To understand why Texas might need five freshmen defensive tackles to play right away, consider the program’s recent recruiting whiffs.
In 2013, Mack Brown signed 15 players and none was a tackle. That was the year Fort Worth Arlington Heights’ A’Shawn Robinson eschewed the Longhorns for Alabama, where Robinson, a mountain of a man, helped the Tide to the national title in 2015. He would be entering his senior season in Tuscaloosa had he not left early for the NFL Draft.
In 2014, Charlie Strong got hired late and ended up with Poona Ford and Chris Nelson. Both tackles are still with the team.
In 2015, Texas made a push for five-star Gladewater tackle Daylon Mack, but lost him to Texas A&M. That left the Horns with just one tackle, Du’Vonta Lampkin, who failed to qualify academically and is now at Oklahoma.
To recap: from three classes, Texas ended up with a total of two tackles. All of those swings and misses intensified the position’s need in 2016, so the coaching staff canvassed a two-state area and found what they were looking for in Louisiana (D’Andre Christmas-Giles and Gerald Wilbon), Houston (Jordan Elliott) and the Dallas area (Chris Daniels and Marcel Southall).
Yet for all of the talk about the new guys, what this unit needs most is improvement by its returning players.
- Naashon Hughes — Could be poised for a breakout season after recording 5.5 sacks in 2015 (most among returners).
- Poona Ford — Solid pass-rusher, but struggles to hold position against the run. If only he could grow taller (5-11).
- Paul Boyette — Married man in the middle said he’ll mentor the five freshman tackles UT is bringing in.
- Charles Omenihu — Has beefed up to 262 pounds and is no longer the gangly 6-6 freshman from a year ago.
- Bryce Cottrell — Has the ability to get to the quarterback but needs to develop a mean streak.
- Chris Nelson — Will need to progress if he wants to withstand the wave of freshmen.
- Breckyn Hager — Unpolished but his motor runs high. The Westlake product recently migrated here from linebacker and now must get bigger (6-3, 230).
- Derick Roberson — Former blue-chip recruit can’t stay healthy long enough to show if he was worth the hype. Last year, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford called Roberson the team’s best pass-rusher.
- Quincy Vasser — Utility man can help out inside or outside.
2016 freshmen: Screaming from the rooftops that he needed more tackles, Charlie Strong headed into the eve of signing day with a commitment from just one, Gerald Wilbon (Destrahan, La.). Then an avalanche of them came rolling in and when the dust settled the Longhorns had added five players to the depth-depleted position. Jordan Elliott (Houston Westside), D’Andre Christmas-Giles (New Orleans St. Augustine), Chris Daniels (Euless Trinity) and Marcel Southall (Duncanville) could all get on the field this fall. The same goes for end Andrew Fitzgerald, of Flower Mound Marcus, who Strong has called the dark horse of the class.
2015 review: After being praised all camp, the line turned in a decidedly disappointing season. Tank Jackson was never himself again following a 2014 foot injury, and veteran ends Shiro Davis and Bryce Cottrell sort of leveled off and didn’t become the QB assassins they’d hoped to be. The unit’s most consistent performer, tackle Hassan Ridgeway, battled injuries and his absence in game 12 at Baylor contributed to the Bears running for 395 yards. To the surprise of some draft analysts, Ridgeway turned pro and is expected to be a middle-round pick in the NFL Draft.
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