Texas Longhorns: Nick Rose

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.

Planning for success: Texas

December, 5, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- A game as big as Texas vs. Baylor demands an appreciation for the finer details.

We know Baylor can score 70 points, the Longhorns need to run the ball, somebody will play defense and turnovers and injuries will likely doom the loser. That’s obvious.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Fera
John Albright/Icon SMIExperience kicking in poor weather could help Texas' Anthony Fera Saturday.
What has Mack Brown’s attention this week is special teams. The Longhorns have a Lou Groza Award finalist in kicker/punter Anthony Fera. However, their play in the other areas of the game’s third phase hasn’t come close to award-winning.

Fera is now 19 for 20 on field goals and practically automatic. He’s also a top-25 punter nationally when it comes to pinning opponents inside the 20 and 10. There can be no complaining about his contributions.

But some of Texas’ other special teams numbers this season are not too friendly. Consider the following:

Kickoffs: Nick Rose earned praise from Brown as a freshman for his knack for touchbacks. This season, he’s getting those on 45 percent of his kickoffs, an above-average rate nationally. The coverage of those kicks has been the greater issue.

Kick coverage: Texas ranks fifth-worst in FBS at giving up returns of 30-plus yards, at a rate of nearly 30 percent. Opposing returners are getting stopped short of the 25-yard line just 36 percent of the time.

Kick returns: The Longhorns are averaging 20.9 yards per return, which ranks 74th nationally. Less than 13 percent of Texas’ returns have gone for 30 or more yards. No touchdowns, either.

Punt coverage: Texas is giving up 12.1 yards per punt return, which ranks 107th in FBS. The Longhorns have permitted four returns of 20-plus yards.

Punt returns: If not for Daje Johnson’s 85-yard score against Oklahoma, Texas would be averaging 7.8 yards per punt return. That would rank outside the top 70 nationally. Jaxon Shipley might be the solution here after averaging 13 yards on his four returns last week.

Penalties: Texas ranks among the 10 worst nationally when it comes to special teams penalties, with 18 this season.

Against Texas Tech, the Longhorns allowed a 51-yard touchdown run by a punter, drew a roughing penalty and Fera had a 19-yard punt. Brown liked what he saw from the kick coverage and Shipley’s returns, but kick returns and punt coverage are an issue.

“Those were two things that we need to fix,” Brown said.

That might be easier said than done this week. Weather forecasts call for freezing rain, temperatures below freezing and 15 mph winds in Waco. There’s no way to simulate that in practice, but Brown has already started thinking ahead.

“You've got a situation on Saturday afternoon, you can probably kick it out (on kickoffs) two quarters and you'll probably have to look at some other type of kick for two quarters,” he said, “because if it's 15 miles an hour right in your face, I don't know that you're going to kick it out very often.”

Fera isn’t a fan of rubgy-style kicking either, which will complicate punts. With Fera’s experience kicking in adverse weather at Penn State, the Longhorns won’t have to worry much about his field goals and extra points.

“I do feel like he's as good as there is out there in his field goals,” Brown said. “He's just been unbelievable.”

That’s an invaluable asset, especially in a game this big. But Fera can’t fix Texas’ specials team woes all by himself.
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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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. 23 Nick Rose
Sophomore kicker



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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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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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The Texas 10: Week 10 

November, 5, 2012
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Each week, HornsNation will rank Texas' top 10 performers of the season up to this point:

1. David Ash: The quarterback bounced back from his outing at Kansas to prove what a vital part of the offense and team he has become. Ash now has 15 touchdowns against just five interceptions and has completed 68 percent of his passes.

2. Alex Okafor: Maybe more important than what he has done on the field, Okafor has stepped up off the field and started to become the leader Texas needs on the defense. The senior spurred the defense on with a halftime speech at Kansas and continued to let his emotions show and guide the defense against Texas Tech.

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The Texas 10: Week 8 

October, 22, 2012
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Each week, HornsNation will rank Texas' top 10 performers of the season up to this point:

1. David Ash: The sophomore bounced back from what looked to be a bad wrist injury and what was a bad outing against Oklahoma to lead the offense to 56 points. Ash avoided the costly turnover and connected with Mike Davis on a 67-yard pass play.


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AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas coach Mack Brown had a simple and straightforward answer about the ills that have hit the Texas kick coverage team.

"The returners have been better than our tacklers."

Well, there you go. See how easy it was to clear all that up.

Couple that answer with a new-found commitment to the always inspiring squib kick and maybe everything will be fine at Texas. But still there is the lingering thought that things should be better than fine when it comes to Texas kick coverage team.

This after all was a celebrated group after the first two weeks of the season. They had dubbed themselves the Wild Bunch. Dalton Santos' legend was growing with every screaming trip he made down the field. Kicker Nick Rose's cannon leg was being canonized. Brown was talking about how he wants his special teams to be the best in the country. And the coach told the media of how Texas had dedicated more time to special teams in the preseason and were now seeing the fruits of its labor.

Then Ole Miss went and returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown.

It was humid. The players were tired. They should have been subbed more.

Those excuses, offered by those in burnt orange, seemed plausible. Maybe indeed it was an aberration.

Or maybe not. Oklahoma State was forced into three touchbacks. But on its three kick returns it averaged 32 yards. Another kick, a squib, went out of bounds and allowed OSU to start on the 35. (There was some controversy over a missed call on the play. It appeared to hit an OSU player before going out of bounds.)

Against West Virginia, Texas allowed kick returns of 44 and 67 yards before it decided it did not have the athletes or the lane discipline to kick it deep to the Mountaineers. So from that point forward Texas went with squib kicks.

Even then Stedman Bailey picked up a ball at the eight, wove through tacklers and made it to the 24.

Texas is 53rd nationally in kick coverage, allowing 20.37 yards. And for all the talk about Rose’s leg he only has 11 touchbacks in 40 attempts.

The counter to all this is that Texas does have very good returners itself. The Longhorns are 17th with an average of 26.47 pre return and have had a 100-yard score by D.J. Monroe.

This week’s opponent, Oklahoma, is 31st with a 24.63 average. That’s better than Ole Miss (72) and West Virginia (61).
AUSTIN, Texas -- Head coach Mack Brown and the rest of the Longhorns coaching staff will continue to evaluate their freshmen class as they try to determine which players to redshirt as the season wears on.

Texas has played 14 freshmen through three games.

“That will probably continue to occur until the seventh week of the season,” Brown said. “You won’t travel with all of them but you still look at them.”

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Kenny Vaccaro didn’t care about the 66 points Texas scored.

It was the 31 points that the defense gave up that was driving him crazy.

"We had a lot of big plays but I think a lot of its gets canceled out by the big touchdowns we gave up," the Texas safety said. "You can’t give up big plays."

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The Texas 10: Ranking the Longhorns 

September, 10, 2012
9/10/12
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Each week, HornsNation will rank Texas' top 10 performers of the season up to this point:

1. LB Jordan Hicks
We are starting to see the Hicks that everyone expected coming out of high school. He’s playing and not thinking as much in second year under Manny Diaz. Undisputed leader of emerging linebacking corps had team-high nine tackles against New Mexico.

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3 up, 3 down: Texas 45, UNM 0 

September, 9, 2012
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AUSTIN, Texas -- A look at the positives and negatives from Texas’ 45-0 win over New Mexico.

THREE UP

1. Goose eggs: Not only did Texas get the shutout, it did not allow the New Mexico offense into the redzone. This marks the third time in three games that Texas has shutout the Lobos. Texas has 11 shutouts in Mack Brown’s 15 years.

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