To define the 2014 recruiting class in the state of Texas by one position group would be to call this the year of the defensive back -- six of the top 10 in the composite rankings and 12 of the top 30 in the state are defensive backs.
The problem for the Texas Longhorns? Defensive back coach Duane Akina has failed to capitalize on the reputation of the 'Horns as DBU, as Texas doesn't have a single defensive back commit from the state. Louisiana cornerback Jermaine Roberts is the sole defensive back commit with about seven months until Signing Day. Five targets have already committed to other schools, a list that doesn't include longtime LSU commit Chris Hardeman, who pledged to the Tigers before the 'Horns started extending offers.
It's a bleak picture made even more bleak by the fact that top targets like Beaumont Ozen cornerback Tony Brown and Lewisville Hebron safety Jamal Adams are both looking less and less likely to end up at Texas. Brown has been a longshot for some time, but the developments with Adams are more recent -- the Aggies surged after a spring game visit, while all the buzz has been about a recent trip to Florida and connection to Gator recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips, who roomed with Adams' father at Kentucky. Meanwhile, Bishop Dunne cornerback Nick Watkins has all but fallen off the radar in his extremely quiet recruitment.
So what happened in the class? Is Akina losing it? Are prospects just crazy for not buying into the DBU tradition and Akina's proven ability to put them into the NFL?
To put it simply, the responsibility goes all the way to the top. Head coach Mack Brown was stubborn in his refusal to offer prospects before the February Junior Days following prospects' junior seasons. Unfortunately for Texas, other schools started extending offers almost a full year earlier, leaving the 'Horns well in their rearview mirror. Recruiting is about timing and making prospects wait and wonder why every other major program had offered but the Longhorns wasn't a good look.
When Brown and his staff did finally make changes last August, it was too late for many prospects. Fort Bend Bush cornerback Nick Harvey, for instance, had already released a top five weeks earlier that didn't include the Longhorns because they hadn't offered. And despite getting him on campus for the spring game some time after his commitment to A&M, Texas was never able to make up that ground lost early in the process.
The same thing happened with West Mesquite safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner, who was offered even later than many of the other prospects and never seemed to seriously consider the 'Horns, ending up at Texas A&M because of his strong relationship with the coaching staff there, especially defensive back coach Marcel Yates. And Baylor commit Davion Hall? He was another even later offer whose recruitment wasn't changed in the least by his Texas offer.
For other prospects, some bad luck played a role -- Mansfield Timberview defensive back Edward Paris was simply never that high on Texas. Finishing second for San Antonio Roosevelt cornerback Arrion Springs was more a result of Springs growing up a USC fan who didn't like Texas and it's impossible to fault Akina for getting his program into the mix with a player who always intended to leave the state for college.
So what's left? Losing Adams would be a huge blow to the class, as he still remains the most important target. The problem is that he seems increasingly enamored with the SEC and isn't concerned about proximity. Even if he was, he could simply stay in the state and play in the nation's best conference at Texas A&M.
The news is a little bit better with Houston Lamar safety John Bonney, but he no longer seems like a lock either -- his Crystal Ball predictions are dead split between Texas and Baylor, in large part because Bonney has known the Baylor staff since they were at Houston and is intrigued by the possibility of elevating the Bears defense, the last piece needed to put them into serious contention for the Big 12 title every year.
With Navasota cornerback Darrion Johnson falling off the radar because of a variety of concerns, Arlington Bowie safety/outside linebacker Edwin Freeman is the only top prospect who has the 'Horns clearly on top. But even though Akina continues to tell the 212-pound recruit that he likes him at safety, Freeman himself is increasingly resigned to the fact that he's going to be at least a hybrid player in college, if not make the full-time move to a pure linebacker position (to the extent a pure linebacker position exists in the spread-heavy Big 12). Even a win there isn't a longterm win for the Texas secondary.
Then there are targets lower on the list, like recent offeree Jason Hall, the cornerback from South Grand Prairie who is still committed to Nebraska, despite talking as if he was going to quickly flip following his offer a month ago. He's still likely to end up in burnt orange when all is said and done, but he's more of a consolation prize, which isn't a slight to his talents as much as it is a nod to the remarkable talents of his colleagues in the secondary this season in Texas.
In the end, if things continue to head in a negative direction with Brown and especially Adams, the 'Horns may have to extend more offers, with Red Oak cornerback Garrett Davis and Bishop Dunne safety Payton Hendrix near the top of that list.
The bottom line is that as much as failures on the field have hurt the 'Horns in recruiting, the biggest damage was done by themselves to themselves in waiting so long to offer. The staff has corrected the mistake in 2015, but it's largely been too little, too late for the bumper crop of defensive backs in 2014. There's still a chance to salvage things with a strong finish, but it's looking more and more like any finish won't include Adams, which would essentially amount to a total disaster -- he's that important.
As it stands, it's hard to consider the current class anything less than a disaster given the in-state talent and complete inability to capitalize upon it in this cycle, a depressing reality at a position where the 'Horns should have a significant advantage against competitors every year.