2013 Football Recruiting: Backup Plans at Defensive Tackle

A'Shawn Robinson shows off his wingspan - Wescott Eberts

With DT commit A'Shawn Robinson taking visits to other schools, we take a look at some of UT's recruiting options should he de-commit.

Defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson (Fort Worth Arlington Heights) has been one of the most-discussed recruits in UT's 2013 recruiting class over the past few months. The powerful two-way lineman committed to Texas in February, but since early summer he has had a well-documented series of flirtations with and visits to other schools. He has maintained at various times that he is solidly, 100% committed to Texas (a statement he made most recently to fellow Texas recruits attending the October 6 West Virginia-Texas game), but Texas fans and coaches have heard that before from players who eventually signed elsewhere.

Robinson is the highest-ranked commit in the Longhorns' 2013 class by both Rivals and 247Sports, and is the only one of their 15 commits to receive a five-star rating from Rivals. If he were to remain committed and sign with Texas in February, he would render most of the next 2,400 words(!) in this post historically irrelevant. But were he to de-commit Texas would not only lose their top-rated recruit but also their only defensive tackle commit (and more to the point, their only defensive line commit) in the 2013 class. What would the coaching staff's options be in that case?

They could elect to stand pat and not target another defensive tackle in 2013 if there were none both interested enough and good enough to be worth pursuing, which would put them under some pressure to sign a difference maker at the position in 2014. If they decided there was a need to take a DT in the class, they could always give offensive line target Andrew Billings the chance to play on defense, as is his stated preference, but that seems unlikely. The list of options is getting thin when it comes to quality uncommitted 2013 DTs who might have some interest in Texas.

The Longhorns have no seniors at defensive tackle this season, and barring transfers or injuries they should be very deep at the position in 2013, with all of the returning members of the defensive tackle rotation and 2012 signees Alex Norman and Paul Boyette entering their redshirt freshman season (somebody correct me on that if either has played this season). And there's always the possibility that true freshman Hassan Ridgeway (who may also end up being redshirted this year) could eventually grow out of the defensive end position and slide into the interior D-line (though that move would weaken a defensive end corps that will be relatively thin in 2013).

With so many DTs already on the roster, any 2013 signee at the position would be an obvious redshirt candidate. We can presume that the staff would target the best DTs available if they wanted to sign one badly enough, but since it's not a need position in this class, if they chose to pursue one in the event of losing A'Shawn Robinson they could get away with offering a lower-rated player with a high ceiling who could most benefit from a redshirt year. You know, the overlooked two-star prospects who annually sign with Baylor, Kansas, Missouri, or TCU, and after a few years of development become solid starters and make everyone wonder why they never got a look from Texas while in high school. (I'll name a couple of possibilities along this vein at the end of this post.)

The 2014 in-state class doesn't appear to have tremendous depth at defensive tackle. For reference, in the current LSR Top 100 for 2014 there are only three defensive tackles who make the list: J.T. Williams (Denton Ryan), Cedric Johnson (Rowlett), and Hafoka Olie (Euless Trinity). Williams - 45th overall - is the only one ranked among the top 70. Of course, these rankings were compiled two months before the players of the 2014 class took the field for the first games in their junior season, so other names will no doubt show up on the radar this year, as some players will be getting meaningful snaps on varsity for the first time and others will have had a growth spurt since their sophomore year. One in particular who I think could be a top-50 player in the state is De Shawn Washington of Nederland, who has been very impressive as a big 3-4 defensive end this season after spending most of his sophomore year at tight end. At 6'3" and around 280 lbs., Washington often manhandles blockers at the line and looks like he could play DT at the next level.

But back to the 2013 group. Here are some (but not all) of the DTs who have had some level of interest either in or from Texas at one time, and in a post-A'Shawn de-commitment scenario they would likely be the first names to come up in online discussions.

Justin Manning (Dallas Kimball)
6'2" 275 lbs.
Rivals grade: 5.9 (four stars); 7th ranked DT
247Sports grade: 94 (four stars); 7th ranked DT

Manning, an OU legacy, was a long shot from the start, and his vulgar Texas-bashing in an April Twitter feud with 2012 Texas signee (and fellow Dallasite) Peter Jinkens pretty much ended any thought that he would be playing his home games in Austin next year. He is still uncommitted but Texas was not among the schools he named as his top 5 choices in September. Not happening.

Hardreck Walker (Spring Westfield) - committed to Texas A&M
6'2" 280 lbs.
Rivals grade: 5.8 (four stars); 19th ranked DT
247Sports grade: 89 (three stars); 27th ranked DT

Walker, who stars for the alma mater of Texas DT Desmond Jackson, attended UT's first June mini-camp and appeared to have strong interest in the Longhorns. He was never offered by Texas but he was told he would be evaluated in the fall. Rather than wait that long, he committed to Texas A&M in July. A&M currently has commitments from four defensive tackles, as well as two defensive ends who some other schools were recruiting as defensive tackles. With such a crowded group that A&M appears to be signing at his position, could Walker be flipped if Texas did extend an offer later in the recruiting cycle?

Vincent Taylor (San Antonio Madison) - committed to Oklahoma State
6'3" 277 lbs.
Rivals grade: 5.7 (three stars); 26th ranked DT
247Sports grade: 90 (four stars); 21st ranked DT

This past spring, Taylor was believed to be a player who would commit virtually on the spot if offered, and in trying to impress the staff he did everything short of showing up in the late hours outside of Mack Brown's window and holding over his head a boombox playing Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" "The Eyes of Texas". He attended the first UT Junior Day in February and later returned to Austin for the spring game, but never received a Texas offer. He committed to Oklahoma State in late May and has given no public indication that he is anything other than a solid commit. The ship has likely sailed on the possibility of him ever becoming a Longhorn. According to his head coach, Taylor is firmly committed to OSU and doesn't want to hear from any other schools.

Quincy Russell (San Antonio Sam Houston/Trinity Valley C.C.)

6'3" 311 lbs.
Rivals grade: 5.7 (three stars)

Russell was a four-star defensive tackle when he signed with Texas out of high school in 2011, but he failed to qualify academically and ended up enrolling at Trinity Valley Community College with an eye to getting his academics in order and eventually signing with Texas again. The UT staff monitored his progress but ultimately decided not to pursue him a second time. He doesn't lack for quality offers, though, having received them from Baylor, Houston, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, and Texas Tech.

Christopher Robinson (Shreveport Woodlawn)
6'2" 270 lbs.
Rivals grade: 5.7 (three stars); 25th ranked DT
247Sports grade: 85 (three stars); 50th ranked DT

This one is a bit of a stretch. I haven't seen any of Robinson's senior film and haven't been overly impressed with him before, but Rivals thought enough of him to rate him higher than some DTs I actually do like. Robinson was a high school teammate of 2012 Texas signee Torshiro Davis and had interest in Texas early in the recruiting cycle, even naming Texas as his top school in February. He was invited to attend UT's second Junior Days that month but was unable to make it. He committed to Mississippi in April but his offer was pulled in July, with academics reportedly being the reason. He is still uncommitted and according to Rivals his offer list consists of Baylor, Mississippi State, and Louisiana Tech (247Sports lists Arkansas State, Auburn, and Mississippi State).

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And here are two uncommitted (and lower-rated) defensive tackles who I believe are worth evaluating, the first one because of his athleticism and pure potential, and the second because of his frame and positional versatility.

Charles Walker (South Garland)
6'4" 270 lbs.
Rivals grade: 5.4 (two stars)
247Sports grade: 86 (three stars); 46th ranked DT

Walker is a player who hasn't gotten as much publicity as any of the ones mentioned above, but his physical tools stack up favorably against any of them. He has flown a bit under the radar because he hasn't attended many camps and so little film was available on him until recently. He played football in junior high, but coming into his senior year he had only played 10 games at the high school level (five each in his sophomore and junior seasons). He caught the attention of numerous schools during his limited time on the field but they were hesitant to offer him until he showed what he could do in a season's worth of work.

One look at him on film and it's difficult to fathom how he doesn't have 20 offers already. He creates all kinds of havoc in the trenches, slicing effortlessly through gaps, shoving offensive linemen into the backfield, pressuring quarterbacks, and chasing down running backs behind the line. As a junior he played at 280-285 lbs, and while still at in that weight range he ran the 40 in a laser-timed 4.78 back in March. (Seriously, you can watch the video here.) He worked hard over the summer and reported to fall camp in great shape and weighing 270.

South Garland head coach Mark Cox says Walker has "as much talent as any kid I've been around, and I've been doing this a while." To give you an idea of how far back "a while" goes, Cox spent his early coaching years as an assistant at Brownwood during the last years of legendary coach Gordon Wood's career. He was on Wood's staff in 1981 when Brownwood won the last of its seven state championships.

Cox speaks very highly about Walker and praises his work ethic in addition to raving about his blue-chip athleticism. Rivals rates Walker as a two-star player, but his recently-released Rivals video of highlights($) from the first half of his senior season shows that grade to be laughably low, an assessment with which Cox wholeheartedly agrees. "If he's a two-star player I want to see what they think a five-star player looks like."

Walker presently has offers from Colorado, Houston, North Texas, and Texas State, and Cox reports that Oklahoma has been showing major interest in recent weeks. Oklahoma has been on Walker for a while now. Former OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables was a fan of Walker and Cox told me that Oklahoma was almost ready to offer him after his sophomore season. Other schools that have made contact include Indiana, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, TCU, and Texas A&M.

Walker doesn't seem to have a favorite school at this time. He's a kid who hasn't had the time or resources to visit a lot of schools or participate in more than a few camps. He's a great raw talent and Texas would be advised to take a hard look at him regardless of whether A'Shawn Robinson remains in the fold. Walker has a high ceiling but is raw and a redshirt year would be great for his development. As fast as he showed himself to be carrying 280 lbs. or so, he could probably play at 290 or above without losing much of his quickness. In my opinion, Charles Walker after a redshirt year would very likely be a better player than any true freshman signed from the group of in-state defensive tackles in the 2014 class.
(See: Charles Walker's game-by-game highlights on Hudl)

Ajahne Brager (Magnolia)
6'4" 285 lbs.
Rivals grade: 5.4 (two stars)

[Note: some sites (including Rivals) spell Brager's first name as Ajhane. I believe Ajahne is the correct spelling but I'm not completely sure.]
Brager (his last name rhymes with pager) is another little-known lineman who could be an impact D1 player in a few years. He's hard to miss on film at 6'4" and 285 or so, and he actually looks a bit taller than that because of his long arms. He's a disruptive defensive tackle at Class 4A Magnolia. Brager plays the nose in a 3-4 front (Magnolia switched to that alignment this season to take advantage of Brager's skills) and occasionally is used on offense as well, mainly at tight end in Magnolia's goal line package. Because of his frame and long arms, some schools are recruiting him as an offensive tackle rather than defensive lineman. Magnolia head coach Andy Sexton says, "It is about half and half as far as schools wanting him to play DL or OL."

(As a side note, Brager has an interesting personal story, as he has a younger brother who has cerebral palsy. You can read more on him in this story published in Vype Houston's October magazine.)

Arkansas and Texas A&M have shown interest, and a number of Big 12 schools have checked on him. Kansas State is his only FBS offer right now, but lest anyone scoff at that a few historical facts merit mentioning. The last time Texas defeated Kansas State in football was October 4, 2003. In the five recruiting classes from 2008 to 2012, Kansas State signed 7 players who had a four-star grade from Rivals. That's not 7 per year, that's 7 total! And 6 of those 7 were junior college players. In those same five classes, Texas signed 80 players graded with four stars or more (8 were five-star players).

For all that supposed four-star talent, Texas is 6-2 in 2012. Or, more accurately, the Longhorns are a dropped Case McCoy interception and a disputed Joe Bergeron touchdown call away from being 4-4. Kansas State - having signed 1/10th as many four star players over the past five recruiting classes - is 8-0, holds the #2 spot in the current BCS rankings, and is outscoring its opponents by an average margin of 27 points. The Wildcats must believe Brager will help them continue their winning (read: Texas-dominating) ways in future years or else they wouldn't have offered him. I'm not saying Texas should check in on every two-star in-state recruit offered by KSU or similarly overachieving programs, but the Wildcats have obviously been doing something right in evaluating the lesser-regarded players who now make up most of the roster for a top 3 team. And the fact that Brager has potential to be a D1 starter at two of UT's recruiting positions of need over the next two classes (DT and OT) makes him a player who should receive a look from the staff if they are truly going to leave no stone unturned in filling out the 2013 class.
(See: Ajahne Brager's highlight video on Hudl)

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