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Texas DC Vance Bedford not worried about small 2016 Longhorns recruiting class

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The Longhorns need to double the size of the recruiting class by February, but the defensive coordinator is confident it will happen.

Vance Bedford
Vance Bedford
Texas athletics

Click on the 247Sports Composite team rankings page and start scrolling. And scroll and scroll.

At the bottom, at the page load cutoff of 50, hit the "See More" button, and the Texas Longhorns finally appear at No. 54, one spot behind Western Michigan. In the Big 12, even West Virginia and Texas Tech have more highly-ranked classes.

Ask defensive coordinator Vance Bedford about his thoughts on the class, though, and he's not concerned, pointing to the big finish last season and noting how many players committed in January, including those three talented cornerbacks who are contributing and starting already.

"The way it's going right now and the young people that we're talking to, it's probably going to be the same thing," Bedford said Wednesday. "It's probably going to be in January, but, again, it's early and I know that people take commitments early."

The question was part of an ongoing conversation with Bedford this fall about recruiting and he's maintained the same stance throughout -- just be patient. An addendum to that discussion is his desire to keep space for late-developing prospects.

"Remember this -- a lot of kids, seniors, they develop late, too," he said. "A lot of players have been missed here and at other places over the last five years because of early commitments of guys that didn't pan out. So we're trying to do a great job of evaluating guys and getting down to the nitty-gritty of making the right decisions."

Evaluating the mechanics of why Texas has available spots for these players results in a conclusion that the Longhorns aren't really holding spots, necessarily, but have simply missed on a quite a few of the top prospects that made early decisions.

However, there have been some success stories, especially in the last several weeks. Defensive line is a huge priority because of class need and because of early misses, so evaluating and finding a rising prospect like Baton Rouge (La.) Madison Prep Academy defensive end Malcolm Roach and solid three-star prospect Andrew Fitzgerald of Flower Mound Marcus and landing both was big.

Both look like ideal developmental projects for head coach Charlie Strong. Roach was playing linebacker at this time last year and then put on 30 pounds in the spring, but he always had a great deal of physicality and the benefits of his father being a coach. Fitzgerald could be a steal because he has a projectable frame, the flexibility to play with ideal leverage, and some understanding of how to use his hands already.

By 2017 or 2018, Roach and Fitzgerald could be important pieces of the Texas defensive line.

The danger for Strong is that he either needs to land highly-rated, high-impact guys late in the process or have players like Roach and Fitzgerald develop more quickly than anticipated because unless things turn around and the wins start coming more frequently, there are significant questions about whether Strong will be around in 2017 or 2018 to coach these players.

As much as he may want to recruit to build program depth and find the same type of players he turned into NFL prospects at Louisville, there's only a limited extent to which he can do so without sacrificing the short-term gains that he needs to make to ensure he has job security.

So where do things go from here? There have been a handful of important visits throughout the fall. Most of the extremely critical visits, however, will happen after the season, most likely in January. Quite a few key targets are planning to announce at the all-star games or on National Signing Day.

Former head coach Mack Brown was reticient about those recruitments for a reason -- it can be hard to assemble a class if five or six or seven or eight prospects are waiting until the last moment to make their decisions known publicly. As a result, the staff will be under some heavy pressure to make key decisions about mid-tier prospects who might be ready to commit or flip if the top-tier prospects look headed elsewhere.

Bedford understand what worked last year and why things were able to come together so well.

"Last year, to be frank, the coaches did a great job of working and that type of thing and we got lucky."

Having players like linebacker Malik Jefferson on campus and a growing statewide reputation for Strong as a sincere person who does value the kids and education and everything that he has tried to make clear that he stands for, but hasn't always gotten translated with the quickness that would most benefit the Longhorns.

Asked about whether the Texas brand is in a better position than last year after Bedford said he wanted to see growth in that area, the defensive coordinator had to flat-out admit that he didn't know. On National Signing Day, Bedford and Texas fans will have a much better idea.

This finish will be a test of where that perception currently sits in state, how prospects perceive the short-term and long-term future of the program, and whether the assistants can once again turn that hard work into resuilts.

"At the end of the day, I think that the University of Texas does speak for itself."

So, Vance, you're really not worried?

"Why would I be? The only thing I'm worried about right now is trying to find a way to get these kids lined up to go in there and compete against West Virginia and get to the fourth quarter."