2011 narrative complete. Recruiting momentum is a strange thing. On the surface, it seems like a nebulous concept and difficult to quantify. How about this for quantifying it: Texas hasn't landed a commitment in almost six months, since Malcolm Brown committed in the middle of August. Contrast that to 2010, when Texas received a commitment from Demarco Cobbs in October, Mike Davis in December, Darius White, Jackson Jeffcoat, and Jordan Hicks in January, and Will Russ right before Signing Day. Big difference, right?
It didn't help that late target Brandon Alexander committed to Texas A&M after looking like a strong Longhorn lean only days before and that Will Muschamp's departure left Texas in a tough position trying to recruit Jermauria Rasco. Add in the Christian Westerman de-commit, a major loss for the class with so few tackles on campus and it doesn't feel like there is a lot of momentum heading into 2012.
Of course, it's difficult to have any late momentum when so many targets commit so early. By early March when Quandre Diggs gave his verbal pledge, the Longhorns had 18 commitments, landing Westerman and Cedric Reed in April, Quincy Russell and Josh Turner in June, and finally Brown in August. At the end of February, the number was 17, a record even for a school known for landing early commitments. The Longhorns essentially had the entire class wrapped up 11 months ago. Hard to complain about that, right?
It's no surprise that there's something of a letdown when reviewing this class, especially since quite a few commits dropped in the rankings towards the end of the process. Malcolm Brown lost his fifth star at 247Sports and his position as the top running back, Marcus Hutchins dropped from his debut in the LSR's top 10 to a middle-of-the-road ranking, Leroy Scott fell,fell, Quincy Russell fell, Sedrick Flowers fell. Quandre Diggs was one of the few players who improved his stock towards the end.
There's also a strong sense that the previous staff wasn't working hard on the recruiting trail and that the laziness was manifested in some questionable takes early solely for the purposes of building momentum with the class. The simple fact that so much of the staff departed leaves something of a sour taste because of the obvious connection between those coaches now gone and the evaluations that were made. Still beyond Taylor Doyle and possibly Chet Moss, who ended up being a valuable member of the class because of his work holding it together, it's hard to pinpoint guys who indisputably shouldn't have gotten offers in favor of someone else.
Nailing the major needs, almost. Looking back at the needs for the class, the two positions that stand out the most are the offensive line and running back, with defensive back coming in third. As important as the running back position was to the 2011 class, particularly landing one of the top backs, the most important group to the entire class was clearly the offensive line.
After the commitment of Christian Westerman, it looked like the Longhorns had essentially landed all of their top targets at the position. Sure, getting a commitment from Matt Hegarty would have been fantastic, especially in perspective, but after only planning on taking five offensive line commitments and landing five by the end of the second Junior Day, taking Hegarty just wasn't possible, as even Westerman represented an extra offer beyond what the coaches intended when the process started.
Unfortunately for Texas, Auburn and OL coach Jeff Grimes spent 8-10 months building a relationship with Westerman and in the end, the uncertainty created after the retirement of Mac McWhorter led to Westerman's de-commitment and the Longhorns publicly whiffing on Le'Raven Clark and Spencer Drango late in the process.
It's the success at the running back position that staved off a full-blown meltdown by the fanbase. Running back is a high-profile position and Texas missed on Lache Seastrunk in 2010 (for good reasons), had the failed evaluation with Chris Whaley and missed on Christine Michael, and got virtually nothing from the 2008 class that featured LaMichael James and Jacquizz Rodgers. That's three years of pretty poor recruiting. Take it back to 2005, even, the year Texas got a commitment from Jamaal Charles.
In a nutshell, the class was crucial not only for the future of the position on the field, but also for perception, particularly the perception of Major Applewhite as a coach/recruiter. Four star backs in a class is a major grouping of talent and Texas absolutely had to land one, but couldn't afford to go after all four. Texas chose Malcolm Brown and got him. That's a major win there, even if there are those out there who prefer Brandon Williams. Not that I would know anything that.
Add in landing the top four targets at defensive back (including Mykkele Thompson, more of an athlete now) and the class was a resounding success, even though it did fall behind Florida State after Westerman's de-commitment. After all, landing the top players targeted is more important than any rankings. And Texas did that.
Just maintain. So yeah, it was painful that Christian Westerman de-committed. Really painful, in fact, given his immense talent. However, at the end of the day, it's remarkable that Texas only lost one commitment after replacing six of nine assistant coaches, especially coaches as well-liked as Will Muschamp and Duane Akina. certainly sounded like a proud father when talking about it:
I was very proud of the recruits. For all those recruits to hang in there with you all [the media] calling them and opposing coaches calling them and talking about all the negatives of staff change - they’ve hung in there for Texas, and I thought that was great. I thought they trusted my staff and I to hire the right guys and most of those guys didn’t even waiver, and I’m really, really proud of that fact.
The resiliency of the class speaks to the effort of commits like Chet Moss and the efforts of coaches like Major Applewhite and Oscar Giles who hit the road to ensure that the class stayed together, as well as Marcus Tubbs and Ken Rucker, who took to the road themselves.
Don't believe me? Take it from Mack himself:
The recruiting’s been fun. It’s been amazing to me that the class pretty much stayed together and our guys stayed on campus, and after they went home they’ve come back and worked hard to help us recruit. Everybody worked hard to make it fit. Major Applewhite, Bruce Chambers and Oscar Giles worked so hard. And then we put [Coordinator, High School Relations] Ken Rucker and [Special Assistant for Player Relations] Marcus Tubbs on the road for a little while. All those guys worked hard to make sure all the recruits stood strong with Texas, and that’s something that has happened and something that I’m really excited about.
The ability to retain so many commits speaks to something else as well -- the devotion of the players to Mack Brown and to the university. Their commitment was to more than their coordinator or, in a lot of cases, the position coach, it was to the school and to Mack Brown and their belief that the Texas head coach can turn things around.
The choices. Like any class, the Longhorns had some difficult decisions to make about the recruits the staff pursued and those who did not receive offers. Here's a look at some of the choices and how they played out:
MJ McFarland versus Jace Amaro: McFarland uses his body extremely well due to his basketball background and has excellent hands, but Amaro has more experience as an in-line blocker and might be more athletic and college-ready than McFarland. Verdict: It's hard to complain about landing McFarland. On the other hand, Amaro has a big-time frame and the question is, did Texas even really evaluate him or did they just completely miss?
Christian Westerman versus Matt Hegarty: Westerman is the more highly-rated recruit and was the preference for many when he made his decision. Hegarty is excellent in pass protection and might be a better left tackle prospect than Westerman. Verdict: Texas got the better player and couldn't predict the de-commitment from Westerman. The coaches did the best job they could and if Westerman had stuck with his commitment, this wouldn't even be a discussion.
Miles Onyegbule versus Trey Metoyer: Metoyer is clearly the better athlete and a better player. There were several issues with Metoyer and Texas: 1) he wasn't really a Texas fan and it would have been a difficult recruitment, and 2) he was ineligible at the time of JD1 for basketball and is still struggling to qualify even after signing his LOI to Oklahoma. Verdict: The Longhorns made the easy decision by going with Onyegbule and not taking a chance on Metoyer. Tough to blame Texas on this way, too, as good a college player as Metoyer could become.
Malcolm Brown versus Brandon Williams: Here's the question: Did Texas avoid Williams just because he has two kids? Seems like a dumb reason not to take such a massive talent and as a high school coach pointed out to me, wouldn't that make him work harder to get to the NFL? There were some rumors that Applewhite really wanted Williams (smart guy) and the rest of the coaching staff just wasn't on board. Verdict: The preference here is and has been Williams because of his speed and feet, but Malcolm Brown is hardly a consolation prize. Viva Malcolm Brown!
Josh Turner versus David Jenkins: Turner is a fantastic athlete and should transition well to cornerback despite some doubters out there (WTF, doubters?). Jenkins has the advantage with a bigger frame, while Turner has the advantage in speed. Verdict: Turner, no question about it, especially since Jenkins is a Louisiana native and would have been really hard to pull away from the Tigers, even if Texas had room for him.
David Ash versus JW Walsh: Ever since seeing Walsh's sophomore highlights, the preference here was for Walsh. However, after seeing both Walsh and Ash live, the Longhorn commit looks like he has better physical tools as a passer and doesn't give up as much athleticism to Walsh as some people might think. Verdict: Walsh wanted a better opportunity to start early and took it. Texas preferred Ash, anyway. Worked out well.
Quincy Russell versus Marquis Anderson: This one's easy. Yes, Russell is raw. The thing with Anderson is that he didn't flash in a couple viewings as a senior and doesn't have the same ideal DT body type as Russell and loses out in athleticism, too. Verdict: Absolutely the right move by the Longhorns to make Russell the top target. No question about it.
Kendall Thompson versus Trevon Randle: Thompson is a proven playmaker who is both physical and experienced in coverage, a difficult combination to find in college. Undersized and fast, Randle can play sideline to sideline, though he faces questions about his ability to defeat blockers at the college level. Verdict: Wasn't a fan of Randle based on his film. Big fan of Thompson based on his film. Kudos again to the Texas staff for their evaluation.
2012 narrative: changes afoot? Over at Recruitocosm, the Jesus put in perspective why the practice of early offers can come back to hurt programs, in this case Texas one of the pioneers of the practice:
But as with many things written down on paper, real life has a way of throwing variables at you that can’t be predicted. First being the the high beta of physical growth a 15-17 year old will experience. One kid might not gain a pound while another might stack on 60. There’s no way that an evaluation done immediately after a kid’s junior year will be as good a barometer for success as an evaluation done after seeing him in camps or even during his senior year (gasp!) when you have a much better idea of what kind of physique he’ll carry into high school. It’s why going one and done with Chris Whaley as our lone RB was such an inept recruiting failure. The kid wasn’t getting any smaller and had about an 85% chance of ultimately outgrowing the position, while more talented backs that played against elite competition never got as much as a phone call.
It's a growing consensus from Longhorn fans that the whole process may need to be revamped slightly to give the coaches more time to evaluate players. In particular, the spring provides not only the combine season, but also the spring evaluation period, giving coaches the opportunity to watch prospects practice.
Most years, Texas coaches don't have many kids to evaluate in the spring and few offers go out after the second Junior Day in February. In fact, in 2011 the only offers that went out after JD2 were Quandre Diggs (March), David Jenkins (June), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (July), and Brandon Alexander (December).
Here's how Mack Brown responded on Monday to a question about whether Texas will slow down the process to allow all the new assistant coaches more time to complete evaluations:
It may not because we have no choice. The coaches are killing themselves right now with video and transcripts and they tried to do as much as they could the last couple of weeks to see guys. See them workout in basketball or something if there was a basketball game, but we’re going to have to do a lot of it on video because they will not have seen them play and obviously they weren’t practicing when they got here. We may have a bigger group come in for the second junior day which will be the 26th of February, which will be a practice, then the first [junior day]. We’re still looking at guys in the first one.
On one hand, it shouldn't be a problem to offer the top players at JD1 because the top players in the state were already evaluated by the last staff and it's pretty clear at this point who the top players are at each position. However, the Longhorns will take at least one cornerback in the class and the only true cornerback prospect right now is Athens athlete Kendall Sanders, who plays both ways for his school, but has much more experience on the offensive side of the ball.
Looking back at 2010, several of the top defensive backs at the end of the process -- Charles Jackson, Tevin Mitchel, and David Jenkins, weren't on the radar during spring. As much as Mack Brown wants to go full speed ahead, it may be wise to save several spots for players that emerge during the spring and summer.
There's also a perception that some Longhorn coaches got lazy with their evaluations. The good news is that the new staff has already been working tirelessly out on the road to perform the necessary 2012 evaluations and the collective youth of the group bodes well for coaches hitting the road hard and uncovering talent that might have gone overlooked in past years.
If anything changes, Texas might choose to only offer the top targets at the first Junior Day. The problem with changing the process it that Mack Brown likes to offer players in person, which is only possible during the Junior Days or during unofficial visits throughout the spring. For instance, colleges aren't allowed to offer prospects at summer camps, which eliminates the Longhorns from going that avenue. Brown feels that in-person offers have a greater impact on recruits and based on the results, that seems to be the case and it makes sense to keep that part of the process the same.
And as much as it helps recruiting momentum, taking commitments from questionable takes to get kids into the fold early doesn't make sense with all the criticisms about Texas coaches not working hard on evaluations. Will Mack Brown sacrifice some momentum to make sure that the Longhorns only target the absolute best players in the class? Will the coaching changes impact how many top players make early decisions? All major questions in the 2012 narrative that will have some answers by the end of February.
The importance of Brenham. The commitment of Brandon Alexander to Texas A&M on Tuesday may have repercussions past this season. As if that wasn't enough for the Aggies on Tuesday, the Shermalounger also received commitments from two more Brenham stars, this time from the 2012 class with the decisions from ATH Troy Green and OL Adrian Bellard. While neither was expected to be heavily pursued by the Longhorns, DT Malcolm Brown will be the top target at his position and LB Tim Cole could get a serious look as well. There have been recent rumors about all four heading to A&M, which is just up the road from Brenham, though all four obviously won't commit at the same time.
According to Bellard, it may just be a matter of time before all four 2012 prospects commit to A&M ($):
I think Tim Cole is getting near committing; he's been talking like that. And Malcom, that's all he talks about: A&M, A&M, A&M.
So even though Recruitocosm tweeted on Wednesday morning that Bo Davis has been working hard to convince Brown to give Texas a chance -- he should attend JD1, as will Cole -- it looks like the Longhorns do have ground to make up with Brown unless Bellard isn't completely accurate in his statement, which seems unlikely considering the four teammates are extremely close by all reports.
From the long-term perspective, Brenham is an important pipeline school, having sent players like Limas Sweed, Ryan Roberson, Ahmard Howard, and Luke Poehlmann to Texas. If the Aggies can continue to make progress with the program, it could be a major boon their recruiting efforts. Stay tuned.
Programming notes. With JD1 coming up, the Big Boards for each position will debut leading up to the event, complete with all the expected analysis and lists of the confirmed invites to the Junior Days. For a primer, check out the Wish-y/Watch lists that took an early look at each position and the 2012 Top 10, which will receive an update soon:
- Running back
- Wide receiver/tight end
- Offensive line
- Defensive tackle
- Defensive end
- Defensive back/athlete