Tom Herman inherits a Texas roster full of potential. With around 65 scholarship players expected to return for the 2017 season, the Longhorns’ new head coach won’t have massive numbers to operate with in his first official cycle in recruiting. His first job is to recruit the players that are already on campus and secure the immediate future.
Charlie Strong left him a strong base for the 2017 class, and Herman wasted little time adding new names. Attrition is always expected when a new regime takes over; Herman likely has about 20 scholarships to play with, and Texas sits at 12 commitments.
Here’s where Texas’ defense is at. Players are as classified for 2016.
Defensive scholarships: 31
Scholarship players (5): Naashon Hughes (junior), Charles Omenihu (soph.), Breckyn Hager (soph.), Malcolm Roach (fresh.), Andrew Fitzgerald (fresh.)
2017 needs: 2-3
Commitments: Taquon Graham, Temple
Texas discovered a future star in Roach. He’ll line up at end alongside Hager or Omenihu. That trio, along with Hughes, gives the Longhorns a strong two-deep at defensive end heading into the spring. The position needs replenishing, however. Strong’s staff locked up two commitments in Graham and Liberty-Eylau’s Lagaryonn Carson, but that commitments list is back to one with Carson’s eligibility in question; he’s no longer considered a UT pledge and likely will head to a junior college after a drama-filled senior season that resulted in his suspension from his team.
The top remaining target on the board is Galena Park North Shore’s K’Lavon Chaisson, a 6-4, 220-pound pass-rushing specialist. He’s long held a Texas offer and is planning his official visit to Austin in this final month before signing day. Two other ends who are committed to Houston — Alex Duke and Joe Anderson — also are names to monitor. The Longhorns need to sign more than one end in the 2017 class, so expect a strong push toward new names if Chaisson chooses a different destination.
Scholarship players (7): Poona Ford (junior), Chris Nelson (soph.), Jordan Elliott (fresh.), Gerald Wilbon (fresh.), Marcel Southall (fresh.), Chris Daniels (fresh.), D’Andre Christmas (fresh.)
2017 needs: 1-2
There’s unproven talent developing at defensive tackle after back-to-back strong recruiting classes at this position unit. Elliott showed the versatility to play defensive end, but his home is likely as a three-technique tackle in a four-man front. Ford is the elder statesman. All the young talent means defensive tackle isn’t a need position for 2017. Texas can be picky with offers, and the big prize is Houston Bellaire Episcopal’s Marvin Wilson, a five-star prospect who’s No. 1 on many statewide recruiting lists. Texas isn’t considered a leader for him at this point, but he hasn’t ruled out the Longhorns and appears willing to listen to Herman’s late pitch. His teammate, five-star offensive tackle Walker Little, recently committed to Stanford over Texas and a few others. Dallas Bishop Dunne’s Damion Daniels is still a target.
Scholarship players (7): Malik Jefferson (soph.), Anthony Wheeler (soph.), Edwin Freeman (soph.), Demarco Boyd (fresh.), Erick Fowler (fresh.), Cameron Townsend (fresh.), Jeffrey McCulloch (fresh.)
2017 needs: 1
Linebacker isn’t unlike most position units on Texas’ defense: Young and full of potential. Jefferson is the most talked about player at the position, but the top get from the 2015 class is coming off an up-and-down sophomore season after bursting onto the scene as a freshman sensation. Whether he recaptures his promise as a player is important for the defensive staff; he provides leadership and stability to the team when he’s on his game. The rest of the group is unproven, but most come with strong recruiting stock. Fowler, from Manor, arrived to campus late and didn’t make the impact he’d hoped for as a freshman. His playmaking ability would be a welcomed addition to the outside spot.
The Longhorns don’t have a linebacker commitment yet, and it wouldn’t be a catastrophe if they fail to sign one in this class. One name to watch, however, is former UH commitment Marqez Bimage, a three-star prospect from Brenham who already has a relationship with Herman and the new defensive staff. And Westlake’s Levi Jones also holds a Texas offer.
Scholarship players (7): Holton Hill (soph.), Davante Davis (soph.), Kris Boyd (soph.), John Bonney (soph.), Antwuan Davis (junior), Eric Cuffee (fresh.), Donovan Duvernay (fresh.)
2017 needs: 2-3
Commitments: Josh Thompson, Nacogdoches; Kobe Boyce, Lake Dallas
Playing in the Big 12 requires having numerous cornerbacks, and Texas needed to add at least two more for its 2017 class. The Longhorns are already there with Thompson and Boyce. Thompson is a four-star prospect out of Nacogdoches, the same school that produced current Longhorns safety Brandon Jones last year. Thompson shares some of the same qualities. He’s not as physical as Jones, but is better in coverage and has a lot of range with his six-foot frame. Boyce shares a similar frame with Thompson; he’s a long, rangy defensive back with coverage skills. Boyce held offers from several Big 12 and SEC programs.
Both Thompson and Boyce should be able to sit and learn early in their careers. Strong signed multiple corners with NFL-level talent. Now the task is living up to the hype. Boyd came on late in his sophomore season, and the former Gilmer star possesses the fearless attitude needed for modern-day corners. Hill and Davis come with high pedigrees while Bonney emerged later in the year. Cuffee was a highly-regarded recruit out of Waco.
Texas might be done at the position, though former highly-regarded prospect Kendall Sheffield is a name to watch after having spent time at Blinn College. As is Bishop Dunne’s Chevin Calloway.
Scholarship players (5): Brandon Jones (fresh.), P.J. Locke III (soph.), Jason Hall (junior), DeShon Elliott (soph.), Chris Brown (fresh.)
2017 needs: 1
The safety position has fallen under scrutiny the last few seasons. But there’s talent there and it’s always possible that a current cornerback might roll over to safety. Texas has been successful doing that in the past and it’s one way to improve the coverage deficiencies suffered of late. The Longhorns need consistency there for the defense to take a step forward in 2017. Jones showed playmaking ability on special teams and has all of the natural talent needed to be an all-conference safety. The same could be said for Elliott. Locke was reliable down the stretch and Hall made plays. He’ll be the senior leader of this group in 2017.
Texas hasn’t offered a lot of safeties for 2017, and don’t expect that to change with a month left. It isn’t a need position, and with scholarship numbers theoretically tight, it’s likely a position that won’t be filled unless a special player wants to join the class. South Grand Prairie’s Jeffrey Okudah would be the biggest prize, but Texas is a longshot at best. Hooks’ Montrell Estell is already committed and was an all-state safety, but he’ll likely play wide receiver at Texas.