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How the Texas Longhorns ended up with a roster full of underclassmen

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Charlie Strong may not be the one to blame for the state of the roster he inherited. But the rift and division among his roster happened under his watch and is now on him to get right.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

We all know by now that the Texas Longhorns are in a drought of talent and production from its upperclassmen and veterans. And this has motivated head coach Charlie Strong and his staff to play more younger players, which is not a situation coaches usually want to be in. But as Texas continues to search for the right groupings of personnel, a rift and disconnect between the older and younger players has revealed itself all under Strong's watch.

But to understand Texas' roster and the issues that Strong, his staff and this team have to continue to work through, we ourselves need to better understand the make ups of this roster and how Texas got to this point.

When I look at this roster, I compartmentalize it into three sections.

1) You have the recruits that were recruited by Mack Brown and who signed their National Letters of Intent while Coach Brown was still the head coach.

These are all your...

  • Redshirt seniors (2011 class)
  • Seniors (2012 class)
  • Redshirt juniors (2012 class)
  • Juniors (2013 class)
  • Redshirt sophomores (2013 class)

2) After that, there are players of the 2014 class that were mainly recruited by Mack Brown and then were recruited by Charlie Strong or added to the class before National Signing Day once he took over after the 2013 season.

These are your...

  • Sophomores (2014 class)
  • Redshirt freshmen (2014 class)

3) And last but definitely not least, you have your first-year players who are generally all freshmen with the addition of a few junior-college transfers.

These are your...

  • Freshmen (2015 class)
  • First-year JUCO players (2015 class)

In summary, you have your...

1.      Veteran players recruited by Mack Brown only

2.      Second-year players original recruited by Mack Brown and signed/added by Charlie Strong

3.      First-year players recruited by Charlie Strong and his staff only

In a perfect world, we can agree that your veterans would be the players that are playing the most and creating the most production for your team. They are the ones not only leading with their words, but more importantly, by example at practice and during games.

Unfortunately, that hasn't appeared to necessarily be the case for the Longhorns this fall. As the season has gone on, we've seen more and more freshmen and second-year players get into the game to contribute.

With that said, it's then fair to ask "Why?"

Why does Texas have to rely on younger players to make more plays than normal? Where are the productive veteran players Texas is starved of at the moment? And how will Charlie Strong bring this team together instead of letting the younger and older players grow farther apart?

To attempt to answer those questions, we need to look at the make-up of this current Texas roster.

*****

Below are Texas recruiting classes dating back to 2011. The classes are listed in alphabetical order. And the players in "bold" are the ones still on roster. I've also added a quick analysis of each class as well as some notes next to players if we knew they transferred or were dismissed during the coaching change from Mack Brown to Charlie Strong.

2011 recruiting class (22) -- Current redshirt seniors (RS-SR)

  • David Ash - QB
  • Joe Bergeron - RB (dismissed)
  • Malcolm Brown - RB
  • Josh Cochran - OL (medical)
  • Quandre Diggs - DB
  • Taylor Doyle - OL
  • Steve Edmond - LB
  • Sheroid Evans - DB
  • Sedrick Flowers - OL
  • Garrett Greenlea (medical)
  • Marcus Hutchins - OL
  • Desmond Jackson - DT
  • M.J. McFarland - TE (graduate transfer)
  • Chet Moss - FB (dismissed)
  • Miles Onyegbule - QB/WR
  • Cedric Reed - DE
  • Quincy Russell - DE (failed to qualify)
  • Leroy Scott - S (dismissed)
  • Jaxon Shipley - WR
  • Kendall Thompson - LB
  • Mykkele Thompson - S
  • Josh Turner - S

The disappointment here is these players are on their fifth year in the program playing D1 football and none are seen as impact player, yet Texas has had to rely on most of them in the first portion of the season except for the injured Sheroid Evans.

Desmond "Tank" Jackson was thought to be a bigger force than he has been. But it's possible his injury history could be hindering him. As for the other redshirt seniors, offensive linemen Hutchins, Flowers, and Doyle all fall in the "not great but we don't have many other options at this point" category in the first part of the season.

2012 recruiting class (28) -- Current seniors (SR) and redshirt juniors (RS-JR)

  • Caleb Bluiett - DE/TE
  • Paul Boyette Jr. - DT
  • Connor Brewer - QB (transferred)
  • Malcolm Brown - DT (declared early for NFL)
  • Adrian Colbert - DB
  • Timothy Cole - LB
  • Bryce Cottrell - DE
  • Shiro Davis - DE
  • Alex De La Torre - H-Back
  • Bryson Echols - DB
  • Kennedy Estelle - OL (dismissed)
  • Jonathan Gray - RB
  • Donald Hawkins - OL (JUCO)
  • Camrhon Hughes - OL (left program)
  • Peter Jinkens - LB
  • Daje Johnson - WR
  • Marcus Johnson - WR
  • Cayleb Jones - WR (transferred)
  • Nick Jordan - K
  • Brandon Moore - DT
  • Alex Norman - DT
  • Jalen Overstreet - QB/WR (dismissed)
  • Hassan Ridgeway - DT
  • Curtis Riser - OL (transferred)
  • Kendall Sanders - WR (dismissed)
  • Dalton Santos - LB
  • Orlando Thomas - CB
  • Kevin Vaccaro - DB

I consider the players still left on roster from the 2012 class as the players that always leave me wanting more. Though some have made splashes here and there in games during their careers, none have really established themselves as consistent or reliable players.

The only player that had finally begun to make plays consistently was Daje Johnson before he got knocked out of the TCU game. Hopefully he can come back healthy because the Texas offense needs his dynamic ability on the field.

Guys like Shiro Davis, Marcus Johnson, Hassan Ridgeway, Peter Jinkens, Paul Boyette, Bryce Cottrell, Johnathan Gray, Kevin Vaccaro and even Caleb Bluiett have also made plays here and there this year and during their time at Texas. But none have taken that next step up in their level of play. And at this point, due to various reasons regarding each player, it's safe to keep expectations low with this group moving forward the rest of the season.

Starting with this class, let's also start a side tally of how many offensive linemen Texas loses prematurely before the 2015 season.

Losses in the trenches...

1. OL Curtis Riser - transferred

2. Camrhon Hughes - transferred

3. Kennedy Estelle - dismissed

2013 recruiting class (15) -- Current juniors (JR) and redshirt sophomores (RS-SO)

  • Chevoski Collins - DB (dismissed)
  • Antwuan Davis - DB
  • Deoundrei Davis - LB (dismissed)
  • Rami Hammad - OL (transferred)
  • Desmond Harrison - OL (JUCO - suspended/did not return for senior season)
  • Naashon Hughes - DE
  • Erik Huhn - DB (medical)
  • Darius James - OL (transferred)
  • Montrel Meander - WR (dismissed)
  • Jake Oliver - WR
  • Kent Perkins - OL
  • Jake Raulerson - OL
  • Geoff Swaim (JUCO)
  • Tyrone Swoopes - QB
  • Jacorey Warrick - WR

This class was at a disadvantage the day it was signed. Generally, the smaller the class, the smaller the room for error is with your scouting and analysis of each recruit. You just can't afford to miss on really any of these guys. And, unfortunately for Texas, about half were misses (or dismissed), and the other half have yet to pan out like Texas needed them to.

Of the players that are left from the 2013 class, Naashon Hughes could end up being a very productive player for the Longhorns. But he's still a player the Longhorns need to be more productive right now.

Aside from Hughes, Kent Perkins has been the next most-important player from this class. We all have seen what losing him at right tackle causes.

This 2013 class makes my stomach uneasy.

Losses in the trenches... let's add three more:

1. OL Rami Hammad - transferred

2. OL Desmond Harrison - did not return

3. OL Darius James - transferred

4. OL Curtis Riser - transferred

5. OL Camrhon Hughes - transferred

6. OL Kennedy Estelle - dismissed

2014 recruiting class (23) -- Current sophomores (SO) and redshirt freshmen (RS-FR)

  • Alex Anderson - OL
  • Andrew Beck - TE
  • Roderick Bernard - WR
  • John Bonney - DB
  • Donald (Duke) Catalon - RB (transferred)
  • Terrell Cuney - OL
  • Poona Ford - DT
  • Armanti Foreman - WR
  • D'Onta Foreman - RB
  • Edwin Freeman - LB
  • Garrett Gray - WR
  • Jason Hall - S
  • Cameron Hampton - LB (transferred)
  • Jerrod Heard - QB
  • Lorenzo Joe - WR
  • Dorian Leonard - WR
  • Jake McMillon - DT
  • Derick Roberson - DE
  • Jermaine Roberts - DB
  • Elijah Rodriquez - OL
  • Kevin Shorter - RB (medical)
  • Blake Whiteley - TE (JUCO)

Though the 2015 class may have the most promise and excitement, the 2014 class is the most interesting class for me right now. It's a mixed-bag type of class that still has a lot of question marks surrounding it.

You have guys like Jerrod Heard, D'Onta Foreman, Armanti Foreman, Poona Ford, and Derick Roberson that continue to produce and contribute more and more.

Then you have guys that you hope improve but have already left a bad taste in your mouth. These are guys like Jason Hall, John Bonney, and Terrell Cuney (Cuney flirted with legal trouble this offseason after a shoplifting arrest).

And then you are left with a bunch of question marks and unknowns. These are also potentially guys we see more of during the second half of the season depending on how it all plays out.

With this class, we have to remind ourselves that some of these players have already been asked to do more than what a second-year player (especially one that redshirts his first season) is usually asked to do. And there is still time for the players from this class to improve their play and have their "light" come on. For Texas' sake, there's no question they will need at least a handful of the guys from this class to pan out and become contributors in some form or fashion moving forward and next season.

Losses in the trenches.... Fortunately for the time being, it does not appear that Texas has lost any OL from this class just yet. So our number stays at 6.

2015 recruiting class (29) -- Current true freshmen, unless Juco (FR, Juco-Tr)

  • Kris Boyd - CB
  • John Burt - WR
  • Cecil Cherry - LB (transnferred)
  • Devonaire Clarington - TE (did not qualify)
  • DeVante Davis - CB
  • DeShon Elliott - S
  • Breckyn Hager - LB
  • Holton Hill - DB
  • Brandon Hodges - OL (Juco)
  • Tristian Houston - RB
  • Malik Jefferson - LB
  • Gilbert Johnson - WR (did not qualify)
  • Kirk Johnson - RB
  • Du'Vonta Lampkin (did not qualify)
  • James "PJ" Locke - S
  • Kai Locksley - QB
  • Ronnie Major - OL
  • Deandre McNeal - WR
  • Ryan Newsome - WR
  • Tristan NIckelson - OL (Juco)
  • Charles Omenihu - DE
  • Garrett Thomas - OL
  • Cameron Townsend - LB
  • Patrick Vahe - OL
  • Quincy Vasser - DE (JUCO)
  • Chris Warren - RB
  • Anthony Wheeler - LB
  • Connor Williams - OT

This class is the class that Charlie Strong and Texas are banking on the most. It's Charlie Strong's first class that was recruited by him and his staff alone. And it's seen as the class that will lead to the "flip" of the program back to the competitive level it once was at.

And it's hard to argue against this 2015 class at the moment. We've already seen a ton of freshmen from this class play. And many have been making plays when given the opportunity.

As I've said before, I can't remember a staff that has asked this much of its freshmen and has needed this many freshmen on the field making plays to be successful.

But as expected, playing youth means mistakes will follow closely behind. And the players from this class have also made their fair share of mistakes on the field. It's the growing pains one has to stomach when playing true freshmen.

*****

I did not sort out the roster and recruiting classes like this to create excuses for Texas. I did this to give us a better understanding of where this football program is, how it got here, and the issues Charlie Strong still needs to correct with this roster.

Losses in the trenches

1. OL Rami Hammad - transferred (would be in third year)

2. OL Desmond Harrison - transferred (JUCO - could be RS-SR)

3. OL Darius James - transferred (would be in third year)

4. OL Curtis Riser - transferred (would be in fourth year)

5. OL Camrhon Hughes - transferred (would be in fourth year)

6. OL Kennedy Estelle - dismissed (would be in fourth year)

Hopefully the losses above sheds more light onto why there are two true freshmen starting on the offensive line and why Texas has been struggling in the trenches.

Looking big picture, as we can all see, this team is bottom-heavy from redshirt seniors on down to true freshmen. And the state of the roster Coach Strong inherited is not really his fault. But the reality is there is now a division and disconnect that is present and has been revealed to the public. And that reality and division among the team is obviously not an ideal situation for any football team to be in.

We can look back to the last few classes Mack Brown recruited to Texas to understand the types of older players Texas has (and does not have, for that matter) to work with. But the lack of unity among this team that introduced itself to us these past couple of weeks is no one else's fault but Charlie Strong's.

It's likely too late for many of the older players to develop into the type of productive players they were expected to become when they were first brought to the 40 Acres. But it's never too late for a group of players on the same team to actually come together and play like a team.

For Texas to find success this season, Charlie Strong and his staff will need to do a much, much better job of tearing down the walls and divisions between his older and younger players. Instead of playing as one unit, his team is playing as a hodge-podge of players. And if he and his staff don't bring this team together from top to bottom, he will be in for another long, ugly stretch of games after their bye week that follows the Oklahoma game.