Dallas Colleges: Malcom Brown

Two weeks ago, we ranked every team in the Big 12 position-by-position coming out of the spring. Putting that together, we’ve ranked the overall league position-by-position. In other words, what is the league’s strongest position? What is its weakest?

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed will anchor Texas' defensive line.
In 2013, there’s no doubt the strength of the league was in the defensive backfield. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were the league’s two first-round picks. Safety Ahmad Dixon earned All-American honors and Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook, Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman and Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin were longtime stalwarts in their defensive backfields.

Here’s how the positions of the league rank going into 2014:

1. Defensive line: This was easily the most difficult position to rank by team, as line figures to be the defensive strength of TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs had the league’s best run defense last season, and on top of returning basically the entire unit, will be adding back 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. The Sooners are also loaded, led by All-Big 12-caliber ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips, and the could also go three-deep across the board next year. The Longhorns have two potential first-round picks up front in tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. And Baylor coach Art Briles is already on record stating his D-line could go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Collectively, this should be the best the conference has been at the position since Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh roamed the middle five years ago.

2. Wide receiver: The league has two superstars at receiver in Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, who have the résumés to garner preseason All-American consideration. But they aren’t the only prolific playmakers here. Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley are all capable of 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Baylor might feature the best receiving corps in the country, Oklahoma State is a solid nine deep and West Virginia returns its entire starting lineup from last season. Even Kansas has the nation’s second-leading receiver from 2011 in Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Assuming the league’s quarterbacks can get them the ball, this could be another banner year for the Big 12’s pass-catchers.

3. Linebacker: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU return virtually their entire linebacker units from last year. And from Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson and Kansas State’s Jonathan Truman to Baylor’s Bryce Hager and Oklahoma State’s Ryan Simmons, the rest of the league basically has at least one proven linebacker coming back, too.

4. Offensive line: The strength of the Big 12's offensive lines resides in experienced centers and talented tackles. Kansas State’s BJ Finney, Texas’ Dominic Espinosa and Iowa State’s Tom Farniok are all four-year starters with a combined 113 career starts. At tackle, Baylor’s Spencer Drango, Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark and Oklahoma’s Daryl Williams have NFL futures. The league also boasts three other very stout and versatile players up front in Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, West Virginia’s Quinton Spain and Oklahoma State’s Daniel Koenig, all three of which can man either guard or tackle.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb seems like one of the few sure things at QB in the Big 12.
5. Quarterback: The Big 12 has one Heisman candidate in Baylor’s Bryce Petty, a proven performer in Kansas State’s Jake Waters and two budding stars in Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight. The rest of the league is a big fat unknown at the game’s most-critical position. But if Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and Texas’ David Ash regain their forms from two seasons ago, Iowa State’s Grant Rohach builds off his strong 2013 finish, Clint Trickett can stay upright at West Virginia, and transfer Matt Joeckel and sophomore Montell Cozart prove to be the answers at TCU and Kansas, the Big 12 could be on the way back to becoming the preeminent conference for quarterbacking once again.

6. Running back: Half the teams lost their leading rushers from last season, and that doesn’t include Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams switching positions to linebacker. The Longhorns pose a potentially devastating one-two punch in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, and the Mountaineers could go five-deep with Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. But the rest of the league will be leaning on potential more than past performance. That said, there is a lot to like in Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly, TCU’s B.J. Catalon, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill and Oklahoma’s Keith Ford.

7. Defensive back: With Gilbert, Verrett, Dixon, Colvin, Zimmerman, Cook and Byndom all gone, this position took a major attrition hit. Thanks to Sam Carter, Chris Hackett and Kevin White, TCU remains well stocked in its secondary. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have veterans back, too. Everywhere else, there is rebuilding to be done. But the next wave of secondary stars appears to be on its way. Cornerbacks Nigel Tribune (Iowa State), Justis Nelson (Texas Tech) and Daryl Worley (West Virginia) all started as true freshmen. So did Oklahoma State corner Kevin Peterson and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, who are now both juniors. It might not be long before defensive back is a strength of the league again like it was last season.
Though the 2014 NFL draft ended just last weekend, ESPN Insider Todd McShay posted his way-too-early 2015 mock draft Insider on Wednesday.

McShay had three Big 12 players going in his mock first round: Baylor QB Bryce Petty 15th overall to the Houston Texans, TCU DE Devonte Fields 25th overall to the San Francisco 49ers and Oklahoma LB Eric Striker 29th overall to the Green Bay Packers.

Though we have almost a full year to go, here are some of other top Big 12 prospects for the 2015 draft (in alphabetical order):

    • TE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State: Three pass-catching tight ends went in the first two rounds last weekend, and that’s exactly what Bibbs is. He caught 39 passes last season and can far exceed that if QB Grant Rohach settles into new coordinator Mark Mangino’s offense.

 

  • DT Malcom Brown, Texas: Like his D-line teammate Cedric Reed, Brown has first-round talent. He was rated the second-best DT coming out of high school and began to realize that potential last season.
  • SS Sam Carter, TCU: Carter has manned strong safety at a high level in Fort Worth for the past two seasons and was the only underclassman defensive back to earn first- or second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2013. With teammate Jason Verrett gone, he won’t be as overshadowed next season.
  • OT Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech: After starting his first two seasons in college at left tackle, Clark could get moved to guard this season. Clark has the strength to be a devastating run-blocking guard, and the NFL loves players who can play multiple positions.
  • CB Quandre Diggs, Texas: Diggs has been a starter in Austin since his true freshman season. He is fast, and he’s a solid tackler against the run. Diggs has an NFL pedigree, too. His brother, Quentin Jammer, was a first-round pick in 2002 after starring for the Horns.
  • OT Spencer Drango, Baylor: Drango will get plenty of attention protecting Petty’s blindside. The back injury from last season is a concern, but it also underscored how dominant Drango actually was. Baylor’s pass protection was leaky without him the rest of the year. Like Clark, Drango will just be a junior next season.
  • C BJ Finney, Kansas State: The Big 12 has some other draft hopefuls at center in Iowa State’s Tom Farniok and Texas’ Dominic Espinosa, but Finney seems like the best bet of the three to get drafted. The former walk-on and high school state wrestling champ will be a four-year starter, and has 39 career starts, which is tied for the Big 12 active lead.
  • WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor: He might not be tall at only 5-foot-10, but Goodley is physical and fast. With another ultra-productive season like last fall, he could be one of the top receivers on next year’s board.
  • WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State: Lockett’s versatility both as an inside or outside receiver and in the return game only makes him a more attractive prospect. With Jake Waters now installed as the full-time QB, Lockett could have a monster statistical senior season.
  • DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor: At 6-9, 275 pounds, Oakman has intriguing size for an NFL defensive line. If he dominates in the fall the way Art Briles said he did in the spring, Oakman could quickly turn into a hot prospect even though he’ll only be a junior.
  • DE Cedric Reed, Texas: According to NFL.com, Reed was one of two players nationally in 2013 to record five sacks, five forced fumbles and four pass breakups. The other? Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, who was the fifth overall pick in last week’s draft. By coming back to school for another year, Reed could potentially become a first rounder, too.
  • DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma: Tapper almost has the size of a defensive tackle and the athleticism of a linebacker. He didn’t have an overly huge statistical sophomore season but was the only underclassman defensive lineman voted All-Big 12 by the coaches. Tapper too will only be a junior.
  • OT Daryl Williams, Oklahoma: Even though Tyrus Thompson has manned the left side in Norman, Williams has the better pro outlook. Williams will be a three-year starter and has the athleticism to transition to the left side at the next level.

 

Others to watch: RB Malcolm Brown, Texas; DT James Castleman, Oklahoma State; C Dominic Espinosa, Texas; C Tom Farniok, Iowa State; ILB Bryce Hager, Baylor; FS Chris Hackett, TCU; LB Ben Heeney, Kansas; DT Chucky Hunter, TCU; FS Karl Joseph, West Virginia; DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State; DT Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma; DT Davion Pierson, TCU; OG Quinton Spain, West Virginia; OT Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma; CB Kevin White, TCU; OG Cody Whitehair, Kansas State

Big 12 poll: Best imaginary team?

May, 15, 2014
May 15
10:30
AM CT
Earlier Thursday, we concluded our 22-round draft of current Big 12 players. Below are the three lineup outcomes of that draft, and as you can see, each of us went in different directions.

SportsNation

Who had the best imaginary Big 12 player draft?

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    30%
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    38%
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    32%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,440)

Like the St. Louis Rams, Max and Brandon built up their defensive lines before worrying about the rest of their rosters. While I grabbed the best quarterback in the league and surrounded him with protection and weapons.

After each lineup, read our final takes on our teams. Then, decide who drafted best in the weekly Big 12 poll.

BRANDON CHATMON’S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Brandon says about his team: “Offensively, as soon as Petty was gone with the first pick I knew I wouldn’t take a quarterback until my final pick. Knight could be the steal of the draft. Versatility is the name of the game with the rest of the offense. We can put Pierson and Smallwood in the backfield and go read option or really ruin your Saturday and throw Daje back there in the Diamond. When you bring more guys in the box, you leave Seales and Lockett one-on-one. Or we can just go five wide and you can try to cover running backs who run routes like receivers with your linebackers. And an experienced offensive line will be the foundation of it all. Defensively, it would be wise for opposing quarterbacks to tell their families to stay home when facing this group. We’re going to man up and have our mail forwarded to the opposing backfield and make you want to take your ball and go home. And with a secondary full of coverage guys, I’m not concerned about the back end of the defense holding up. We’ll win more battles than we lose. By the final whistle, my team will have earned the moniker 'Chatmon’s chaos creators' with Tapper, Reed, Brown, Hunter, Alexander and Robertson living in your backfield.”

MAX OLSON'S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Max says about his team: “You do not want to play against my team. That was my goal going in, and I constructed exactly the team I wanted. I have a great QB in Webb who gets to throw to Goodley, one of the nation's best receivers, and he'd help Jaxon Shipley put up Jordan Shipley numbers. I have the two-back punch of Linwood and Gray. I have Hill, who can do everything, and a good line. We're going to spread the ball around like crazy. Good luck stopping that. On defense, you have Fields, Oakman and Grissom all rushing the passer. That's deadly. We can go three-man fronts or even put Oakman in the middle, letting the 6-foot-8 stud swat your passes down. And while you're worrying about him and Grissom, you have the Big 12's best defensive player [Fields] coming after you. Hager and Shannon will hold it down at the second level, and the secondary is full of playmakers. This is a fun team, plain and simple, and one that can frustrate the heck out of anybody.”

JAKE TROTTER’S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Jake says about his team: “Max and Brandon are good at talking smack. I’ll give them that. But my players do their talking on the field. Once I was fortunate to land reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Bryce Petty as my quarterback, my goal was two-fold: to keep him upright from pressure off the edge; and, to surround him with firepower. I accomplished both ends, and then some. I wasn’t able to get either of the two elite receivers in the league in Goodley or Lockett. But I put together the best overall receiving corps in Grant, Shepard and Bundrage, who could all deliver 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2014. On top of that, I snagged the best pass-catching tight end on the board in Bibbs, as well as Brown, so that we can pound the ball between the tackles when we need. Speaking of tackles, aware that Brandon and Max were focused almost solely on their pass rush in the early rounds, I also added two of the most reliable pass-protecting bookends in the league in Drango and Williams. Defensively, I can bring pressure, too, with Mueller and Striker, who last season respectively placed second and fourth in the Big 12 in sacks. Castleman and Britz are roadblocks, Heeney and Dawson are tackle machines and my entire secondary has All-Big 12 potential. We don’t talk. We just dominate.”
Following up on NFL draft weekend, we’ve been conducting our own draft, picking from current Big 12 players to fill out three 22-man lineups.

Below is a recap of the first 15 rounds of the draft from the past two days, followed by rounds 16-22.

As another reminder, this is NOT a Top 25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league lies, and the different strategies to putting a team together from the league’s present talent pool.

Jake Trotter:
Brandon Chatmon:
Max Olson:
Round 16

  • Olson: WR/RB Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
  • Chatmon: OLB Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
  • Trotter: OLB Brandon Golson, West Virginia
  • Analysis: "To combat the offensive attacks I would face in the Big 12, I'm going with a 3-4 on defense. Golson, who led the Big 12 in forced fumbles last season, is another playmaking outside linebacker who would fit in nicely in this scheme opposite Striker." -- Trotter
[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray, Tanner Jacobson
AP Photo/Eric GayGetting potential Big 12 rushing leader Johnathan Gray in the 17th round could be a big steal for Max Olson.
Round 17

  • Trotter: LB Paul Dawson, TCU
  • Chatmon: C Dominic Espinosa, Texas
  • Olson: RB Johnathan Gray, Texas
  • Analysis: “I ended up getting a potential All-Big 12 running back in the 17th round. So I feel pretty good about that. Gray should be healthy for the opener, and he leads all returning Big 12 rushers with 86 rushing yards per game last season." -- Olson
Round 18

  • Olson: OT Troy Baker, Baylor
  • Chatmon: SS Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: OG Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
  • Analysis: "I wanted a safety who is comfortable in holding his own in coverage, while also having the ability to make plays all over the field. Hayes is the guy. With Worley, Shepherd, White, Barnett and Hayes in the secondary, I can unleash the rest of my defense on the quarterback and feel comfortable about my secondary holding its own against anyone." -- Chatmon
Round 19

  • Trotter: OG Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
  • Chatmon: WR Tony Pierson, Kansas
  • Olson: SS Terrell Burt, Baylor
  • Analysis: "With Max and Brandon hoarding centers, I needed to attack the interior of my offensive line. Kasitati can excel manning either guard or center, and Glowinski is one of the league’s top returning guards." -- Trotter
Round 20

  • Olson: OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
  • Chatmon: WR Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
  • Trotter: WR Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
  • Analysis: "The guys I wanted for my second guard spot weren't available at this round, so I'm going with the mammoth "Big V" Vaitai (6-foot-6, 308 pounds) and moving one of my other tackle selections inside. I ended up with a fairly good offensive line, which was pretty much my plan going in." -- Olson
Round 21

  • Trotter: CB Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
  • Chatmon: WR Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
  • Olson: LB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
  • Analysis: “I picked up Bundrage in the previous round to seal up what I feel is the best all-around receiving corps, even if I didn’t get Goodley or Lockett. Tribune, the only true freshman to play for Iowa State in the past two seasons, is a corner with a ton of upside and, paired with Kevin Peterson, should provide me plenty of tenaciousness against the pass.” -- Trotter
Round 22

  • Olson: WR Jaxon Shipley, Texas
  • Chatmon: QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: C Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
  • Analysis: “I just got the steal of the draft, and I knew I would wait until the final round to do so. As soon as Jake snapped up Petty, I knew I would be content with Davis Webb or Trevor Knight and wouldn’t draft a quarterback until the final round. The fact that Max opted for Webb made things even better for me as Knight has the versatility to run a run-heavy offense or spread things out and use his arm. He fits perfectly with the versatility I was striving for with each pick.” -- Chatmon

Imaginary Big 12 players draft, Part I

May, 13, 2014
May 13
9:15
AM CT
The NFL draft came and went it, but we thought it would be fun -- and possibly revealing -- to conduct a draft of our own of returning Big 12 players. We stole a version of this idea from our colleagues at the ACC blog, who apparently had stolen it before that from the guys over at the Big Ten site.

Anyway, the rules are fairly simple. All players currently on a Big 12 roster are eligible. No departing seniors or early entrees to the draft. No incoming freshmen or jucos scheduled to arrive in the summer. The premise is to fill out a 22-man lineup.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty accounted for 46 touchdowns last season.
As you’ll be able to see, the strengths of the league quickly begin to manifest (last year it was cornerback; guess where it is this year) as a run on a certain position ignites early. You’ll also be able to see the positions that got put off for later, seemingly due to a lack of high impact relative to other positions, or to an indiscernible difference between players of the same position (just like with the NFL draft, where are the running backs?).

Keep in mind, this is NOT a top-25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league is, and the different ways of putting together teams from the current pool of players.

Rounds 1-7 are below. We’ll pick up with Round 8 on Wednesday.

Round 1

Jake Trotter: QB Bryce Petty, Baylor

Brandon Chatmon: WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

Max Olson: DE Devonte Fields, TCU

Analysis: "There's really no wrong answer when it comes to choosing one of the Big 12's elite defensive ends. Went with Fields because reports of his comeback this spring were consistently encouraging and we know he has All-America potential." -- Olson

Round 2

Olson: WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor

Chatmon: DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma

Trotter: LT Spencer Drango, Baylor

Analysis: "In the first round, I got the league's top returning QB. With plenty of WRs still on the board, and Brandon and Max going all in on their pass rush, I went ahead and snagged the league's top pass-blocking tackle to protect Petty's blindside. Let's just hope that back is 100 percent by August." -- Trotter

Round 3

Trotter: OLB Eric Striker, Oklahoma

Chatmon: DE Cedric Reed, Texas

Olson: DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor

Analysis: “After securing a big play receiver and returner, I’m looking to create pressure on the quarterback. Tapper and Reed should help get it done. Both guys have the ability to win their individual battles consistently, yet haven’t maxed out their potential either. A solid 1-2 punch to build my defense around.” -- Chatmon

Round 4

Olson: QB Davis Webb, Texas Tech

Chatmon: LT Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech

Trotter: DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State

Analysis: "Did I reach for my quarterback here? You could make the argument, especially if you're a Trevor Knight lover. But Webb is precisely the kind of quarterback I wanted to run my offense. He has a ton of poise and confidence for a sophomore." -- Olson

Round 5

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDevonte Fields' comeback this spring has been impressive.
Trotter: RT Daryl Williams, Oklahoma

Chatmon: DT Malcom Brown, Texas

Olson: LB Frank Shannon, Oklahoma

Analysis: "Really wanted Brown here to complete a monster defensive line. Good job, BC. Instead I went with Shannon, who's probably the best of the available linebackers (though this is a risk pick with his status currently in limbo). This defense is going to be loaded at every level. You'll see." -- Olson

Round 6

Olson: CB Quandre Diggs, Texas

Chatmon: DT Chucky Hunter, TCU

Trotter: WR Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech

Analysis: “I’m loading up on defensive lineman. I want to create havoc for any quarterback who steps on the field against Brown, Hunter, Tapper and Reed. I like creating nightmares.” -- Chatmon

Round 7

Trotter: WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma

Chatmon: CB Daryl Worley, West Virginia

Olson: SS Sam Carter, TCU

Analysis: "In Grant and Shepard, I snatched up two of the league's budding stars at receiver for Petty. I'll have to come back and get some bigger receivers later. But good luck blitzing Petty against this offensive line with those two dynamos operating out of either slot.” -- Trotter

Big 12 post-spring breakdown: DL

May, 5, 2014
May 5
3:00
PM CT
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.

Depth chart analysis: Texas

May, 1, 2014
May 1
1:00
PM CT
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring, continuing Thursday with Texas. New coach Charlie Strong has yet to release an official depth chart, so this is only a projection:

OFFENSE (projected starter in bold)

QB: David Ash (Jr.), Tyrone Swoopes (So.)

David Ash
Max Olson/ESPNDavid Ash (left) and Tyrone Swoopes did little to answer Texas' QB questions this spring.
Texas had reason for optimism entering the spring when Ash returned with two years of eligibility and no signs of post-concussion issues. The foot fracture he suffered in April will sideline him for several months, and Strong hopes to have him back sometime in July. Swoopes showed flashes in the spring game. This group will look a lot better in June when Jerrod Heard enrolls, and Texas is still waiting on a decision from ex-USC QB Max Wittek.

RB: Malcolm Brown (Sr.), Johnathan Gray (Jr.), Joe Bergeron (Sr.), Jalen Overstreet (So.)

This group could end up being one of the Big 12’s best this fall, but there’s still work to be done this summer. Gray is still recovering from a torn Achilles but should be cleared in time for the season opener. When he’s back, he could be one of the conference’s most versatile rushers. Bergeron was held out of the end of spring practice to work on academics but is expected to rejoin the team this summer. Brown is in the best shape of his career and will be the workhorse as a senior. Overstreet thrived on outside runs in the spring game and could become a factor in the fall. Texas adds three freshmen to the mix this summer.

WR: Jaxon Shipley (Sr.), Daje Johnson (Jr.)

WR: Marcus Johnson (Jr.), Jacorey Warrick (RFr.), Jake Oliver (RFr.)

WR: Kendall Sanders (Jr.), Montrel Meander (RFr.), John Harris (Sr.)

TE: Geoff Swaim (Sr.), M.J. McFarland (Jr.), Blake Whiteley (So.)

The trio of Shipley, Marcus Johnson and Sanders received strong praise from Texas coaches this spring. Marcus Johnson and Sanders are both big-play threats and Shipley will be a four-year starter who’s one of the league’s best possession receivers. After disciplinary issues in his first two years, Daje Johnson is doing everything asked of him and will get the ball in a variety of ways. The depth behind them is young, with three second-year wideouts and five incoming freshmen fighting for playing time. Texas might not have a game-changing tight end, but Swaim had a great spring, McFarland reemerged as a pass-catching threat and Greg Daniels, who missed the spring, can set the edge as a blocker.

LT: Desmond Harrison (Sr.), Darius James (RFr.)

LG: Sedrick Flowers (Jr.), Alex Anderson (Fr.)

C: Dominic Espinosa (Sr.), Jake Raulerson (RFr.)

RG: Taylor Doyle (Jr.), Rami Hammad (RFr.)

RT: Kennedy Estelle (Jr.), Kent Perkins (So.)

After having one of the nation’s most experienced lines in 2013, Texas could roll with two seniors and three juniors this fall. There still could be lots of changes to this lineup, but Espinosa is a lock to start and the left side of the line is fairly established too. The 6-foot-8 Harrison disappointed last year but showed his potential this spring. Doyle was the surprise of the spring after playing in only two career games, but he still has to hold off Hammad, who has big potential. Curtis Riser could also be in the mix at guard, and Perkins -- who missed the end of spring ball with a knee injury -- is good enough to play anywhere on the line after working at guard this spring.

[+] EnlargeShiro Davis
John Albright/Icon SMIShiro Davis looks to have found a spot on Texas' starting defensive line.
DEFENSE

DE: Cedric Reed (Sr.), Caleb Bluiett (So.)

DT: Malcom Brown (Jr.), Alex Norman (So.)

DT: Desmond Jackson (Sr.), Hassan Ridgeway (So.)

DE: Shiro Davis (Jr.), Bryce Cottrell (So.)

Baylor has the Big 12’s best defensive line, but Texas’ starting four could challenge for that crown this fall. Reed and Brown are two of the Longhorns’ best players. Davis emerged to take over for Jackson Jeffcoat. The depth behind them is young and inexperienced, especially at defensive tackle, but Bluiett and Ridgeway should play prominent roles. Don’t be surprised if true freshmen Poona Ford and Derick Roberson enter the rotation right away, and Ford will need to fortify the depth up the middle.

OLB: Jordan Hicks (Sr.), Timothy Cole (So.), Demarco Cobbs (Sr.)

MLB: Steve Edmond (Sr.), Dalton Santos (Jr.)

OLB: Peter Jinkens (Jr.), Naashon Hughes (RFr.)

With nearly all of Texas’ veteran linebackers dealing with injuries this spring, there’s still plenty of uncertainty about this group. Edmond made a big impression on the new staff and his teammates and should hold down the middle with help from Santos. Hicks is expected to be healthy in June and is hungry to make up for two lost seasons. Cole made the most of his opportunities this spring and worked with the first team defense, while Cobbs was a spring game revelation after missing the entire 2013 season with knee issues. Jinkens and Hughes showed they can be dangerous as pass rushers off the edge. Kendall Thompson and Tevin Jackson will provide depth when they get healthy.

CB: Quandre Diggs (Sr.), Bryson Echols (So.)

CB: Duke Thomas (Jr.), Sheroid Evans (Sr.), Antwuan Davis (RFr.)

S: Mykkele Thompson (Sr.), Adrian Colbert (So.)

S: Josh Turner (Sr.), Chevoski Collins (RFr.)

Seems like these starting jobs are fairly locked in coming out of spring ball. Diggs and Thomas are clearly the best option at cornerback. Behind them, the trio of Evans, Davis and Echols has big potential. Evans is coming back from a torn ACL and missed the spring, giving the two younger DBs an opportunity to get a lot of second-team reps. There’s confidence in the play of Thompson and Turner so far, though they’ve had up-and-down careers thus far. Colbert and Collins are very young but will get their chances this fall. Texas brings in four freshmen this summer and several could make an early impact.

Texas spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
May 1
7:30
AM CT
A recap of what we learned about the Texas Longhorns following their first spring with new head coach Charlie Strong.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. Strong isn’t messing around. From his high-intensity practices, to his willingness to stop and restart practice if the vibe isn’t right, to demanding players walk the half-mile uphill to the fields, the first-year coach is out to bring back a toughness that went missing with the Longhorns in recent years.

2. Texas will have two play-callers and, potentially, a handful of playmakers on offense in 2014. Offensive Joe Wickline and assistant head coach Shawn Watson will call plays, and Watson gets the final say. They know what they have in RB Malcolm Brown and WRs Jaxon Shipley, Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders, who all earned good reviews this spring.

3. Defensive line will be the strength of Texas’ defense, led by a pair of All-Big 12 caliber veterans in DE Cedric Reed and DT Malcom Brown. Senior Desmond Jackson is holding down the other interior spot, and Shiro Davis is emerging as the replacement for Jackson Jeffcoat. Depth behind them still a question mark, but those four starters are the real deal.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Quarterback. Duh. The foot fracture David Ash suffered before the final week of spring ball only amplified the scrutiny of this spot. Tyrone Swoopes had a few flashes and also some struggles in the spring game. Don’t be surprised if former USC QB Max Wittek joins the program in May and makes this a real competition, along with freshman Jerrod Heard.

2. The linebackers remain a source of uncertainty exiting spring ball, with Jordan Hicks among the three veterans at that spot who missed spring practice. DC Vance Bedford should feel good about Steve Edmond (his play, not his words), Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens back there, and Demarco Cobbs is back from injury, but who’s starting by the end of August?

3. Wickline comes to Austin with a reputation for being one of the nation’s top offensive line coaches. He’ll have a nice challenge finding his best five this fall. Center Dominic Espinosa might be the only lock among the Longhorns’ potential starters up front, and Wickline could choose from any number of lineup combinations for the opener.

One way-too-early prediction:

Presuming that Texas gets its quarterback affairs in order, this has the look of a nine-win team coming out of spring ball. How the Longhorns players buy in this summer and into fall camp will go a long way toward raising (or lowering) those expectations. Three of Texas’ first six games in 2014 come against likely preseason top-10 teams, so the Horns have to get a lot better between now and then.

Spring takeaways: Defensive line will thrive

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
10:00
AM CT
Editor's note: This week we're taking a closer look at five key takeaways from Texas' spring practices, which wrapped up earlier this month, as well as what they mean for the summer and beyond.

AUSTIN, Texas -- The new defensive line coach has a saying. Well, he has a lot of sayings. But he’s particularly proud of this one: In his eyes, there are two types of players.

The CEPs and the PSPs.

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed is the pass-rushing headliner of Texas' loaded defensive line.
Chris Rumph wants to surround himself with CEPs: Contract extension players. Rumph loves those kind of guys. They make him look good. You do not, however, want to be a PSP.

“Some other guys that you won’t see out there on Saturdays, they are PSPs: Pink slip players,” Rumph said this spring. “So I want me some CEPs.”

The former Alabama assistant has inherited four dudes who get the job done on the Longhorns defensive line, a group that can set up every other starting defender for success when playing at its disruptive best.

Cedric Reed, the 6-foot-6 senior defensive end who earned All-Big 12 honors last fall as the tag-team partner of Jackson Jeffcoat is a known commodity. Only Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, a potential top-10 NFL draft pick, matched Reed last year in the production of sacks (10), forced fumbles (five) and pass breakups (four).

Reed has CEP written all over him. So does Malcom Brown, the monstrous defensive tackle who enters his junior season with 13 career starts and All-America potential.

Coaches say Brown is as good as he wants to be. He’s become more vocal, unafraid now to point out his peers’ mistakes during film sessions and offer advice. When he talks, they listen.

“They know I’m going to do what I have to do,” Brown said. “I’ve got it down. I know what I’m doing and I’ll tell them when I’m doing something wrong before they even have to tell me.”

Desmond Jackson knows what he’s doing, too. The senior nose tackle who goes by "Tank" has 38 games under his belt and knows exactly what he can bring to this line. When he and Brown clog the middle and break through to the backfield, this defense gets dangerous.

Coming off the other edge is Shiro Davis, who’s beginning to play up to the hype he earned when he flipped from LSU to Texas in the final hour of his recruitment. Now a junior, Davis did more than enough this spring to lock down a starting job.

Altogether, it’s a line that has all the size, strength and speed a first-year coach like Rumph could demand. And nothing pleases Jackson, the veteran of the group, more than to see guys like Brown and Davis on the rise.

[+] EnlargeDerick Roberson
Miller Safrit/ESPNIncoming freshman Derick Roberson could be hard to keep off the field.
“They’re like my brothers to me. Anytime they make a good play, I’m the first one over there hyped up,” Jackson said. “We’re all brothers. That’s like family right there. I’d do anything for them. To see them make huge jumps makes me feel good.”

But the Longhorns will need more than that, and the depth behind them remains an area of uncertainty. Caleb Bluiett will play plenty, and so could fellow third-year end Bryce Cottrell. Hassan Ridgeway is practically a lock to be the third tackle, but still has a way to go. Alex Norman and more backups must emerge, and true freshmen Poona Ford and Derick Roberson could contribute immediately.

No matter who makes the two-deep, the addition of Rumph has brought this group even closer together. In recent years, Oscar Giles oversaw the ends and Bo Davis coached tackles. Nothing wrong with that, but Texas’ defensive linemen are already picking up on the benefits of having one man run the show.

“It’s real different,” Brown said. “I’ve done drills this year that I’ve never done before, that the defensive ends do. We’re all on the same page. We’re all being taught the same thing and doing the same drills. It’s nice, and it has its perks.”

In between telling his guys they’re playing like sasquatches and billy goats, and taunting the quarterback, and threating to send underperformers home with mayonnaise sandwiches, the high-energy Rumph has made clear his expectations.

Close enough doesn’t fly with Rumph or head coach Charlie Strong, not when they’ve been preaching all spring that they intend to win games up front.

“It always starts up front. That’s what they always emphasize,” Brown said. “If we come out the first play and hit somebody in the mouth, they already know we’re there for the whole game and we’re gonna fight for the whole game.”

That's what a CEP sounds like, and Texas could have a bunch of them.

Spring game review: Texas

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
9:00
AM CT
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas finished its first spring under new coach Charlie Strong with its annual Orange-White spring game on Saturday. The two-hour scrimmage was won by Texas' first-team offense 38-14, and while Tyrone Swoopes' up-and-down showing stole most of the attention, here are a few more takeaways from the Longhorns' spring finale:

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
AP Photo/Michael ThomasTyrone Swoopes should improve as he gains confidence.
Best offensive performance: With only one other scholarship back available, you knew Malcolm Brown was in for a big workload. He kicked off his critical senior season with a solid day, picking up 82 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries and adding 26 yards and another score on two screen passes. Texas will need Johnathan Gray (torn Achilles) healthy and Joe Bergeron (academics) back if this run game is going to lead the way, but Brown could be poised for an All-Big 12 caliber season if he stays healthy.

Best defensive performance: Strong didn't need to watch any film to know who stood out on his defense on Saturday. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown was a "handful," in his eyes, and that was obvious to everyone in attendance. The junior lineman racked up five tackles, one tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry, and he spent plenty of time in the backfield. "When he wants to play," Strong said, "he can create a lot of havoc and can make plays."

Best debut: Not many candidates for this, since Texas had just three early enrollees, so let's give a little love to a walk-on. Dylan Haines is a name most Longhorns fans had never heard entering Saturday, but the defensive back stole the show in the first quarter by intercepting Swoopes' overthrown first pass attempt and returning it 23 yards. Haines, a second-year scout team player in 2013, was rewarded for his big play with reps on Texas' first-team defense.

Notable play: Swoopes' best play of the day was his last. He took a low snap midway through the fourth quarter, faked a handoff and hurled a deep ball to Jaxon Shipley, fitting it in perfectly between defensive backs Chevoski Collins and Adrian Colbert. Shipley pulled it down over his shoulder for a 44-yard touchdown, giving Swoopes plenty to smile about after a frustrating start to the day. The pass was by far the best Swoopes has thrown in his first year of action and, to some extent, an encouraging sign he's not afraid to take shots downfield.

Developing storyline: Texas has a chance to have one of the Big 12's better offensive lines this fall under the guidance of Joe Wickline, but this summer and fall camp will be critical toward fortifying that line and establishing needed depth. The mammoth Desmond Harrison must continue to develop at left tackle after a rough 2013 season. Kennedy Estelle and the injured Kent Perkins can become some of UT's best linemen in time. And the battle at right guard, between Taylor Doyle and Rami Hammad, isn't over. Wickline will start his five best, and that five should reveal itself over the next few months.

Biggest question answered: Is Swoopes the heir apparent at quarterback for Texas? He showed flashes in the spring game, particularly in the second half, but he never faced a first-team defense Saturday and his play early on served as a reminder why a redshirt would have been the right move last fall. Shawn Watson is encouraged by his potential and still has plenty to teach him this summer and beyond. Swoopes has raw tools and will get better as he gets more confident, but his coaches and fans should stay patient.

Quotable: "When you look at the level of concern, you look at today and you go out and say defensively you would like to play a lot better and get stops and make sure you don't allow teams to just consistently drive the football on you. Then on offense it is all about executing, but that is going to come with focus and with preparation. What happens is that the players understand what we are looking for and what we are all about. So once we understand that, things are going to get much better because they believe in the system. When they trust and believe in the system, then we are always going to have a chance." -- Strong

Top-10 player spring update: Texas

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
3:00
PM CT
During the next two weeks, we’ll be breaking down the 10 best players at the moment on every team in the Big 12.

These lists won’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus yet. Rather, they will include only the players on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now.

On Thursday, we continue with the Texas Longhorns.

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
John Albright/Icon SMIAfter a huge 2013 season, Cedric Reed will be the focus of the Longhorns' defense this fall.
1. Defensive end Cedric Reed: This is the guy Charlie Strong will build his defense around, a 6-foot-6, 258-pound senior who took his game to another level in 2013. During his monstrous junior campaign -- 79 tackles, 10 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles -- Reed often played just as well as Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat, and sometimes better. Reed elected to return for his final season to not only earn his degree, but also to make a run at all the awards Jeffcoat collected and get Texas back to its winning ways.

2. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown: Brown has looked like a future NFL player from the day he first stepped foot on campus, and he started playing like it in 2013. In his first season as a starter, Brown racked up 68 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two sacks and five pass breakups. He'll be a menace for opposing Big 12 linemen, and the former top-15 recruit has a chance to get even better under new defensive line coach Chris Rumph.

3. Running back Malcolm Brown: Texas is going to run the ball plenty under new coordinators Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson, and Brown enters his senior season with a chance to become one of the Big 12's premier backs. He finished sixth in the league in total rushing and surpassed 125 yards in each of his final three games. Brown is in even better shape today physically and has a chance to do big things in 2014.

4. Defensive back Quandre Diggs: Entering his fourth season as a starter, Diggs has the potential to make a huge impact in the new defense that Strong and DC Vance Bedford construct. He led the Longhorns with 10 pass breakups from his nickel spot and added 2.5 sacks, but no interceptions, in 2013. Whether he ends up at corner, safety or back in the nickel, Diggs is hungry and out to prove he's one of the nation's best at his position.

5. Running back Johnathan Gray: The big question mark is, when will Gray get back on the field? He's still recovering from a torn Achilles suffered last November and is hoping to be full strength by the start of fall camp. Even if Gray misses a nonconference game or two, Texas will have big plans for him upon his return. He's one of the conference's most dynamic backs and a critical cog in the Longhorns offense. Don't be surprised if Gray, a freaky athlete, is back in pads earlier than expected.

6. Wide receiver Jaxon Shipley: Shipley is probably underrated at this point, even if his 2013 season wasn't too sparkling from a statistical standpoint (team-high 56 catches, 589 yards, 1 TD). But no matter who's starting at quarterback this season, Shipley is going to be the go-to guy. He's been a starter since he first arrived in Austin, and Texas' new offensive attack will find ways to get him in space.

7. Quarterback David Ash: Should Ash be higher on this list? When he's fully healthy, yes, he's one of this program's most important pieces. The junior is back on the field this spring but won't take any contact. His early efforts have been encouraging, but he still has some rust to shake off, and Strong has been somewhat noncommittal when it comes to calling Ash his starter. If USC transfer Max Wittek joins the program this summer, Ash will have to fight to hold down the job. But when he was healthy in 2012, Ash was a top-25 passer in several key metrics and still has a bright future if he can avoid another concussion.

8. Linebacker Steve Edmond: We finally saw Edmond take a big step forward in 2013, with 73 tackles and two interceptions, but his junior season ended early because of a ruptured spleen. In this multiple defense, it will be interesting to see if Strong and Bedford experiment with playing Edmond down at defensive end or in some hybrid roles. Dalton Santos will push Edmond, too, but expect the senior to play a major role in Texas' new-look defense.

9. Linebacker Jordan Hicks: It's hard to justify ranking Hicks any higher after he's missed 19 games in his past two seasons. He is not competing in spring practice right now while he completes his recovery from a torn Achilles, but once he's ready to go, Hicks should be one of Texas' best linebackers and one of its leaders on defense. He only has one season left to play up to his five-star potential, but staying on the field is more important.

10.Wide receiver Kendall Sanders: Several other Longhorns could take this spot on the list and have more playing experience, but Sanders is definitely worth keeping an eye on this fall. A smooth, speedy athlete capable of game-changing plays, Sanders has one year of game experience under his belt and a chance to take over as Texas' top deep threat.

Spring primer: Texas Longhorns

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
3:00
PM CT
Texas takes the field for its first spring practice next week, and it has plenty it needs to accomplish under new head coach Charlie Strong. Here are a few of the many, many items on the Longhorns’ to-do list for spring ball:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: Hate to state the obvious here, but David Ash needs to take one big step in the right direction this spring. After playing in only three games last season because of concussion issues, Ash will be cleared for full practice participation and wear a green no-contact jersey. His return to the weight room this winter was encouraging, but he has a brand-new offense to master and has a new quarterbacks coach for the third straight season. He needs to get comfortable and confident once again this spring.

[+] EnlargeMalcom Brown
John Albright/Icon SMIMalcom Brown is ready to become a star on Texas' defensive line.
Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Watch out for defensive tackle Malcom Brown, because the junior’s next step is to be an All-Big 12 and All-America-caliber player. He was clearly Texas’ most talented defensive tackle as a true sophomore and will be a focal point of the defensive line no matter if Texas is in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. New defensive line coach Chris Rumph is ready to maximize Brown's potential.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Plenty to choose from, but cornerback Antwuan Davis stands out. Former coach Mack Brown was very tempted to throw the freshman from Bastrop, Texas, on the field in 2013 but held off. Great measurables, track speed and a fiery competitiveness make Davis a second-year guy capable of fighting his way into a role in this secondary.

Most significant position battle: We outlined that in this post, but it’s worth repeating: kicker and punter. With consensus All-American and Lou Groza Award finalist Anthony Fera gone, Texas faces some big question marks at both spots. New special teams coach Chris Vaughn wants to see all his options in action and put each kicker and punter through pressure situations to see who comes out on top.

Key midterm enrollee: This is a shorter list than usual this year, as only three signees joined the program in January. But tight end Blake Whiteley will be the most interesting to watch. The Arizona Western Community College transfer has everything you’d want in the size department -- 6-foot-5, 245 pounds -- and was a 1,000-yard receiver during his high school days. Texas hasn't had a feared pass-catcher at that spot in a long time.

Question that could be answered: Which players can hang with the new brand of Texas football? That’s been the critical question throughout offseason workouts, and Strong and his staff will get much more definitive answers in the next month. Those who can keep up will stand out. Those who can’t might not be on the roster much longer. Expect some attrition after spring ball ends, as is often the case with new regimes.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: The quarterback job. It’s possible USC transfer Max Wittek does not reach a final decision on his destination until April or May, and freshman Jerrod Heard arrives not long after that. Both will make a run at the job (if Wittek chooses UT), and we won’t know where things stand with Ash’s long-term health until he starts taking hits again. He won’t see any in spring ball, that’s for sure. Texas coaches are excited about having Ash for two more seasons, but they’ll also put a high value on competition.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: DL

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
3:00
PM CT
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, Jon Lewis 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. 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. 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.

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. 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 started as a sophomore last season. 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.

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.

Texas position groups to improve: No. 4

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
8:00
AM CT
Texas is getting off to a later-than-usual start to its spring practices this year, with Charlie Strong set to lead the Longhorns onto the practice field for the first time on March 18.

Until then, we’re counting down everything you need to know entering next season and the next era of Texas football. This week, we’re breaking down the five position groups with the most room to improve in 2014. We broke down the UT tight ends on Monday. Here’s No. 4 on the list:

[+] EnlargeMalcom Brown
John Albright/Icon SMIMalcom Brown is arguably the Big 12's best returning defensive tackle, but depth behind him is a concern for the Longhorns.
4. Defensive Tackles

The players: Malcom Brown, Desmond Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway, Alex Norman, Paul Boyette Jr., Poona Ford, Chris Nelson

Last year: As expected, Brown emerged as one of the best young defensive tackles in the Big 12, recording 68 tackles and finishing third on the team in TFLs (12), pass breakups (five) and QB pressures (six). Jackson recorded 39 tackles, five TFLs and two sacks. Ridgeway recorded 13 tackles and five QB pressures in his redshirt freshman year. Norman and Boyette Jr. combined for three tackles in limited action.

What’s missing: Chris Whaley was the leader of this group and enjoying a breakthrough senior season before suffering a torn ACL. When he went down, the Longhorns’ lack of depth up the middle was exposed, to the point that former DC Greg Robinson relied on lines with three defensive ends playing at once at times.

Texas knows what it has in Brown and “Tank” Jackson, but there was no experienced talent waiting behind them. Add in the fact Texas signed zero defensive tackles in last year’s class and you have to be somewhat concerned about this group entering 2014.

Moving forward: Brown, a former top 15 recruit, played up to his immense potential and can become an All-Big 12 caliber talent in 2014. He’ll anchor this group, while Jackson brings senior leadership but has room to improve. They need help. Ridgeway needs to emerge as a trusted rotational guy.

Norman and Boyette Jr. are entering year three in the program and have been disappointing. It’s time to step up or step aside, because Texas coaches love what they’re getting in Ford, an ESPN 300 signee who could play right away. Where Nelson fits into this group could depend on whether some backups transfer, but he’s bringing lots of confidence to Austin. These freshmen know they can get on the field early if the backups don’t rise up.

Texas Ten: Top Longhorns for 2014

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
9:00
AM CT
With three of Texas’ top juniors declaring they will return for their senior seasons on Thursday, we now know who Charlie Strong will be working with in his first season as head coach. A look ahead at Texas’ top 10 returning players going into 2014:

1. DE Cedric Reed, senior

Convincing the All-Big 12 defensive end to return for his senior season was one of Strong’s first major victories this week. The 6-foot-6, 258-pound end was a monster in 2013, racking up 79 tackles, 10 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. He considered going pro after his breakout season but comes back for what should be a significant role leading Texas’ defensive line. Reed made it no secret he wants to win the trophies and awards that Jackson Jeffcoat piled up this season, and he’ll be one of the Big 12’s best as his position next fall.

2. DT Malcom Brown, junior

Texas coaches believed they had a surefire future NFL defensive tackle in Brown when he signed, and he’s played up to those expectations through two seasons. The former top-15 recruit recorded 68 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two sacks and five pass breakups in his first season as a starter and was a handful for opposing linemen. He’ll only get better, and that’s a scary thing for the rest of the conference.

3. RB Malcolm Brown, senior

A finally healthy Brown finished 2013 strong and goes into his final season with plenty of confidence. He finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing yards with 904 and 11 total touchdowns this season and closed out his junior campaign with three straight 125-plus yard games. He’ll be one of the offensive leaders next year.

[+] EnlargeGray
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsA healthy Johnathan Gray will boost Texas' backfield.
4. RB Johnathan Gray, junior

Gray is undoubtedly one of Texas’ three best players when he’s healthy, and he was on his way to a 1,000-yard season before suffering a torn Achilles at West Virginia on Nov. 9. While Gray is optimistic he’ll be back in time for fall camp, the Longhorn staff should proceed with patience. Whenever he returns, Texas will have one of the nation’s better rushing duos.

5. CB Quandre Diggs, senior

If we’re comparing career resumes, you’d probably have to rank Diggs higher on this list. He’s accomplished plenty during his time in Austin, enough that the defensive coaches trusted him to take on the nickel spot as a junior and play all over the field. He collected 58 tackles, a team-best 10 pass breakups and 2.5 sacks but no interceptions. With Carrington Byndom graduating, his role in this secondary is crucial.

6. WR Jaxon Shipley, senior

Shipley caught a team-high 56 passes, so it’s hard to call his junior season a disappointment, but he finished with 589 yards and one touchdown. He got targeted 82 times on the year and should see plenty more with Mike Davis graduating. Shipley’s the go-to guy and always has been.

7. LB Jordan Hicks, senior

Hicks might be ranked too high here, if we’re being honest. He’s missed 19 games in the last two seasons due to season-ending injuries, though in fairness his latest -- a torn Achilles -- was a freak accident while running in coverage. When he’s on the field, he’s one of Texas’ best and a trusted leader.

8. QB David Ash, senior

Not too sure where this guy belongs on the list, but he’s an important asset for whoever becomes Strong’s offensive coordinator. Ash missed 10˝ games this season with concussion issues but was a top-25 passer in QBR and passing efficiency in 2012. Strong needs this guy back and better than ever.

9. LB Steve Edmond, senior

If you think Edmond should be ranked higher, you might be right. Edmond was enjoying a bit of a breakthrough as a junior, with 73 tackles and two interceptions, before a ruptured spleen suffered against Texas Tech ended his season. He’ll have to battle Dalton Santos for his spot, but he could be in for a strong final season if he embraces the coaching change.

10.WR Kendall Sanders, junior

Lots of players merit consideration for this final spot, most notably Daje Johnson, but we’re going to take a chance on Sanders breaking out in 2014. He caught 37 passes for 361 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore but has the full package of skills -- size, speed, long arms, good hands -- to become a big-time target in place of Davis.

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