -- the Mountaineers ranked last in the league in both punt and kick returns in 2013. Josh Lambert comes back after making 17 of 23 field goals as a freshman. The Mountaineers also enjoy a luxury in Michael Molinari, who can do a little bit of everything.

8. Texas: The Longhorns lose their punter and their kicker in consensus All-American Anthony Fera. That hurts. Nick Jordan, who made nine of 15 field goals in 2012, could reclaim his job. Daje Johnson -- who returned a punt for a TD against Oklahoma -- Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Jaxon Shipley all have experience returning.

9. Kansas: Return men Connor Embree (punts) and JaCorey Shepherd (kicks) both come back. The Jayhawks also return kicker Matthew Wyman, who connected on a game-winning 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech. The freshman, however, only made two field goals after that and eventually lost that job to departing senior Ron Doherty. Trevor Pardula was third in the Big 12 in punting as a junior and received votes for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.

10. Oklahoma State: After enjoying All-Americans Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp the last few years, the Cowboys were finally mediocre in the kicking game last season. Ben Grogan struggled as a freshman, making just 11 of 18 field goals while missing two critical attempts in the early-season loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys were also last in the league in punting. Oklahoma State signed three-star kicker Zach Sinor with hopes of curing some of those ills. The Cowboys were still dynamic in the return game, but with Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart both gone, Oklahoma State could lean on juco transfer and track star Tyreek Hill for a jolt on returns.
After a whirlwind 48 hours full of meetings, appearances and handshakes, Charlie Strong still hasn’t had much time to find out what kind of talent he’s inheriting.

So let’s make life a little easier for Texas’ new head coach. Here’s an early breakdown of how Texas’ offensive depth chart might look in 2014, based on who’s slated to return and the incoming freshmen. On Wednesday, we’ll break down the Longhorns defense.

Keep in mind, a lot can and will change between now and the end of August. All of these players have to prove themselves to a new regime. You could see lots of movement, position changes and reshuffling between now and the season opener against North Texas.

Quarterback
David Ash, junior
Tyrone Swoopes, sophomore
Jerrod Heard, freshman

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDavid Ash will be back for one more season as quarterback.
Ash comes back after missing nearly the entire season with concussion issues. He gets a medical redshirt and a chance to start over. Swoopes’ redshirt was wasted and he’s still a few years away. Could Heard be Strong’s next Teddy Bridgewater? He won’t enroll early but could play early in his career under this new staff.

Running Back
Malcolm Brown, senior
Johnathan Gray, junior
Joe Bergeron, senior
Donald Catalon, freshman

As long as Gray heals up 100 percent from his torn Achilles, Texas will have one of the best rushing duos in the Big 12. Brown was a revelation to end the season and could be in for a big senior campaign. Bergeron will work his way back into the mix. Catalon and D'Onta Foreman will provide depth as freshmen, and one could contribute early.

Wide Receiver
Jaxon Shipley, senior
Daje Johnson, junior
Jacorey Warrick, sophomore

Shipley is the leader of the group and should be in for a big season, no matter the offense. Will Strong’s staff give Daje one more chance? No guarantees he’s still on the roster by the fall. Warrick earned praise in practice and limited playing time.

Wide Receiver
Kendall Sanders, junior
Montrel Meander, redshirt freshman
Jake Oliver, redshirt freshman

This is the year Sanders can take a big step forward. He’s a legit playmaker whose role will expand. Meander made a strong impression in his redshirt year and is a big, athletic target. He and Oliver will battle for snaps and should contribute in 2014.

Wide Receiver
[+] EnlargeJohnson
AP Photo/LM OteroMarcus Johnson caught 22 passes as a sophomore.
Marcus Johnson, junior
Armanti Foreman, freshman
Emanuel Porter, freshman

Johnson made some big plays and had a nice rapport with Case McCoy. He can stretch a defense and burn corners deep. Should see big opportunities this fall. Foreman and Porter are instant-impact guys among in large group of incoming freshman receivers, and keep an eye on Lorenzo Joe, too.

Tight End
Geoff Swaim, senior
Greg Daniels, senior
M.J. McFarland, junior

Swaim, a junior college transfer, was a revelation as a blocker in 2013. Daniels got the job done as a blocker, too, but neither had many opportunities as receivers. Let’s hope the next staff can salvage the career of McFarland, who got stuck on special teams this season but needs to become a trusted pass-catcher.

Left Tackle
Desmond Harrison, senior
Kennedy Estelle, junior

Mack Brown still believed Harrison will develop into an NFL first-rounder before he’s done, though his first season was a disappointment. If he’s not the solution at left tackle, you could see Estelle or several others move over. Estelle has mostly played right tackle and had some good moments in eight starts, but was suspended from the bowl for grades.

Left Guard
Sedrick Flowers, junior
Darius James, redshirt freshman

The departing senior linemen were big fans of Flowers, who they considered starter-quality throughout 2013 even if he was mostly a reserve. This is his spot to take. James needed a redshirt year to get back in shape, but he has the potential to be one of Texas’ best.

Center
Dominic Espinosa, senior
Jake Raulerson, redshirt freshman

The new veteran leader of the line, Espinosa has 39 career starts under his belt and improved as a junior. Hard to see him losing his spot. Raulerson continues to put on muscle and will have a long, successful career. Texas also adds incoming freshman Terrell Cuney here.

Right Guard
Curtis Riser, sophomore
Rami Hammad, redshirt freshman

Riser is entering his third year in the program and seems likely to be the favorite for this spot, but don’t count out Hammad. He redshirted as a freshman and missed part of the season with an arm injury, but he’s as impressive as any first-year lineman the Longhorns had.

Right Tackle
Kent Perkins, sophomore
Josh Cochran, senior

Perkins earned one start as a freshman and should be an All-Big 12-caliber tackle by the time he’s done in Austin. It’s hard to peg what’s next for Cochran, who lost enough weight from a shoulder injury to necessitate a move to tight end. The former starter could end up at either spot in his final season.

Kicker
Nick Jordan, sophomore

Good luck to whoever must replace Anthony Fera, the All-American and Groza Award finalist. Jordan strugged as a freshman in 2012 but got a year off and seems most likely to assume the kicking duties, though there will be competition.
AUSTIN, Texas – Texas has 19 starters returning, a two-deep no longer as shallow as the Pedernales River, a coach who has been pointing to this year during the tumult of the last two and a team that's been as high as No. 4 in some of the preseason rankings.


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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. 28 Nick Jordan
Sophomore kicker



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Texas 10: Spring game rankings 

April, 1, 2013
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Each week during the season, HornsNation will rank Texas' top 10 performers of the season up to this point. Here's a ranking of the top contributors from the Orange-White spring game on Saturday.

1. QB David Ash: The junior quarterback didn’t exactly unfurl a cape and fly to new heights in the spring game. But, aside from two huge miscues, Ash proved he is capable of running the up-tempo offense and appears to understand what play-caller Major Applewhite wants.


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Weak and Strong: Texas Longhorns

March, 18, 2013
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Turnover is an annual tradition in college football, but with that, teams' strengths and weaknesses constantly shift, too. Today, we'll continue our look at the biggest strengths and weaknesses for each Big 12 team.

Next up: Texas.

Strongest position: Running backs

You simply could not ask for anything more from one position, and I might make the case that this is the strongest unit in the Big 12 in terms of pure skill. The Longhorns lost D.J. Monroe from this unit last year, but they run four deep and each brings something special to the table. Johnathan Gray has the best balance of the quartet, and the rising sophomore looks like a favorite to win the starting job on the back of his strong first step. The starting position is a bit pointless ultimately, considering all four will get touches, especially Malcolm Brown, a balanced back with a great feel for space between the tackles who leans a bit more toward being a power runner.

The other two backs are pure specialty, but every backfield can use those. Joe Bergeron is a 240-pound bowling ball who rolled his way to 16 touchdowns a year ago, more than anyone else in the Big 12 except Collin Klein, who finished third in the Heisman voting. On the other end of the spectrum is Daje Johnson, a sophomore speedster who averaged 11.5 yards a touch last season. He had touchdown runs of 45 yards (New Mexico) and 84 yards (Baylor) that showcased his speed. This is a solid group with elite talent and tons of depth and versatility. Texas has recruited running backs so well lately, and it's showing up on the field. What more could you ask for?

Weakest position: Specialists

Texas has solid talent in the return game with Quandre Diggs and Jaxon Shipley, but the kicking game was a disaster last season and the Longhorns are trying to find an answer at punter to fill in for Alex King, who graduated after averaging better than 45 yards a kick on his 43 punts last year. The big problem that carried over from last season is at place-kicker. Texas finished last season just 11-of-19 on field goals, tied for the worst mark in the Big 12 and 107th nationally.

Penn State transfer Anthony Fera was the biggest hope at the position, but he was nagged with a persistent groin injury and has been working mostly at punter this spring after making 2-of-4 field goals last year. Freshman Nick Jordan made 9-of-15 kicks last season and has to be better to hold onto his spot.

Texas has recruited well all over the field and doesn't lose much from last year's team, but when I survey the depth chart, kicker and punter are clearly the biggest weaknesses for the Longhorns. The players currently on the roster are long on potential but short on real accomplishments.

More Weak and Strong.

Breaking down spring camp: Texas

February, 20, 2013
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As spring camps begin, we'll offer up a preview and let you know what to watch for in each team's 15 practices over the next couple of months. Texas will start spring practice first, so today we start with the Longhorns.

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.
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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Texas poised to take big 2014 class 

February, 14, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas A&M was the talk of the state in 2013 with its 32-man recruiting class. Don’t be shocked if Texas comes close to those numbers with its 2014 class.

As always, it’s a matter of math. Texas, by rule, can sign no more than 50 recruits in any two-year period. The Longhorns inked 15 this year, so 35 is the absolute maximum for 2014.

Texas isn’t going for 35 this year. Its 2013 team will feature 15 seniors if Jordan Hicks is granted his medical redshirt. A full class of 25 signees is likely. But don’t rule out the possibility of 30.


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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 a little bit of both. This week HornsNation will take a look at the top five critical decisions made by Texas and the result of each of those decisions. Today, at No. 4, is a look at Texas' kicking woes.

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Texas special teams underwhelming

December, 13, 2012
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Texas continues to produce seasons that warrant backward glances, if only to make sure the past stays put. No one wants to relive that again. But the time has come to look over the shoulder and the damage that 2012 hath wrought, where it all went wrong and why it might get better in 2013.

This week, HornsNation takes a look at the 2012 program. Up today is the defense and how it will leave its mark as the worst in Texas history.

On Thursday, room will be saved for punter Alex King, arguably the most consistent and reliable of the 2012 Longhorns, and the special teams unit.


AUSTIN, Texas -- Goal setting can often be a slightly trick proposition around Texas, with the road maps previously used from 2000-09 apparently gone missing.

But, nonetheless, Longhorns coach Mack Brown, in a bold proclamation, had one goal seemingly above all others -- yes, that included picking a quarterback -- as he entered the 2012 season.

"What we do is No. 1 would be to try to have the best kicking game in America," he said on Aug. 4.

Oh boy. Where to begin?

To start let’s give some credit where it is due. Alex King was the most consistent performer on the Texas football team this year. Sure he is a punter. But he was one of the best in America. So, in that sliver of special teams play, Brown got the best in America.

Texas also blocked seven kick attempts, a mean feat by any measure. And the Longhorns finished a successful 25th in the nation in kick return yards (They were 68th in punt returns).

Everywhere else -- meaning those spots where Texas has some of the best athletes and top speed in the country -- well, in a style that pretty much sums up the 2012 program, in as nice as terms as possible, they underperformed. And just like everywhere else in the Texas program, it is hard to fathom why.

(Read full post)

With a balanced offense and a defense that appears to now at least in position to make plays, Texas has become closer to the team coach Mack Brown thought it would have back in September.

"It is the team we wanted to get to," he said.

THREE UP

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AUSTIN, Texas -- The Longhorns have an offense that is still in its infancy, and, as such, it wobbled on its first and second steps all night against Oklahoma State.

Through the first three quarters Saturday, with the OSU defense still relatively fresh, Texas made more than five yards on first down only four times in 17 tries.

By third down, however, Texas had found is footing and its stride. The Longhorns converted 9 of 17 third downs. That's not quite the 60 percent clip the offense had boasted coming into the game. But add to that a 3-for-3 effort on fourth down and the numbers are there.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesDavid Ash and the Texas offense held the ball for 36:36 against the Cowboys.
Of course it was the last of those conversions -- a fourth-and-6 -- that proved to be the biggest. But it might have been the 11 previous conversions that allowed the final fourth-down conversion to work.

First, Texas had confidence because it had been there and done that.

"You have got to see it and see it happen out there on the field," said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. "When the entire offense came out there [on the final drive], I thought those guys had poise. They seemed to operate really flawlessly in what we were giving them play-wise."

Second, Oklahoma State, because of what had happened on previous conversion attempts, did not have confidence.

"It really does grind on you, particularly the fourth-down play," said OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young. "The offense played well enough to keep us in the game, and if we make that stop, we win."

The Cowboys didn't make that play or plenty of others. On four of Texas' five scoring drives it was 5-of-7 in converting third downs. After the two misses on third down, Texas went for it on fourth down and kept the drive alive.

(Read full post)

AUSTIN, Texas -- While Texas has not counted out Jordan Hicks this week, it might not be prudent to count on him, either.

The junior linebacker suffered a hip injury against Ole Miss a week ago and is still not 100 percent. Texas will check his health at Tuesday's practice. But the team's leading tackler is probably a longshot to make it on the field for Oklahoma State.

"Without Jordan, that's a leader on defense there," said Quandre Diggs.

[+] EnlargeJordan Hicks
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireLinebacker Jordan Hicks injured his hip in Texas' win over Ole Miss.
Added safety Kenny Vaccaro: "It will hurt us. But we also have depth and a lot of young linebacker who can play."

The issue for Texas is it is not sure which of those young linebackers is ready to step up and play against the nation's top-scoring offense.

"We have the first three linebackers," said coach Mack Brown of Hicks, Demarco Cobbs and Steve Edmond. "Then we have a group. If the injury were on offensive line [offensive line coach] Stacy [Searels] would know to put Luke Poehlmann in. In the secondary, [secondary coach] Duane [Akina] would put in either Josh Turner or Mykkele Thompson. At linebacker there is a group of players."

Brown and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz sat down Sunday night to try and figure out contingency plans. The one thing they struck upon was that they did not want to have to be handcuffed by putting a certain player in at a certain position. Instead, Texas is going to play the next best linebacker no matter if his speciality is middle, strong side or weak side.

So that could force some shifting among the linebackers. When Hicks went out against Ole Miss, Cobbs slid from the strong side to the weak side and Kendall Thompson came in at the strong side. Edmond stayed in the middle.

But with an off week to prepare, Texas was able to shift guys around and experiment with sets that allowed for Dalton Santos, a natural middle linebacker, to be on the field with Edmond.

(Read full post)

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