Big 12: Darrien Howard

With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Monday with defensive line. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWith a healthy and productive Devonte Fields this fall, TCU's defensive line could be an elite unit.
1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 2): Devonte Fields appears to be back, which is a scary proposition for the rest of the Big 12. The 2012 Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year basically had a fruitless sophomore campaign, which ended with season-ending foot surgery. But this spring, defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas noted that Fields was making the plays he did as a freshman All-American. Even without Fields, this would be a good D-line, headlined by veteran tackles Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson. But with Fields playing up to his potential, this line could be elite.

2. Oklahoma (1): Not only did the Sooners return the entire line that destroyed Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, they’ve added three redshirt freshmen who are clamoring for playing time. Charles Walker is the most athletic tackle on the roster, and he ran the fastest tackle 40 time (4.67 seconds) of the Bob Stoops era. Tackle Matt Romar quietly emerged this spring and could be on the verge of taking away snaps from some of the veterans inside. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo showed this spring he's yet another Sooner capable of getting to the quarterback off the edge. There's a debate on the best D-line in the league. There’s no debate on the deepest, with Oklahoma capable of going three-deep across the board.

3. Baylor (6): Coach Art Briles believes he has one of the best defensive lines in the country, and there's reason to believe he might be right. The Bears made the biggest jump on this list, thanks to the development of end Shawn Oakman and emergence of tackle Javonte Magee. Briles called the 6-foot-9 Oakman “unblockable” during the spring. Oakman already flashed plenty of potential last season as a sophomore, finishing sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss. Magee, who might be the most highly-touted high school defender Briles has ever signed, sat out his freshman season while dealing with a personal issue. But he established himself this spring and could beat out returning starter Beau Blackshear. With former four-star signee Andrew Billings (who played as a true freshman) also poised for a big year at the other tackle spot, Briles could indeed be proven correct in the fall.

4. Texas (3): The Longhorns boast two of the league’s blue-chip defensive linemen in end Cedric Reed and tackle Malcom Brown. But whether this unit rises to the top of the league will hinge on the supporting cast. If athletic end Shiro Davis and run-stuffing tackle Desmond Jackson play up to their potential, and the Longhorns can get a boost from incoming freshmen Derick Roberson and Poona Ford, this could be a foundational positional unit in Charlie Strong’s first season.

5. Kansas State (4): Like Texas, the Wildcats have two blue-chip pieces returning up front in All-Big 12 end Ryan Mueller and tackle Travis Britz. They’re banking they’ll soon be adding a third in Terrell Clinkscales, who will be arriving to Manhattan shortly. Clinkscales, whom the Wildcats snatched away from Nebraska, was the nation’s No. 4-rated juco DT, and at 315 pounds, could be the run-stuffer K-State currently lacks.

6. Oklahoma State (5): With so much turnover elsewhere, the Cowboys will be counting on their line to be their anchor defensively. There’s reason to believe it could be that and more. Sam Wren received votes for Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year last season, while Emmanuel Ogbah garnered consideration for Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Throw in promising redshirt freshmen Vili Leveni, Ben Hughes and Vincent Taylor, who all showed signs this spring they might be ready to contribute, along with veterans James Castleman, Ofa Hautau and Jimmy Bean, and Oklahoma State could have the anchor up front it needs while the rest of the defense retools.

7. West Virginia (7): This will probably be the weakest area of West Virginia defense, but with their talent at linebacker, the Mountaineers don’t have to be great up front. Dontrill Hyman, Christian Brown and Kyle Rose are currently the starters coming out of the spring. But the player to watch up front is sophomore Darrien Howard, who rapidly progressed since having his redshirt pulled late in 2013. If Howard develops into an impact player, he could give the Mountaineers a huge jolt up front.

8. Texas Tech (9): The Red Raiders tried to get by this spring while awaiting the horde of defensive line help set to arrive this summer. All told, the Red Raiders signed four juco D-linemen, only one of which – Keland McElrath -- enrolled early (McElrath was hobbled by a stress fracture all spring to boot). To be better up front, Tech, which ranked ninth in run defense last fall, will need at least a couple of its juco transfers to hit.

9. Kansas (10): Keon Stowers quietly has become as one of the better tackles in the league. He was the defensive MVP of Kansas' spring game after collecting eight tackles from his defensive tackle spot, and he was voted captain for a second straight year. Stowers and linebacker Ben Heeney will lead a defense that returns nine starters and could surprise after gaining confidence from playing Oklahoma and Texas tough last season.

10: Iowa State (8): The Cyclones took it on the chin this spring, with projected D-line starters Rodney Coe and David Irving both getting kicked off the team. Iowa State got a boost shortly after spring ball ended when 2013 starting tackle Brandon Jensen changed his mind about leaving the team. The Cyclones should be solid at end with Cory Morrissey and Mitchell Meyers, but even with Jensen’s return, interior line depth is a major concern.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: DL

February, 24, 2014
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Monday with defensive line. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the defensive lines at the moment:

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesOklahoma end Charles Tapper will lead the Big 12's best defensive line in 2014.
1. Oklahoma: D-line began as a weakness but quickly turned into a strength under first-year position coach Jerry Montgomery. End Charles Tapper was an All-Big 12 selection as a sophomore, and tackle Jordan Phillips was on his way to earning similar honors before a back injury ended his season prematurely. Both players are back. So is Geneo Grissom, who had three sacks in the bowl win over Alabama. Nose guard Jordan Wade earned a starting role late in 2013, and Chuka Ndulue will be a starter for a third season. Basically, the entire rotation returns. If Phillips rebounds from the injury, this could prove to be Oklahoma’s finest D-line since 2009, when NFL All-Pro Gerald McCoy roamed the middle.

2. TCU: DE Devonte Fields, the Associated Press’ Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman in 2012, had an empty season in 2013 thanks to a suspension, then a season-ending foot injury. If Fields can return to the player he was, TCU will be formidable up front. Chucky Hunter was a second-team All-Big 12 pick inside last season, and he’ll be flanked by an array of experienced tackles in Davion Pierson and Tevin Lawson, who were all part of the rotation last season. Ends Terrell Lathan, James McFarland and Mike Tuaua, who combined for 11 sacks in 2013, all return as well. Even with DT Jon Lewis giving up football, TCU's D-line figures to be as deep as any in the league.

3. Texas: Cedric Reed, one of the best sack men in the Big 12 last season, returns after giving the NFL a cursory thought. The Longhorns have to replace Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat on the other side, but ESPN 300 recruit Derick Roberson, the No. 8 DE in the Class of 2014, could help right away. The Longhorns should also be stout inside, with run-stuffing tackles Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson back to clog the middle.

4. Kansas State: Ryan Mueller, who was eighth nationally with 11.5 sacks last season, comes back after a breakout All-Big 12 season. Travis Britz is an all-conference-caliber tackle and gives K-State one of the better one-two punches on the D-line in the league. Joining them will be Terrell Clinkscales, who was the No. 4 junior college DT in the 2014 class. The Wildcats pried Clinkscales away from Nebraska, and at 315 pounds he could be the perfect complement to Britz, who relies more on quickness.

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
John Rivera/Icon SMIBaylor defensive end Shawn Oakman will play a bigger role next season.
5. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose two-time All-Big 12 tackle Calvin Barnett. James Castleman, however, will be a three-year starter, and end Jimmy Bean had a career night in the Cotton Bowl with three tackles for loss. The key to the Cowboys fielding one of the better lines in the league again will be whether Ben Hughes, Vincent Taylor and/or Vili Leveni can emerge inside after redshirting in 2013. All three are promising prospects, especially Taylor, who was an ESPN 300 recruit in the 2013 class.

6. Baylor: The Bears feature two of the more intriguing defensive linemen in the league. DE Shawn Oakman, a former Penn State transfer with tremendous length at 6-foot-9, finished sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss last season, but he tailed off in Big 12 play. Baylor will ask him to play a much bigger role along the line, and he has the potential to give the Bears a unique playmaker there. On the inside, Baylor will lean more on Andrew Billings, who was part of the DT rotation as a freshman. If both Billings and Oakman play up to their vast potential, Baylor could be a handful up front.

7. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose two of three starters along the D-line, including second-team All-Big 12 end Will Clarke. West Virginia is hoping for big things from DE Kyle Rose, who played a lot as a sophomore. Dontrill Hyman will likely fill a starting role on the other side, though he could get pushed for time by Eric Kinsey and Noble Nwachukwu, who both will be in their third year in the program. The Mountaineers will lean on Christian Brown and Darrien Howard at nose guard. Howard was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and played as a freshman. There’s some talent and potential here.

8. Iowa State: Like Texas Tech, Iowa State loaded up on immediate defensive line help, signing three juco defensive ends in Dalyou Pierson, Terry Ayeni and Gabe Luna, who is enrolled already for spring ball. Those three together with All-Big 12 honorable-mention selection Cory Morrissey and sophomore Mitchell Meyers should give Iowa State a solid rotation at end. Rodney Coe, who started the last four games, will anchor the Cyclones inside.

9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose their two best defensive linemen in Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush, and Tech got pushed around up front anyway last season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury recognized this deficiency and signed four juco defensive linemen, all of whom have a chance to play immediately. Of the returning linemen, Branden Jackson was by far the most productive, totaling nine tackles for loss and four sacks as a starter.

10. Kansas: Despite also losing two starters, the Jayhawks have experience up front. Defensive captain Keon Stowers is back after manning the middle in 2013. Ben Goodman returns as well in Kansas’ “buck” role, and he is coming off a very solid sophomore season. Goodman’s backup, Michael Reynolds, and rotation players Tedarian Johnson and Ty McKinney give the Jayhawks depth.
Signing day has come and gone, but we'll have plenty of coverage looking more closely at each Big 12 team's class. This morning, we're looking at how each team filled its needs. We ran down the top of the Big 12 alphabet earlier today. Here's the second half:

OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Needs filled: The Cowboys once again lost both starters at defensive end, and junior-college transfer Sam Wren could have an immediate impact. ESPN 300 member Vincent Taylor is a big presence and might contribute early, too. In all, OSU signed six defensive linemen. In this offense, you can never have too many receivers, especially gifted ones. Marcell Ateman and Ra'Shaad Samples will have some fun in Stillwater.

Holes remaining: The Pokes lost one starter at linebacker and will have two seniors on next season's team, but didn't sign a linebacker in this class. We'll see if they can make up for that with development and recruiting in 2014.

TEXAS LONGHORNS

Needs filled: Texas is getting some big upgrades on the offensive line, headlined by the nation's No. 1 center, Darius James. Kent Perkins and Jake Raulerson are also top-10 tackles nationally and guard Rami Hammad and juco tackle Desmond Harrison fill out the class, which was one-third offensive linemen.

Holes remaining: Texas kept striking out with defensive linemen and ended up signing zero, despite losing Alex Okafor and Brandon Moore, and with Jackson Jeffcoat a rising senior. That could be a problem soon, but the Longhorns lost Daeshon Hall and missed out on Andrew Billings, who went to Baylor.

TCU HORNED FROGS

Needs filled: The running backs were drained after last season, but the Frogs had one of the league's best hauls at the position, grabbing ESPN 300 member Kyle Hicks and Trevorris Johnson, two of the best backs in Texas. The Frogs are also loading up on 6-foot, 200-pound linebackers who'll be able to cover in the open field. Paul Whitmill headlines that group, but the Frogs signed three linebackers with that profile.

Holes remaining: Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson are gone, and though LaDarius Brown and Brandon Carter will be there for 2013, you need a lot more big-time receivers than that to win in the Big 12. TCU signed four athletes, but no pure receivers in this class.

TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Needs filled: Receivers are always a must in this offense, and Tech got a pair of good ones in Dylan Cantrell and Justis Nelson. After Seth Doege graduated and Scotty Young transferred, Tech needed a quarterback to follow Michael Brewer and Davis Webb, the nation's No. 24 pro-style passer, could be that guy.

Holes remaining: The Red Raiders might be a little thin at defensive tackle after signing just one in this class. Kerry Hyder will be a senior and Leon Mackey graduated. Tech will have to develop that position and maybe put some weight on some defensive ends -- a position where Texas Tech is well-stocked.

WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS

Needs filled: Defense, defense, defense. West Virginia needs some talent upgrades all over the field, and landed linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton and ESPN 300 member Darrien Howard. Hodari Christian is another talented linebacking prospect and Dontrill Hyman will try to have an immediate impact as a pass-rusher out of junior college. WVU signed four outside linebackers and two defensive ends.

Holes remaining: Where are the cover guys? WVU needs help in the secondary and got it in safeties Malik Greaves and Jeremy Tyler, but didn't sign a pure cornerback in this class.

Big 12 recruiting primer

February, 6, 2013
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ESPN RecruitingNation has signing day covered. Follow ESPNU’s coverage, chat with analysts and get breaking news on our Signing Day Live page beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET through 7 p.m. ET. For more on what to expect on signing day, check out the Big 12 conference breakdown Insider.

Bold Prediction for the Big 12: Kliff Kingsbury saw a lot of success as offensive coordinator at Texas A&M. He’ll see similar success as head coach at Texas Tech.

Baylor
Biggest Need: Offensive linemen to protect the talented skill-position players.
Biggest Recruit: ESPN 150 receiver Robbie Rhodes (Fort Worth, Texas/Southwest) has the tools to be not only a starter but also an all-conference player as a freshman.

Iowa State
Biggest Need: With only one commit at the position, the Cyclones need linebackers.
Biggest Recruit: Four-star offensive tackle Shawn Curtis (Orlando, Fla./Olympia), at 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, should be a future leader for the Cyclones’ offensive line.

Kansas
Biggest Need: The Jayhawks need a running back or two.
Biggest Recruit: Juco defensive tackle Marquel Combs (Memphis, Tenn./Pierce College) is the No. 3 junior college prospect in the country for a reason. He’s a run-stopper.

Kansas State
Biggest Need: Running back, just like its Sunflower State counterpart.
Biggest Recruit: Linebacker Nick Ramirez (Lee’s Summit, Mo./Lee’s Summit West) is the only four-star commit, but three-star junior college quarterback Jake Waters (Council Bluffs, Iowa/Iowa Western Community College) might be the sleeper of the class.

Oklahoma
Biggest Need: Linebacker is a huge necessity.
Biggest Recruit: If ESPN 150 running back Keith Ford (Cypress, Texas/Cypress Ranch) stays healthy, he could have a promising college career -- which could lead to an NFL opportunity.

Oklahoma State
Biggest Need: The Cowboys need help at quarterback and linebacker.
Biggest Recruit: ESPN 300 receivers Ra'Shaad Samples (Dallas/Skyline) and Marcell Ateman (Wylie, Texas/Wylie East) bring different dynamics but similar results to the football field.

TCU
Biggest Need: Playmaking wide receivers.
Biggest Recruit: ESPN 300 running back Kyle Hicks (Arlington, Texas/Martin) has the potential to be outstanding, but three-star athlete Ty Slanina (East Bernard, Texas/East Bernard) could be stellar at several spots.

Texas
Biggest Need: While Texas is strong on the offensive line, it needs defensive linemen.
Biggest Recruit: ESPN 150 center Darius James (Killeen, Texas/Harker Heights) leads a very talented class of Longhorns offensive linemen.

Texas Tech
Biggest Need: The Red Raiders could use more defensive tackles.
Biggest Recruit: Quarterback Davis Webb (Prosper, Texas/Prosper), an Elite 11 finalist last summer, could be special under the wing of Kliff Kingsbury.

West Virginia
Biggest Need: Players in the secondary.
Biggest Recruit: ESPN 300 inside linebacker Darrien Howard (Dayton, Ohio/Chaminade-Julienne) has the tools to shut down a lot of plays before they even get started.

Checking on Big 12 recruiting rankings

November, 29, 2012
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Our crack recruiting team here at ESPN updated its class rankings Insider, and it's now extended to the top 40. You'll find four Big 12 teams in the top 25, but there's a fifth in the new top 40.

You'll need Insider to see the full rankings, but Texas is checking in as the Big 12's top representative at No. 8. The Longhorns have 15 commits, but the No. 8 spot is the lowest the class has been all season.

Oklahoma has the Big 12's second-best class, checking in at No. 20. The Sooners' class was as high as No. 12 earlier this recruiting season, and Oklahoma is sitting at 14 commits heading toward February's signing day.

Oklahoma State is at No. 24, where it has been for the duration of the rankings. The Cowboys have 17 commits, including four in the ESPN 300. Baylor's Art Briles is right on the Pokes' heels, though, at No. 25. The Bears have 20 commits, and at one time were as high as No. 21 in our rankings.

The Bears are tied for the third-biggest class in the Big 12 so far. Iowa State (23 commits) has the largest, followed by Texas Tech, with 21.

The team tied with BU in numbers? West Virginia, which is sitting at No. 34. West Virginia's been as high as No. 33, but the Mountaineers have only one commit in the ESPN 300, linebacker Darrien Howard.
June is nearly over, and as we head into July, it's time to update the Big 12 recruiting scorecard. You can see each full class by clicking on the team name, but you'll need ESPN Insider access to see the full coverage.

Here's where the Big 12 stands for the respective 2013 classes, which can't sign letters of intent until February.

Remember, this card is in pencil. Players are free to switch commitments until they sign a letter of intent with a school.

1. Texas Longhorns

Total commits: 15
ESPN 150 commits: 7
Key commits: QB Tyrone Swoopes, C Darius James, OT Jake Raulerson, OT Kent Perkins
Class update: Texas lost the nation's top receiver, Ricky Seals-Jones, but could pick him up later down the line. It added junior-college tight end Geoff Swaim and safety Erik Huhn.

2. Oklahoma Sooners

Total commits: 12
ESPN 150 commits: 4
Key commits: RB Greg Bryant, RB Keith Ford, DE D.J. Ward, QB Cody Thomas
Class update: Oklahoma added three commits since our last update, including a new ESPN 150 member in Thomas. It also added linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni, receiver Jordan Smallwood and athlete Austin Bennett.

3. Baylor Bears

Total commits: 13
ESPNU 150 commits: 1
Key commits: WR Robbie Rhodes, QB Chris Johnson, OLB Raaquan Davis, RB Johnny Jefferson
Class update: Baylor got the biggest pickup in the entire Big 12 since our last update, adding the nation's No. 5 receiver in Rhodes. That allowed the Bears to crack the national top 25, but they were already third in the Big 12. Baylor also added safeties Taion Sells and Austin Jupe as well as outside linebacker Xavier Phillips.

4. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Total commits: 10
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: WR Fred Ross Jr., WR Marcell Ateman, DT Vincent Taylor, OT Zach Crabtree
Class update: The Cowboys added four commits between our April and May updates, then added five more in the past month to leapfrog Texas Tech. OSU has three commits in the ESPN 300, and six players with three stars. It added Taylor, quarterback Luke Del Rio, safety Jordan Sterns, guard Rami Hammad and running back Corion Webster.

5. TCU Horned Frogs

Total commits: 9
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: OLB Paul Whitmill, OLB Sammy Douglas, OG Patrick Morris
Class update: TCU added five commits since our last update, and now has seven three-star commits. The Horned Frogs hopped over Kansas State and Texas Tech after adding defensive end Bryson Henderson, tight end Charlie Reid, cornerback Steve Wesley, tight end Bryson Burtnett and safety George Baltimore. (Future All-Name teamer?)

6. West Virginia Mountaineers

Total commits: 7
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: QB Chavas Rawlins, OT Marcell Lazard, RB DeShawn Coleman
Class update: WVU added three commits since we last updated, getting a nice boost from a slow start on the trail. Three players are four-stars and four are three stars. Inside linebacker Darrien Howard pledged to the Mountaineers, as did guard Tyler Tezeno and inside linebacker Elijah Wellman. Howard is the class' first player from Texas.

7. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Total commits: 7
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: ATH Devin Lauderdale, WR Dylan Cantrell, OG Baylen Brown
Class update: Texas Tech didn't add anyone since our last update, but has two four-star recruits and three three-star commits.

8. Kansas Jayhawks

Total commits: 5
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: TE Ben Johnson, LB Kellen Ash, QB Jordan Darling
Class update: Kansas added two commits since our last update -- Darling and cornerback Colin Spencer -- and jumped ahead of in-state rival K-State. Each of Kansas' commits is ranked.

9. Kansas State Wildcats

Total commits: 4
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: ILB Tanner Wood, DE Jordan Willis, WR LeAndrew Gordon
Class update: Kansas State hasn't added a commit since our update a month ago, but all four commits have at least three stars.

10. Iowa State Cyclones

Total commits: 4
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: QB Trevor Hodge, OG Jacob Homa, S Kamari Syrie
Class notes: Iowa State wasn't even on the scoreboard the last time we updated, getting all four of its 2013 commits in the last month. However, only one recruit, Hodge, is ranked. It also added Homa, Syrie and tight end Emmanuel Bibbs.

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