Big 12: DeMarco Cobbs

Over the weekend, colleeague Max Olson released his helmet stickers for the top performers of the weekend. But I also wanted to highlight some other players who really impressed me in Week 1:

Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State: Running back Tyreek Hill drew the “oohs” and “aahs” with his speed, but Ogbah had just as big an impact for the Cowboys defensively. Facing off against an offensive line starting five seniors, Ogbah was dominant in his first career start, finishing with six tackles, two sacks and two pass breakups. The Big 12 is loaded at defensive end with Cedric Reed, Ryan Mueller, Charles Tapper and Shawn Oakman. Ogbah, just a sophomore, showed Saturday night that he might be in that class, too.

[+] EnlargeKevin White, Bradley Sylve
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsKevin White's 100-yard game against Alabama could mean he's the go-to receiver West Virginia needs.
Jay Lee, WR, Baylor: With Baylor ailing at wide receiver, Lee displayed that he’s also capable of taking on a primary role. With Corey Coleman and Antwan Goodley dealing with nagging injuries and Clay Fuller out with a broken collarbone, Lee hauled in eight passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. The Bears are overflowing with talent at receiver, especially with the additions of freshmen K.D. Cannon and Davion Hall. But Lee is another reason why.

Kolby Listenbee, WR, TCU: The Horned Frogs have desperately been in need of playmaking at the wide receiver spot. They might have uncovered the answer in Listenbee. The burner hauled in 38- and 36-yard bombs from Trevone Boykin, and added a touchdown grab on a fade late in the game from Matt Joeckel. Listenbee was beating his man all game. The Horned Frogs might finally have a weapon at receiver who can cause concern for the opponent.

Demarco Cobbs, LB, Texas: Cobbs missed the entire 2013 season and was such a non-factor before that anyway that some speculated his college career might be over. But Cobbs appears to have something left in the tank and displayed that with a pick-six in the opener. If the Longhorns suffer any injuries at linebacker, Cobbs could prove to be a key backup.

Kevin White, WR, West Virginia: Other than quarterback Clint Trickett, there wasn’t a more impressive performer against Alabama than White. The senior wideout had nine grabs for 143 yards and a touchdown. The Mountaineers had a solid wide receiving corps last year, but they never had a go-to target emerge. White clearly established himself as the target for Trickett and could be in for a monster season.

Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech: In an otherwise dismal performance, Texas Tech’s running back trio of DeAndre Washington, Quinton White and Stockton looked solid against Central Arkansas. And with Stockton, a true freshman, contributing, the Red Raiders should be fine at the position even with Kenny Williams at linebacker. Stockton had a couple of nice runs while finishing with 38 yards rushing and a nifty 6-yard touchdown.

Tyler Evans, OG, Oklahoma: Evans is in his sixth year with the Sooners, but he hadn’t played since the 2011 season Insight Bowl due to knee injuries. Saturday, Evans got the start at right guard in place of an injured Nila Kasitati, and the offensive line didn’t miss a beat as the Sooners racked up 436 yards of offense. Evans at one point quit football because of the injuries. Instead, he’ll be a valuable cog for the Sooners up front.

Plays that changed the game: Texas

August, 31, 2014
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong promised fans would see a Texas defense that played tougher in 2014. The first impression he and his players presented Saturday, in a 38-7 beatdown of North Texas, did not disappoint. Texas held the Mean Green to 94 total yards of offense, 15 passing yards and picked off four passes to begin the Strong era.

Here's a closer look at four of the Longhorns' top defensive plays, one from each quarter, and how they shaped what proved to be an easy season-opening victory.

1st: Walk-on gets the pick party started

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Dylan Haines burst onto the scene this spring with an interception in the first quarter of the Orange-White spring game. He did it again Saturday night. The third-year sophomore ran to the right place at the right time when Josh Greer's third-down pass deflected off the outstretched hand of tight end Marcus Smith. He grabbed the ball and took off for a 22-yard return.

Teammates mobbed "White Chocolate" -- Haines' nickname handed down from Texas' veteran DBs -- as soon as the play ended. "It's a really special moment," he said. "To share it with the 10 other guys on the field and have everyone come up and celebrate me was a truly awesome feeling." Though Texas didn't capitalize with points, Greer seemed rattled after that misfire. After the game, Haines told reporters Strong did put him on scholarship earlier this month.

2nd: Ten players, no problem?

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Watch this one closely. Unless there's a player hiding somewhere off the screen, it seems Texas got stuck with 10 defenders on the field for a third-and-4. Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford have a reputation for being fearless when it comes to blitzing, and on this play, they send six. Defensive tackle Desmond Jackson takes on the center, clearing the way for linebacker Demarco Cobbs and safety Mykkele Thompson to run past them. Cobbs gets to backup QB Andrew McNulty first and Thompson finishes the job.

UNT punted and Texas answered with an eight-play TD drive. It's a nice breakthrough play for Thompson and Cobbs, who've both endured some struggles in recent years but appear revitalized this fall under the new staff.

3rd: A rare chance to get pressure

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North Texas did not want to throw the ball in this game, especially once Texas started grabbing interceptions. The Mean Green finished with 17 pass attempts and their quarterbacks had more sacks (four) than completed passes (three). Here's one of the few times Greer, a juco transfer making his first FBS start, attempted a pass on first down. Texas defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, one of the team's most enigmatic players, had no trouble here. He went right around UNT's right tackle and brought Greer down from behind. Teammates say the light bulb is coming on for Ridgeway, whose lazy habits limited his opportunities last season. He's the No. 3 defensive tackle in this lineup but could develop into a force.

UNT went three-and-out here and Greer attempted just two more passes the rest of the quarter. "Because they were young, they came in not to lose that game," Bedford said. "They played close to the vest, didn't give us a chance to really get after their quarterback enough. We finally got him in the third and fourth quarter."

4th: One more for the road

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Texas had three interceptions with four minutes left. Not bad at all. But they didn't stop there. More misfortune for Greer, a pass over the middle that bounced off his receiver's hands. Cobbs swooped in to grab the ball out of the air and dashed 28 yards for the pick-six. Cobbs sat out the 2013 season while recovering from a knee injury. The new coaching staff gave him a fresh start, and he rewarded their trust Saturday. If Texas' defense can be this prolific at forcing turnovers and turning them into points, they're going to be a tough out for any opponent.

"Hopefully you see a lot more of that," Bedford said.
Everything seemed fine on the 40 Acres this time two years ago.

The defensive cupboard was well-stocked and Mack Brown was talking up the squad, openly inviting high expectations for his defense and claiming they might be the best in his time in Austin.

With the Acho brothers up front and three future NFL draft picks in the secondary, who could blame him?

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
Jody Gomez/US PresswireJackson Jeffcoat, above, and Alex Okafor combine to form the Big 12's best defensive end tandem.
"It didn’t turn out that way," Brown said this week.

The Longhorns defense was good, but not good enough. It led the Big 12 in total defense, but forced just 18 turnovers for 11th in the Big 12.

Oh, and Texas went 5-7.

The Longhorns bounced back with eight wins in 2011, and in 2012 the hype is back for a defense loaded with NFL talent once again. There is talk that it might be among the nation's best, if not the nation's best.

"I want our defense to live up to those expectations," Brown said. "All of us sitting here in preseason have expectations, especially at a school like the University of Texas. But, until you produce on the field, and we’ll have a better idea of how they look on Saturday, then we’re not sure how good they will be."

Brown's tempering the expectations a bit this time around, but he knows what he has.

The league's No. 1 and No. 2 defensive ends are anything but an unknown commodity. Both Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor could hear their names called in the first round of next April's NFL draft, though Jeffcoat said this week he wants to stay and get his degree from Texas.

Cornerbacks Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom morphed a question mark at cornerback into one of the team's strengths late in the season, and safety Kenny Vaccaro might be the best overall defender in the Big 12.

The one thing most closely resembling a question mark? The middle of the defense.

"I’ve consistently talked about the loss of the four seniors down the middle," Brown said, "and that we’ve got new, young guys in their places."

Linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson were the vocal leaders of the defense last season, but have been replaced by super recruits Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks, joining a speedster on the outside in linebacker Demarco Cobbs, who played quarterback, receiver, safety and returned kicks and punts in high school.

Tackle Kheeston Randall is gone, too, but the Longhorns look well suited to replace him by plugging juco transfer Brandon Moore and reformed running back Chris Whaley at the top of a rotation of five capable contributors in the middle of the defense.

Adrian Phillips moves up to replace four-year starter Blake Gideon at strong safety opposite Vaccaro.

"Until they prove it on Saturday that they’re ready to show that leadership and show that ability to handle Big 12 football at a fast pace, then we have to wait until they prove it before we can anoint them as a great defense," Brown said.

Here's guessing we won't wait long.

HornsNation links: Gray's arrival

August, 8, 2012
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Practice Live, in The Tower Insider: 5:30 p.m. CT.

Carter Strickland writes: It’s finally here. Johnathan Gray's arrival is much-hyped, but he has to get carries. The test for him as well as the team will be how well the running backs manage splitting up those carries.

William Wilkerson writes: Meet Johnathan Gray’s father, James Gray, who remains No. 2 among Texas Tech’s all-time leading rushers and is encouraging his son to outdo him.

Sean Adams: Four Downs Insider Is Demarco Cobbs, the least-talked-about starting LB, maybe the best overall athlete on the defense?

HornsNation links: Wylie's true impact

June, 19, 2012
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video

HornsNation has more coverage of the Texas Longhorns:

Sean Adams writes: Bennie Wylie is a strength-and-conditioning coach, but so much of what he does for the Longhorns is all about intangibles and the passion he breeds within his players.

LHN All-Access Video: The Longhorn Network goes inside Texas' preparation for summer workouts as Wylie sets the tone for the offseason program.

Burnt Orange Breakdown Insider: In the continuing breakdown of the Texas roster, Carter Strickland looks at linebacker Demarco Cobbs. After being injured in 2011, Cobbs could be in for a big 2012.

60 days, 60 stats Insider: As HornsNation breaks down the numbers that matter to Texas in 2012, we look at Mike Davis' receiving numbers and how he will be a bigger contributor in 2012.

Texas spring wrap

May, 9, 2012
5/09/12
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Texas

2011 overall record: 8-4

2011 conference record: 4-5 (6th)

Returning starters:

Offense: 9; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 0
Top returners

RB: Malcolm Brown, C Dominic Espinosa, WR Jaxon Shipley, QB David Ash, LB Jordan Hicks, S Kenny Vaccaro, DE Alex Okafor, CB Carrington Byndom

Key losses

LB Emmanuel Acho, LB Keenan Robinson, K/P Justin Tucker

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Malcolm Brown* (742 yards)

Passing: David Ash* (1,068 yards)

Receiving: Mike Davis* (609 yards)

Tackles: Emmanuel Acho (131)

Sacks: Jackson Jeffcoat (8)

Interceptions: Quandre Diggs* (4)

Spring answers

Quarterbacks maturing: While Texas refuses to name an outright starter before the season, it is clear that both Case McCoy and David Ash have taken strides toward becoming more complete quarterbacks. Ash, who was plagued by indecision and interceptions, matured throughout the spring and has started to become the leader Texas needs him to be. McCoy is still having problems with picks, but has increased the velocity on his throws and, as a result, can make more down the field throws.

Replacements fit: Texas did not have to replace much on the defensive side of the ball -- only three players. But two of those three were the leading tacklers from 2011, linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson. Still, it appears as if the Longhorns have upgraded at the linebacker with Steve Edmond and Demarco Cobbs. Edmond is bigger and faster than Robinson. Cobbs is faster and more agile than Acho. What neither has is experience and that will be tested early in the 2012 season.

Bergeron pushes Brown: Backup running back Joe Bergeron made his case for more carries in the spring. Despite playing in 11 of 13 games, the sophomore only received consistent snaps in two games as a freshman. During those two games, Bergeron rushed for 327 yards. An injury hampered him the rest of the season, but he was healthy over the spring and showed the coaching staff that he is ready to challenge Malcolm Brown for the starting spot at running back.

Fall questions

Who is going wild? Texas deployed the wild formation to great success under first year co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin in 2011. But headed into 2012, the Longhorns have yet to figure out who will be running that formation. There are several candidates, many of which are freshmen. Johnathan Gray, the most heralded recruit of the 2012 class, should get the first shot. The running back has great speed and instincts but has to prove he can read the linebackers and make the right decisions. Texas also will try two other freshmen, Daje Johnson and Jalen Overstreet. Overstreet was a high school quarterback so he could bring the option of throwing out of the wild as well.

Rotating quarterbacks: Texas could not make up its mind until the last game of the season last year when it came to quarterbacks. In that game Ash took every snap. Whether or not he continues to take the significant snaps for Texas is the largest question surrounding this team. If Ash is at all shaky under center, the Longhorns have no qualms about going with McCoy. But if both finally prove inadequate, Texas might have to make a decision on freshman Connor Brewer. Texas would prefer to redshirt Brewer, but the Longhorns have suffered through two years of poor quarterback play and a third may not be tolerated by fans.

Wide receiver: Mike Davis, Jaxon Shipley and Marquise Goodwin are all back at wide receiver, but beyond those three players, Teas is severely lacking experienced depth. D.J. Monroe has been converted from running back to wide receiver to take advantage of his speed and shiftiness on bubble screens. But Monroe has had problems catching the ball consistently. DeSean Hales showed up in the spring. But the senior has shown up in the spring before and disappeared in the fall. He had two catches in 2011.

That means freshmen Cayleb Jones, Daje Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson are all going to get a shot. Additionally, Texas will be working with a redshirt freshman M.J. McFarland at tight end.

HornsNation links: QBs of the future

March, 28, 2012
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HornsNation has more coverage of the Texas Longhorns:

Max Olson writes Insider: The great QB debate of 2014 has already begun for Texas. It comes down to polish vs. potential for Longhorns recruiters. And Jerrod Heard and Ronald Monroe are the candidates in this debate.

Carter Strickland writes: Demarco Cobbs has battled injuries, but he is back and making an impact this spring on the Texas defense.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Kenny Vaccaro doesn’t want to offend or insult so it was with all apologies to those previous Texas players that he stated this defense, the 2012 version, is unequivocally faster than any he has played on.

Then linebacker Demarco Cobbs returned from injury.

“When he blitzes, it’s for real,” Vaccaro said.

In order for the 2012 defense to be for real, it needs Cobbs, not just a blitzing Cobbs, but one who stays healthy and active for the entire season. To date, Cobbs has been unable to do that.

[+] EnlargeCobbs
AP PhotoDemarco Cobbs' speed and pass rushing ability will make him a valuable asset in Manny Diaz's defense.
A backup in 2011, Cobbs’ time on the field was limited to half the season because of a broken forearm. When he did make it back onto the field, the junior wasn’t effective as expected due to the injury and the unfamiliarity with Manny Diaz’s defense.

Spring was the same song, second verse. Cobbs suffered a neck injury that kept him out of the first half of spring. A combination of Tevin Jackson, Alex De La Torre, Aaron Benson and Kendall Thompson were shifted and shaped to try and fill the void alongside Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks. Jackson received the most snaps. But he was unable to play with the same impact as Cobbs.

“We really were hurt by Demarco not being out there,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “He's been a good player that's made some highlight plays. But he hasn't been consistently healthy. So like our backs, he's another guy that needs to be healthy and stay on the field.”

Ah, but when he is on the field …

“He is a versatile linebacker for us,” cornerback Carrington Byndom said. “With him being back, it is adding an older guy who has already been in this system. He is a pretty fast guy.”

“He is fast, and he is physical,” added Hicks. “He is somebody you can trust out there so it is always good to have somebody like that back.”

Trust will be a large factor in this defense. Diaz relies on many moving parts to confuse and stun the offense. Those parts must move in concert in order to be effective. If they are not moving together, it doesn’t matter how fast each individual player is.

For instance, in the first several games last season, Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho, two players with less speed than Hicks and Cobbs, were not completely sure where the other would be within Diaz’s scheme. It led to several substantial runs from Rice, BYU, and UCLA before ultimately leading to a 64-yard backbreaker against Oklahoma.

That is the reason it was important for Cobbs to get back into spring practice and start working alongside Hicks and Edmond. That trio has to learn each other’s tendencies within Diaz’s schemes. That way they will understand what is expected of each other and how to react during the game. That familiarity can also lead to more innovation in the defense.

And that is exactly what has been happening in spring practice, Vaccaro said.

“I think we have the defense down to a 'T’ so much that we have freedom now,” he said. “We can mix things up on our own and execute the defense without putting too much of a twist on it.”

Now the added twist is the speed and ability of Cobbs.
ESPN The Magazine had a fascinating feature looking back at the past 25 No. 1 high school recruits Insider, where they are now and what the ranking meant to them. With apologies to Vince Young, there aren't a ton of Big 12 talents on the list, but there have been plenty of great recruits to come through the Big 12. We took a look on Thursday at how the All-Big 12 team stacked up as recruits, and you saw quite a mixed bag.

Well, it's the same for the recruits who came to campus with high rankings and high profiles. Going back to 2006, here's how every Big 12 commit from the ESPNU 150 turned out. We'll eventually get to the current class in 2011, around signing day, but here's how the 2010 class breaks down. This class is only a year into their careers, so while some have shown more potential than others, it's ridiculous to be too discouraged by anyone on this list, or make any truly meaningful judgments. No. 2: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas. Got off to fast start in 2010 before being sidelined and slowed by ankle injury. Finished with 13 tackles, five tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and one fumble recovery. Only three tackles after season's first four games.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
AP Photo/Eric GayTexas freshman wide receiver Mike Davis finished with 47 receptions this past season.
No. 4: Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas. Ohio prospect chose the Longhorns over in-state power Buckeyes. Played in 11 games, including seven at linebacker. Finished with 21 tackles in first year, including 11 in a win against Nebraska.

No. 13: Mike Davis, WR, Texas. No catches in the season opener, and missed the Red River Rivalry with an ankle injury, but ranked second on the team with 47 catches for 478 yards and two touchdown catches, tied for most on the team.

No. 14: Taylor Bible, DT, Texas. Redshirted.

No. 15: Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor. Waco native forced a fumble and had 16 tackles.

No. 18: DeMarco Cobbs, ATH, Texas. Played special teams in 10 games, and appeared at defensive back in one game. Made four tackles.

No. 20: Darius White, WR, Texas. Played in seven games at wide receiver and one at special teams. Caught one pass for five yards against Florida Atlantic.

No. 21: Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma. Won the starting nickelback job, finishing the season with 65 tackles, two interceptions and two sacks. Named co-Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year.

No. 46: Ashton Dorsey, DT, Texas. Played in seven games, made one tackle.

No. 48: Austin Haywood, TE, Oklahoma. Appeared in 11 games, mostly on special teams. Made three tackles.

No. 62: Corey Nelson, LB, Oklahoma. Switched to the Sooners from Texas A&M on Signing Day 2010. Appeared in all 14 games, making 21 tackles, including 2.5 for loss. Blocked a punt vs. A&M.

No. 65: Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma. Redshirted.

No. 72: Reggie Wilson, DE, Texas. Played in 10 games. Made five tackles.

No. 73: Chris Jones, WR, Texas. Redshirted.

No. 75: Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State. Became a starter and made 58 tackles and eight tackles for loss. Intercepted three passes, including two against Oklahoma, returning one for a touchdown. Named co-Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year.

No. 77: Quentin Hayes, S, Oklahoma. Redshirted.

No. 83: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M. Enrolled early and was the Aggies' starting left tackle by the spring game. Earned All-Big 12 honorable mention.

No. 86: Tevin Jackson, OLB, Texas. Kept off the field by eligibility issues and appeal is still pending.

No. 90: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M. Became Aggies' starting right tackle midway through the season.

No. 114: Aaron Benson, LB, Texas. Redshirted. Cousin of former Longhorn Cedric Benson.

No. 122: Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas. Played in 10 games at defensive back and special teams. Made 11 tackles, all solo.

No. 125: Toney Hurd Jr., CB, Texas A&M. Appeared in 12 games and made nine tackles.

No. 129: Brennan Clay, RB, Oklahoma. Carted off field as a precaution in win against Florida State and missed next two games. Finished with 127 yards on 36 carries.

No. 134: Adrian Phillips, ATH, Texas. Played in 10 games, including five at defensive back. Made eight tackles.

No. 141: Trey Hopkins, OG, Texas. Played in 11 games and made three starts at left guard.

No. 142: Justin McCay, ATH, Oklahoma. Redshirted.

No. 147: Andrew Rodriguez, OG, Nebraska. Appeared in five games as a backup left guard, becoming the first true freshman Nebraska lineman to play since 2006.

Texas spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
5/06/10
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2009 overall record: 13-1

2009 conference record: 8-0

Returning starters: Offense (6), Defense(7) P/K (1)

Top returners: CB Chykie Brown, CB Aaron Williams, S Blake Gideon, WR James Kirkendoll, RB Tre’ Newton, DE Sam Acho, DT Eddie Jones, DT Kheeston Randall

Key losses: QB Colt McCoy, WR Jordan Shipley, DE Sergio Kindle, S Earl Thomas, DT Lamarr Houston, OL Adam Ulatowski, OL Charlie Tanner, LB Roddrick Muckelroy, WR Dan Buckner (transfer)

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Tre’ Newton* (552 yards)

Passing: Colt McCoy (3,521 yards)

Receiving: Jordan Shipley (1,485 yards)

Tackles: Roddrick Muckelroy (84)

Sacks: Sam Acho* (7)

Interceptions: Earl Thomas (8)

Three spring answers

1. Check out the new style. Texas is going under center. And while offensive coordinator Greg Davis warns the style change isn’t as radical as some believe, it’s still a departure from the spread attack under the accurate Colt McCoy, which was a departure from the zone read scheme under the athletic Vince Young. If the running game materializes, everything else will come easier for the Longhorns.

2. National Championship was no fluke. The hype surrounding Garrett Gilbert’s impending ascension to starter this spring was expanded tenfold by his performance in the national championship game after McCoy was sidelined with a shoulder injury. This spring, as best he could, he validated that hype. He’s taken control of the team, and performed solidly all spring, capped off by an impressive 10-of-13 for 165 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game.

3. Secondary strengths. After this spring, Mack Brown believes his secondary has three NFL-bound defensive backs in Chykie Brown, Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams. They could terrorize Big 12 quarterbacks this season, even though they lost safety and first-round pick Earl Thomas to the NFL last season.

Three fall questions

1. Will the broken record fix itself? The past couple springs have been all about establishing the running game in Austin. The past two falls have come and gone without a solid, consistent runner for Texas. This year, Tre’ Newton and Fozzy Whittaker have separated from a talented group of running backs as the featured runners in the offense heading into fall. If they’re not productive, we’ll be right back here again next spring.

2. What receivers will fit where? Other than Jordan Shipley, no Texas receiver could be counted on for Colt McCoy. Now, players like Malcolm Williams, James Kirkendoll, DeSean Hales, Marquise Goodwin and John Chiles will try to change that. But when fall comes, so does the nation’s best receiving class. Texas signed two of the top three receivers and three of the top 11, as well as ATH Demarco Cobbs, who could also play receiver. Mike Davis, Darius White and Chris Jones will be nipping at the heels of any older receivers who slip up in preseason camp.

3. Will the dominance over Oklahoma continue? The Red River Rivalry has favored the south side, Texas, in four of the past five seasons. As usual, the Sooners and Longhorns will meet again at the Cotton Bowl in October, and Oklahoma will be hungry to reverse their fortunes against the burnt orange. How Texas responds will have a big impact on the South race, even though a victory in the 2008 game didn’t put the Longhorns into the Big 12 title game.

Weak & Strong: Texas

March, 22, 2010
3/22/10
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Here, we’ll take a look at one area where each team in the Big 12 can expect to succeed, and another that needs improvement.

Weak: Playmakers

Jordan Shipley is gone, and Texas must find at least one running back or receiver who is capable of making a consistent impact on the Longhorns offense. Texas' leading returning receiver, James Kirkendoll, caught 48 passes for 461 yards and six touchdowns. The team's second-leading receiver, Dan Buckner, transferred to Arizona.

Now, they'll rely on a handful of receivers like Marquise Goodwin, John Chiles and Malcolm Williams, to emerge as quarterback Garrett Gilbert's primary targets. No current Texas receiver has ever had both 40 receptions or more and 500 receiving yards in a season. If the current receivers can't prove they're reliable, incoming freshmen Darius White, DeMarco Cobbs and Mike Davis could see plenty of early playing time.

Texas will likely practice a running back-by-committee approach in 2010, with Tre' Newton, Cody Johnson, Vondrell McGee and Fozzy Whittaker jockeying throughout the spring and fall for carries.

Strong: Secondary

Cornerback Curtis Brown and safety Blake Gideon return after having All-Big 12 honorable mention performances in 2009. Gideon intercepted six passes in 2009 and made 62 tackles. Brown broke up 15 passes and also made 53 tackles.

Starters Chykie Brown and Aaron Williams also return from a defense that ranked second in the Big 12 in pass defense and had a nation-best 25 interceptions. Though Texas' safeties collected most of the Longhorns interceptions in 2009, Brown and Williams combined to pick off five passes. They also broke up 16 passes, had 92 tackles and collected four sacks.

The Longhorns lost Earl Thomas to the NFL draft, leaving the second safety spot up for grabs this spring. Christian Scott missed last season, and Nolan Brewster isn't practicing this spring after shoulder surgery, but both could line up across from Gideon in the fall. Ben Wells and Kenny Vaccaro could also compete for the spot.

More Weak & Strong:

Texas recruiting capsule

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
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Texas Longhorns

Total class: 25

ESPN 150: 15

By position: WR 5, DE 3, DT 3, OLB 3, ATH 2, QB 2, CB 2, G 1, RB 1, C 1, S 1, K 1.

By state: Texas 22, Ohio 1, Oklahoma 1, Louisiana 1.

Already enrolled in school: 3.

The big ones: Jackson Jeffcoat, the nation’s top player at his position and No. 2 player overall, is a dominant speed rusher who should only get better as he fills out. Jordan Hicks, the nation’s top outside linebacker and No. 4 player overall, shows the kind of burst and tackling ability that leads me to think he could win a college Butkus Award to go along with the high school version he picked up last season.

Sleeper: DE Greg Daniels might get lost amongst all of the publicity surrounding Jeffcoat, Hicks and the others on the defense. But he’s a strong, active pass rusher who should challenge for playing time while with the Longhorns.

Needs met: With Sergio Kindle departing and Eddie Jones and Sam Acho both entering their senior seasons, the Longhorns needed defensive ends. They addressed the deficiency by attracting three of the nation’s top 23 defensive ends. Texas coaches were specific about their offensive line needs and attracted Army All-Americans in center Dominic Espinosa and guard Trey Hopkins. And with Garrett Gilbert seemingly entrenched as the starting quarterback, the Longhorns attracted Case McCoy and Connor Wood to battle for depth at the position. Both graduated from high school early and will begin practice with the Longhorns later this month.

Analysis: Texas won the mythical Big 12 recruiting title with a typical strong early spurt and two monster late additions in Jeffcoat and Hicks. It should give Will Muschamp a lot of defensive building blocks to tinker with for the next several seasons. Help was needed at wide receiver and the Longhorns addressed those needs with five players, including potential standouts Mike Davis and Darius White. And look for Demarco Cobbs to challenge for playing time at running back. All of these elements help to make it one of Mack Brown’s top two recruiting classes, ranking with his 2002 class for his very best group.

What Mack Brown said: “I've been asked over the last couple of days, 'Is this the best class that we've ever had?' We feel like it definitely has the potential to be because from top to bottom it covers every position and that's a very difficult thing to do." … On Texas' consistent recruiting success: “Obviously, we had 25 official visits and we got 25 kids. We're not into offering guys that we don't want. We're really not into recruiting guys that don't have interest.”

Scouts Inc. grade/rankings: A-plus, first in Big 12.

Video links: Updates on Big 12 recruiting

January, 28, 2010
1/28/10
5:15
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Two recently posted videos provide a quick primer on recruiting as we head to National Signing Day.

ESPNU’s Lowell Galindo and Scouts Inc.’s Tom Luginbill and Craig Haubert give us what to look for in Big 12 recruiting.

Unlike recent seasons, Texas is still in the hunt for a couple of major commitments in Plano, Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and outside linebacker Jordan Hicks of West Chester, Ohio. The Longhorns are currently ranked No. 2 and both say they could zoom in the recruiting rankings if they get either key remaining recruit.

I've got to agree. If the Longhorns are able to finish with a flourish, they have a great opportunity to nose into the top position nationally. Oklahoma can similarly make a jump up if they can beat out the Longhorns for Jeffcoat in the last head-to-head recruiting battle of the season between the two South Division powers.

Luginbill also notes DeMarco Cobbs, a late defection from Tennessee, as a possible contender for playing time at running back. The position has been the Longhorns’ greatest weakness in recent seasons.

Oklahoma follows at No. 6 and Texas A&M is at 14th among Scouts Inc’s most recent rankings.

Haubert and Luginnbill also play a quick game of “Take Your Pick,” as they analyze where Jackson and Hicks will end up on another video. Check it out to determine where these key recruits and other top undecided players will be headed.

And keep checking back until Signing Day at ESPN.com to catch the latest recruiting information.

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