Darius James could help Texas become a physical unit in the trenches - Bud Elliott (SB Nation)
After adding the Irving product on Wednesday, the Longhorns now have Jake Raulerson and four other highly-rated offensive line prospects
When 2013 Irving offensive guard Rami Hammad showed up at his Wednesday announcement wearing Texas gear, the Longhorns put the final piece in place for an offensive line class that is arguably the best in the country and improved by leaps and bounds this week with the addition of instant-impact junior college tackle Desmond Harrison.
How good is the offensive line class?
It features the top offensive guard prospect in the country in five-star, the top JUCO offensive tackle prospect by 247Sports in Desmond Harrison, consensus top-five offensive tackle Kent Perkins, top-10 national guard Hammad, and Jake Raulerson, the consensus second-ranked center prospect in the country.
The last time that Texas landed an offensive line class of his quality was in 2009. Unfortunately for the 'Horns, of the four takes in that class, only one of them panned out -- longtime starting guard Mason Walters, but even he hasn't lived up to his expectations as a potential left tackle.
So the stakes are high for Texas, which will need to replace a handful of starters after the 2013 season. With few viable back ups returning from last season -- graduating Luke Poehlmann was the only effective replacement -- some of the linemen in the 2013 class will have to play early and Texas will have to hit with some of the big uglies currently on campus like Kennedy Estelle and Curtis Riser.
And though the results won't be known for some time, this may be the class that defines the legacy of Stacy Searels as Texas offensive line coach. These are the players that he recruited and they are the players that he will be responsible for developing, a word that has not often been associated with Texas offensive linemen.
One high school coach notably told me that he had been to coaching clinics and summer camps held by the former Texas regime and every year the linemen would look the same. No physical development.
It's an issue that has plagued the team beyond the 2009 recruiting class and is the major factor in the Longhorns having failed to produce an NFL draft pick at the position since the 2008 draft. That pick was Tony Hills, who came to Texas as the top tight end commit in the country, but grew into a tackle when he miraculously recovered from a devastating knee injury in his final high school game.
The hope is that the beefier look Texas is building with prospects like the 340-pound James and 320-pound Hammad will help win those trench battles the 'Horns have been losing in recent years. And it's not only about the Power game, either.
While the zone game is often considered finesse since the linemen are moving sideways, the inside zone can be an extremely physical play, centering as it does around the combo blocks executed before the uncovered linemen release to the second level.
Schools like Baylor that run inside zone well get a significant amount of movement up front on those plays through the combo blocks. Other schools like Alabama barely combo block at all and allow their uncovered linemen to get quickly up field, forcing the covered players to execute more difficult one-on-one blocks.
Whether the Longhorns remain a heavy personnel team or go a little more spread with more sets featuring three or four wide receivers, the importance of successfully executing those zone blocks remains, as those plays are a staple of every team in football, regardless of whether they are spread or pro-style, designations that actually say little in many cases.
As Texas tries to piece together a line in 2014 and beyond after the departures of Donald Hawkins, Trey Hopkins, and Mason Walters, it will be the 2013 class that the coaches look to as they seek to build the championship-level depth along the line that has eluded the 'Horns for years.
The stakes are high with this group, and so are the expectations.
It's not out of the question that A'Shawn Robinson could eventually end up on offense, or even Waco lineman Andrew Billings if he ends up committing to the 'Horns. However, both will start on the defensive side of the ball.