Naashon Hughes looks the part (Photo by the author).
Before starting, it's important to note that this may also fall on Longhorn Digest publisher Kevin Flaherty. But it was an unfortunate Week Zero for two Texas commits in terms of injuries, both witnessed on consecutive nights by Flaherty and this writer right here.
On Thursday, on a mild evening with the sun setting behind the home stands at The Palace, Harker Heights offensive linemanbroke his left foot on the final play of the first half when he was apparently stepped on while sacking the quarterback. The opponent, Stony Point, had been hoping for a Hail Mary from midfield. He'll be out for six to eight weeks. It's also his second foot injury in less than a year, a bit of a scary proposition for a 330-pounder who is such an excellent prospect because of rare quickness for his size.
Then, on Friday night, on another fantastic evening, this time at Heroes Field in the SA for Madison-Steele, safety commit Erik Huhn came down wrong on his left knee while intercepting a pass on the second defensive snap of his senior season. While he was in good spirits after the game, Huhn is still waiting to take an MRI to determine whether or not his senior season is over.
We have been told to stay home this week.
James was the main attraction on Friday night and flashed more on the defensive side of the ball from his end position than he did on offense. Besides the sack that resulted in the broken foot, James made several more plays behind the line of scrimmage and didn't stay blocked for long. He did have some trouble redirecting on one quarterback pressure (not a surprise for someone that big).
Offensively, and in general, there didn't seem to be a lot of focus on the part of James. Perhaps it was simply the overall environment at the stadium, the fact that Stony Point left him uncovered part of the game, but whatever it was, the fire didn't appear there. He had little to do in pass protection and in the run game did some combo blocking, but was hardly mauling anyone, though he won his battles easily.
There just wasn't much of a punch, he came off the ball high on both sides of the ball and without any particular quickness. And was still probably the best player on the field pretty easily. Maybe too easily, which was why his focus seemed shaky.
Meh. Just one of those days -- all of that may sound critical, but it's not meant to downgrade James as a prospect. It just wasn't a challenge. But here's to hoping that he maintains his conditioning and doesn't continue to have foot problems. Otherwise? Big guys with leg injuries, or even any injuries at all, are a few lazy months away from losing the athleticism that makes them special.
Of course, there's another Texas commit playing for the Knights -- Camrhon's little brother, Naashon. Physically, Hughes is an impressive athlete at 6-4 and probably somewhere a bit over 200 pounds. There's definitely the potential to add a significant amount of weight. There's also a lot of talk about whether he could end up at defensive end and the development in his lower body more so than his upper body will probably determine that. Can he add the strength to anchor against the run?
On the field, Hughes has a bit of a reputation for not making as many plays as his highlight reel would suggest. His game against the Tigers was probably a bit better than that, but he wasn't spectacular. His best play was coming off the edge, where he plays opposite of James in a two-point tance, knocking his opponent flat on his backside and putting a hit on the quarterback. He was effective on a few other plays as well getting in the face of the quarterback, though he's not a skilled technician as a pass rusher by any measure. Still, he got there and disrupted some throws.
In pass coverage, Hughes looks like the former safety that he is, showing a remarkable amount of fluidity and quickness staying with receivers downfield. He did not appear to be beat badly in coverage all night. However, on one play he was responsible for dropping into the flat, but kind of gave up and didn't get enough depth, allowing a pass outside to be completed over his head. A tough play to make, but one that he simply did not put himself in a position to even have a chance at.
In a word, Hughes is raw. There's a ton of athleticism and upside there, and it's not quite clear where that will all lead to in the end. Right now, he looks like a hybrid/edge linebacker who could use his athleticism both in coverage and on the blitz, much as he is used now. A bit like a 3-4 outside linebacker, but with more coverage capabilities and responsibilities.
At the Steele-Madison game, Huhn was active before his injury -- he was around the line of scrimmage to help make a stop on the first and then intercepted the second on a ball that was basically thrown to him. Physically, he looks bigger than his listed 205 and could eventually grow into that hybrid linebacker role that Deoundrei Davis will play. With Peter Jinkens on campus, Davis coming, and Huhn a candidate to play that role, too, it might actually be downright crowded.
For the Knights, the star of the evening was 2014 running back Justin Stockton, who ran for 262 yards and four touchdowns in the pounding Steele attack, including runs of 75 and 56, as well as another from more than 30 yards out that was called back for a penalty.
At 5-9, 175 pounds, Stockton looks like an all-purpose back at the next level, but he has added 15 pounds of muscle since last year and was running noticeably harder, according to those in attention who had seen him before. More of a straight-line guy, Stockton doesn't have much lateral ability, instead making the same type of subtle little moves that make Malcolm Brown and Donald Catalon so good. When he got the edge against Madison, he was gone -- the track speed that took him to state last year was in evidence (10.8 100m).
There are reports that he has a Houston offer, but he wasn't sure after the game and didn't attend any camps this summer. His recruitment is off to a bit of a slow start as a result. If he keeps up that type of production, he'll get some quality BCS-level looks and would make sense for a team like Iowa State that doesn't have much in-state speed available.
At the other safety position, Oklahoma State commit Jordan Sterns wasn't bad, but he wasn't that noticeable either. Better were a couple of intriguing 2014 prospects -- defensive end Josh Maylin, who is 6-6 and 255 lean pounds, and Matthew Simmons, who looks about 6-2 and around 200 pounds right now. He's the younger brother of Oklahoma State linebacker Ryan Simmons.
Maylin was the more impressive, anchoring well against the run and shedding at the appropriate time. He could carry 300 pounds easily and looks like a potential offensive tackle candidate. Like Hughes, the question with him is lower body strength. He's definitely a future strongside defensive end if he stays on that side of the ball, with some serious room for improvement needed to have much an impact rushing the passer, which he did not last Friday. Given his frame, he could end up at defensive tackle, but he's on the tall side for a position that requires so much leverage.
For Madison, 2013 Ole Miss commit Dannon Cavil, the former Lake Travis Cavalier, did not have a particularly impactful game, misjudging a contested ball near the endzone and suffering from his quarterback not getting the ball out of on time, all game. He's still a little bit of a tweener and his speed would play better in a flex or H-back role, but he hasn't added the weight to play there, which doesn't really help his status as a prospect.
At the other receiver position, 2014 prospect Byron Daniels looked shorter than he did on film -- he's listed at 6-1, which is reasonably accurate -- and also suffered from being open repeatedly, but not getting the football. A future flanker, Daniels has good but not great speed. Some mid-tier Big 12 offers are probably in his future.
In the trenches, 2013 Oklahoma State commit Vincent Taylor was a disappointment in the same game that vaulted him onto the national stage two years ago as a sophomore. He's finally up in the 280-pound range, but he's not noticeably stronger -- he was absolutely planted by 2014 Steele guard and recent Converse Judson transfer Deonte Neil (who had the best exchange of the evening -- after getting into a shoving match with Taylor, Steele head coach Mike Jinks grabbed his facemask and let him know that he couldn't do that, to which Neal immediately responded with a big hug for his new coach), a kid who could be an intriguing interior prospect for someone in the FBS at some point. In general, Taylor struggled against double teams. In general, he wasn't much of a factor.
When he did flash it was tracking down a ball outside and showing off his speed, but he seems weak physically, doesn't get off the ball that well, and doesn't use his hands to any great effect. He's still a take for teams like Oklahoma State because defensive tackles are so hard to find, but suffice it to say that his development, or lack thereof, has been a pretty big disappointment.
And that wraps up some belated Zero Week thoughts.
Here's hoping all the rest of the Texas commits, and all the high school players out there, stay healthy this season.