Texas Longhorns 2014 recruiting: Defensive overview

Derick Roberson - via @DerickJRoberson

Taking a look at the defensive signees for the Charlie Strong's first class.

The Texas Longhorns added 10 prospects on Wednesday along the defensive side of the ball in head coach Charlie Strong's first recruiting class in Austin.

But did the Longhorns fill needs? And what will those 10 players bring to the program?

Defensive end

Needs: Three

Derick Roberson, San Antonio Brennan
6'4 | 235 pounds | *** | No. 4 strong side defensive end | No. 9 player in Texas

One of the earliest pledges in the class, Roberson mentioned taking visits at multiple times throughout the process, but was never in serious danger of taking any after the coaching changes, as a mid-January visit reaffirmed his commitment, a major coup for Strong and his staff despite not retaining former defensive ends coach Oscar Giles.

Roberson was an Under Armour All-American and is the most important defensive recruit in the class, with the possible exception of Poona Ford. Part of a stingy Brennan defense whose first team gave up only two touchdowns all season entering the state title game against Jerrod Heard and Denton Guyer, Roberson has a projectable frame, impressive strength for still being lean, and a knack baiting offensive linemen off the ball with an intentionally slow first step before exploding around them to create sacks. He'll have to develop a bigger arsenal of pass-rushing moves and doesn't have elite quickness off the ball, but the top-end speed is remarkable for him.

Jake McMillon, Abilene
6'3 | 240 pounds | *** | No. 33 strong side defensive end | No. 103 player in Texas

The low-key recruitment of McMillon ended in April after a visit for the Sophomore Day at the end of March over TCU. Listed as a defensive tackle by ESPN, it would take about 40 more pounds for McMillon to reach a playing weight to move inside, but could end up playing some five-tech defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. A strong motor helps the Big Country prospect overcome pretty average athleticism and his ability in run defense is ahead of his pass-rushing because of his weight and good hand speed and placement.

Grade: B-

Comment: Texas was never seriously in the mix for Myles Garrett, the Arlington Martin product who increased his stock late in the process to claim the title of top player in the state. Add that to the loss of Sione Teuhema on Tuesday and the take of two players in this class was hardly a best-case scenario after whiffing on the position last season. Thank goodness for keeping Roberson.

Defensive tackle

Needs: Two or three

Poona Ford, Hilton Head Island (S.C) Hilton Head
6'0 | 285 pounds | **** | No. 22 defensive tackle | No. 6 player in South Carolina

One of the to Signing Day additions for Texas at the defensive tackle position, Ford was a must-get because of the lack of other defensive tackles in the class and because of his previous relationship with Strong as a former Louisville pledge. Undersized, but possessing incredible movement abilities for his weight, Ford benefits from tremendous arm length and a high effort level that allows him to spend time in opponent backfields and chase down plays down the line of scrimmage and down the field.

Chris Nelson, Lakeland (Fla.) Victory Christian
6'2 | 295 pounds | *** | No. 57 defensive tackle | No. 120 player in Texas

The first Signing Day addition when the Longhorn Network broke the news of his signing in advance of his afternoon announcement, Nelson was another must-get for the same reasons as Ford -- because of necessity and because he was a former Louisville commit as well. Nelson has better physical measurables with ideal size for the position, but doesn't have the freakish quickness or consistency of Ford, making him more of a boom-or-bust product. The good news is that the upside is there because his athleticism is strong for a defensive tackle.

Grade: B

Comment: The Longhorns had three pledges a matter of weeks ago, lost them all, then managed to land two more players. Was there a net gain? Courtney Garnett may still not qualify, though Oklahoma and Notre Dame both believe he will, and frankly wasn't that good in the first place. Call it Ford over Henderson because of athleticism and Lealaimatafao over Nelson because the former has a higher floor, so it's probably a wash until Garnett qualifies and even then, Texas escaped without as much damage as could have existed.

Strong and his defensive staff likely knew that they were almost certainly going to land both Ford and Nelson on Wednesday, but that probably didn't help them get much sleep last night or keep them from sweating through the morning.

Linebacker

Needs: Three

Edwin Freeman, Arlington Bowie
6'1 | 212 pounds | **** | No. 14 outside linebacker | No. 19 player in Texas

The last addition to the defensive class prior to the Signing Day pledges from the defensive tackles, Freeman was a big head-to-head win for Texas over Texas A&M, one that was quickly made even more critical because Otaro Alaka flipped from the Horns to the Aggies. Freeman moved down to linebacker for the last two years of high school and showed an aptitude for navigating through traffic to find the football, suggesting that his future is definitively at the linebacker position. Freeman doesn't quite have the lateral movement or reactive quickness of a safety any more, but he does have the look of a spread-busting hybrid linebacker/nickel player.

Andrew Beck, Tampla (Fla.) Plant
6'3 | 227 pounds | *** | No. 25 inside linebacker | No. 76 player in Florida

Already enrolled at Texas, there's a chance Beck could end up playing H-back for Texas if the need there somehow becomes extreme in the next several years. Texas doesn't recruit much in Florida, so the addition from the Sunshine State was always a bit unusual for the Horns. There's nothing about Beck that jumps off the film, but he has a combination of attributes including good size, speed, range, striking ability, and instincts that help him play faster than his measurables.

Cameron Hampton, Dallas Carter
6'2 | 205 pounds | *** | No. 45 outside linebacker | No. 68 player in Texas

The importance of Hampton to the class has probably decreased somewhat since his commitment nearly a year ago because the absence of a linebacker in the class was glaring at that time and Hampton's film over the last two years has not been especially heartening -- there's some concern at this point that he peaked as a sophomore. Hampton doesn't have an ideal frame to add the weight that he needs, doesn't have superlative athleticism or overall movement ability, and there's a big difference between his Composite ranking and his 247Sports state ranking -- 68 versus 97, indicating that the experts at 247 feel quite differently about Hampton than the rest of the industry.

Grade: C

Comment: Combining the loss of Teuhema with the loss of Alaka makes it more difficult for Freeman to truly replace Alaka in the class because he just doesn't have the length to be the same type of edge threat as the other two players. And the takes of Beck and especially Hampton are a little bit underwhelming. On the other hand, after missing on Josh Walker early and seeing Hoza Scott fail to qualify, there weren't a ton of other great in-state options either, which perhaps makes the loss of Alaka hurt all the more.

Defensive back

John Bonney, Houston Lamar
6'0 | 182 pounds | **** | No. 19 safety | No. 31 player in Texas

The top-rated defensive back in the class would have been a major loss had he flipped to Baylor in the days before Signing Day, making his retention in the class a major coup for Strong and his defensive staff. Texas really needed Bonney to stick and he did. Lacking the speed of a cornerback, Bonney is nevertheless an asset in coverage because of his ball skills and instincts that increase his playing speed. It remains to be seen if he's physical enough in the box to play the same type of role that Adrian Phillips played last year, but that may be a better role for him than a deep safety position where his lack of ideal speed could be exposed more often.

Jermaine Roberts New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine
5'9 | 175 pounds | *** | No. 31 cornerback | No. 19 player in Louisiana

Another Under Armour All-American in the class, Roberts was a critical addition when he committed because to that point the Longhorns had completely whiffed on in-state backs. And keeping Roberts from visiting Ohio State was one of the first major successes on the recruiting trail for Strong. If Roberts were two inches taller, he would be at least a mid-level four-star prospect because he was a playmaker for St. Augustine, scoring a number of touchdowns as a junior, including on special teams, where he could make an impact for the Horns. Other than height, Roberts has all the attributes -- speed, leaping ability, quickness, ball skills, and change of direction are all there in spades.

Jason Hall, South Grand Prairie
62 | 192 pounds | *** | No. 74 safety | No. 114 player in Texas

This is starting to sound like a tired refrain, but the former Nebraska commit was important for the Horns because of all the other misses at the position. Hall is a big safety with a nice frame to develop that should translate into the type of physical presence in the defensive backfield that Texas hasn't really had for a while since former defensive backs coach Duane Akina normally preferred players who could cross-train at cornerback. Unfortunately, the ability on the field hasn't quite matched the upside that Hall possesses, the biggest reason why he isn't a more highly-rated recruit.

Grade: C

Comment: Misses. Misses. Misses misses missesmissesmissesmisses. Get the point? The failures in this class to land a high-level defensive back probably spelled the end for Akina in Austin and the failures with this group could echo through the years, even though all three takes each have some positive attributes that should provide them legitimate chances to contribute for the Horns.

Star-divide

Overview: As positive as it was to keep Roberson, Bonney, Roberts, and add Freeman to the class late, it's hard to talk about this class without mentioning all the misses at defensive back again, especially an early-impact player like Jamal Adams, Dylan Sumner-Gardner, Nick Harvey, or Tony Brown with two open starting spots in the secondary. As a result, there's a lot of pressure on Bonney, Hall, and Roberts to become contributors or the history of this class will be written in a much more harsh way than the preceding sentence.

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