21 December 2011
When the Longhorns adopted a "brick-by-brick" approach to rebuilding their football program, they had to have known it would be a multiyear process. Even Mack Brown admitted that he was more interested in the process of improvement than in results. Although it's numbers like wins and losses that determine the job security of a head coach and the perception of his team, Brown knew that it would take more than just one season to restore Texas' football program to national prominence and title contention once again.
Because, for once, Texas is rebuilding - through reloading.
It hasn't been a secret that many of the Longhorns' premier players have been underclassmen. Texas has a freshman and sophomore fighting over the starting quarterback spot and two true freshmen showing considerable promise at running back. Jaxon Shipley, another rookie, proved to be the Longhorns' best receiver. Two freshman and two sophomores start on the Texas offensive line. All but one of the roster's defensive linemen returns next season. And, despite losing three players to the NFL Draft, the Longhorns' secondary boasts a first-team All-Big 12 member and the conference's defensive freshman of the year.
Last season, Texas didn't play in a bowl game for the first time since 1997 with its season ending on Thanksgiving. This time around, the Longhorns are getting two games after Thanksgiving - the loss to Baylor and the chance to redeem themselves in the Holiday Bowl against Cal. Regardless of the outcome, however, Texas will get another 13 practices under their belt before the squad reports back for spring practice Jan. 17, a luxury the 'Horns had to do without in 2010.
"The more reps you get at anything, it'll make you better," said senior defensive tackle Kheeston Randall. "These 13 practices we're getting are crucial for these guys heading into next year and into the spring."
Because of their youth, the Longhorns' extra bowl practices will pay off, along with the first opportunity to spend a full offseason with their new coaching staff. Mack Brown hired six new coaches after the end of the season - co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, offensive line coach Stacy Searels, wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt, defensive tackles coach Bo Davis, head strength coach Bennie Wylie, and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. But almost none of them have yet to reap the benefits of an entire offseason with their players. With the exceptional recruiting class that came in before this season and the one set to come in before next season, Texas should be in great shape by the time the 2012 season kicks off.
"I am excited about what's to come," said sophomore guard Mason Walters. "We're young in some key positions and I think with a little more experience and growht, we can be a contender."
Walters is one of four returning starters on the offensive linemen. Along with freshman left tackle Josh Cochran, freshman center Dominic Espinosa, and right tackle Trey Hopkins, Walters will make up what is sure to be a formidable foundation for future Longhorns offenses. Considering the caliber of running backs that Texas will have next season with Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, who combined for more than 1,100 rushing yards this season, and two-time Gatorade National Player of the Year and record-holder for most touchdowns scored by a high schooler Jonathan Gray, Texas should dominant its opponents on the ground.
As for the defensive line, Randall is the only starter that won't be back for the 2012 campaign. Outside of the spectacular senior, the rest of the defensive tackles were a major question mark before this year as only there was only one start between them. But after guys like Calvin Howell, Ashton Dorsey, Desmond Jackson, and Chris Whaley played so well, the Longhorns may not have much to worry about at that spot, even without Randall. And with elite pass rushers like Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor coming back, Texas should have one of the nation's best defensive lines next season.
"It'll be totally better," Randall said. "You've got pretty much everybody returning except for me. Alex [Okafor] is going to be a monster and the DT room is going to have so much competition in there. They're going to be fighting for spots and it's going to make everybody better."
Another thing the Longhorns will benefit from is the fact that they finally gave in and nabbed a couple of junior college recruits for 2012 - offensive guard Donald Hawkins and defensive tackle Brandon Moore - both physical freaks that will have shots to start in 2012. They double the number of junior college players to come to Texas during the Mack Brown era and the first to play on the Forty Acres since 2001. Their average height is 6'6" and average weight is 330 pounds.
"They're both big, talented kids," said head coach Mack Brown. "We haven't been actively involved in junior college recruiting in our 14 years at Texas, but this year we felt like there were two really special young men that fit our needs and would give us immediate depth since they can come in January."
Also, Texas should have a slightly easier schedule next season. The 'Horns will welcome five new opponents as they'll face Wyoming and New Mexico at home while taking a road trip to Ole Miss to round out their nonconference schedule. They will also see TCU and West Virginia in Big 12 play as Texas A&M and Missouri depart for the SEC next summer. Not only that, but Baylor's Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, Oklahoma's Landry Jones, and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden will all likely hear their name called next April's NFL Draft.
"It's a process," said Walters. "I wouldn't get out of bed and try to play football if I thought we would lose a game. We'll have every expectation in the world to win every game."
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