With fall camp now underway, BON is taking a look at the storylines surrounding each position entering the 2012 season. Today, we look at the offensive line.
Departures: David Snow, Tray Allen
Snow broke into the starting lineup at times as a true freshman (two starts), then remained there for most of his final three seasons (32 starts total, in 52 appearances).
The 2009 Big 12 championship game against Nebraska was a low point for him, when he suffered a round beating at the hands of Ndamukong Suh.
Fortunately for the interior stalwart, he never had to face a player the caliber of Suh again and the results were typically much more successful. Good enough, in fact, to earn several first-team All-Big 12 honors as a senior, when he was one of the more steady performers after something of a slow start, earning the Bevo Beast award for top offensive lineman on the team in seven different games.
A player who would have greatly benefited from a redshirt season and more time spent under new strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wyile, the sum total of Snow's career is that of a more than solid contributor.
Tray Allen? Not so much. It doesn't say it on his MB-TF bio, but it should -- Allen was an absolute bust as a former five-star prospect, standing as one of the shining examples of how strong recruiting at certain positions never transitioned to the field for the Longhorns. What will never be clear is whether Allen was simply a failure in evaluation or whether he just never developed in Austin, for whatever reason. Maybe it was both.
After starting six games in 2011 at Texas after having played inside for most of his career, Allen is another player who would have benefited from redshirting early in his career, but that fact doesn't excuse the terrible performance he turned in against Oklahoma that essentially ended his time as a starter and thrust true freshman Josh Cochran into the spotlight.
Yeah, the former five star got passed on the depth chart at left tackle by a true freshman who was never expected to play his first season on campus. If there's anything to thank Tray Allen for, it's being so terrible as to allow Cochran some crucial development from game reps. And for bleeding for the program, or something.
Arrivals: Donald Hawkins (Northwest Mississippi CC), Kennedy Estelle (Pearland Dawson), Curtis Riser (DeSoto), Camrhon Hughes (Harker Heights)*
*Click on the names for their respective Recruiting Spotlights. You know you want to do it.
The key here is the addition of Hawkins, the former Oklahoma State commit who switched his pledge to Texas late in the process and has been penciled in as the starter at left tackle ever since his arrival on campus, filling a monumental need and creating a trickle-down effect that allowed Cochran to move to right tackle and Trey Hopkins back to guard.
Hawkins didn't face much of a test in the spring game going against walk-on defensive ends, but he did look good in the running game, getting to the second level, chopping his feet to allow himself the ability to change direction, and latching onto defenders when they presented themselves.
At the time of Estelle's commitment in May of 2011, it seemed as if the relative newcomer to the game might have to step in this season. He still may earn his way onto the depth chart with the losses of Paden Kelley and early enrollee Camrhon Hughes, but the pressure on him is nowhere as significant as it could have been if Texas had somehow lost out on Hawkins.
Massive and athletic for his size, Estelle needs to work on the nuances of pass protection of showing well on one play and then giving up the edge rush on the next at the Under Armour game. Beyond how quickly he can develop, the main question now is whether he has the kick step and lateral quickness to play left in college.
Hughes managed to stick at tackle during the spring after enrolling early, a good sign for his ability to stick at the position and hardly a guarantee for guys who come in projected as tackles, but sometimes end up on the interior in a heartbeat. The word on the massive Hughes is that he's raw but athletic, with a need to add strength. He'll have time to do that after tearing his ACL playing basketball during the summer.
An interior lineman with a nasty streak, Riser hails from the talent-rich DeSoto program as a kid with a reputation for loving to mash in the running game, as well as some experience in pass protection as a high school tackle. With good depth at guard and center, Riser won't have to play early and may struggle to serious dent the rotation until he's spent several years in the program, but has a chance to be a major asset in the power-running game eventually.
Starters: Donald Hawkins, Trey Hopkins, Dominic Espinosa, Mason Walters, Josh Cochran
It's not often that starters are already covered in these position previews in the arrivals section, but that's the case with Hawkins. If you don't know what you need to know about him by this point, check your reading comprehension skills. And then re-read.
For the junior Hopkins, he's another in a long line of Texas linemen who should have redshirted but didn't have the chance. Probably one of the smartest players on the team regardless of position, he never quite had the pure height to deal with edge rusher, but should be much more comfortable back on the inside, where can use his quick feet and overall athleticism to cause some devastation at the second level.
Beside him, the third-year sophomore Espinosa should only improve with his first full season in the strength and conditioning. And, anyway, he wasn't as bad as many made him out to be, according to Scipio Tex:
So we have a 2nd year freshman, who after missing the entire Spring with a shoulder injury, plays the one position that puts an OL at the greatest disadvantage physically from the guy across from him, while being asked to call out the line adjustments, and is then asked to move a 6-1, 305 pound, 23 year old Polynesian who can squat his village, keying hard on run because our offense passes like Mr Magoo on the highway. Recipe for success, IMHO.
Dominic Espinosa is smart, shows good feet when asked to zone (and even pull in certain instances), and he plays with low pads. He was also asked to play two years before he was ready. As he makes up ground with respect to age, physical development, and experience, he can be a good player for us. Yes, really.
On the other side, Walters still has room for development, despite the comparisons to Kasey Studdard, There's no doubt that he has the edge to him that compares favorably to Studdard, but he lacks the consistency that defined the former Texas offensive line stalwart. If Walters can improve handling shorter players who can get under his pads, he'll go a long way towards making those Studdard comparisons more apt.
Bookending the tackle position with Hawkins is Cochran, whose should have made similar strength gains to Espinosa and should also continue to improve with his technique as well after filling in ably as a true freshman. After Hopkins, Cochran is right up there with Hawkins as the most athletic offensive lineman in the starting group and does well in space.
Depth: Sedrick Flower, Luke Poehlmann, Thomas Ashcraft
Like Riser, Flowers is known as a mauler and both are around the same height, so they don't have too many issues with defenders getting up under their pads. It would be something of a surprise if Flowers didn't end the season as the top reserve for Texas and could be a de factor starter sooner rather than later. An injury kept him from burning his redshirt, which is probably the best thing in the long run.
Poehlmann will be the top reserve at tackle if Hopkins doesn't get most of the reps in that role. After an eternity in the program, he's still only 275 pounds, which suggests he hasn't had the greatest dedication in the weight room or in gaining weight at the training table. He was most effective last season as a short-yardage blocker at tight end and may reprise the role again this season.
The pear-shaped Ashcraft was also was one of the sloppier linemen for Texas in recent years and has never lived up to his billing as a four-star recruit. There's some talk that he's slimmed down a bit in order to improve his mobility, but until he actually gets on the field and performs well, there's no much other reason to believe that he can be a rotation player for Texas.
Same thing for Porter, except he's never had a weight issue, it's just not clear how much he likes football considering he spends most of his time on Twitter trying to get people to support his band.
If any other players contribute regularly or even in spot duty, it will be a bit of a surprise.
Recruiting: Kent Perkins (Dallas Lake Highlands), Darius James (Harker Heights), Jake Raulerson (Celina)
This is a good group, as Stacy Searels was able to land all of his top targets, with the exception of Ishmael Wilson, the A&M commit who has some temper issues on the field. Perkins is a left tackle prospect who is one of the better players to emerge there in recent seasons. James is a remarkable athlete for his size who could end up playing all five spots on the line, with some speculation from people inside the program that he could be good enough to see time on the field right now, were he in college. As for Raulerson, he's the bellcow and only needs to add some good weight to his frame before he can contribute, as his technique and want-to are unquestioned, he just struggles to anchor against stronger players.
What to watch for in fall camp: Can the starting tackles stay healthy? Nothing else is as important as this consideration. In that sense, Hawkins may be the most valuable member of the entire Texas team, with Cochran not too far behind -- the Texas depth behind them is that sketchy, with Hopkins perhaps ranking as the third-best tackle.
Other than that huge consideration, the big key is finding more quality depth on the interior -- everyone loves Flowers, but he hasn't proven it on the field yet. Ashcraft has supposedly reshaped a bit, but he hasn't either, in plenty more time. On and on. To achieve the depth that coaches prefer, some players need to step up.