Texas Longhorns offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Wickline has been telling recruits that he wants to take six linemen in the 2016 class.
However, with a little less than nine months until National Signing Day, the Longhorns haven't landed an offensive line pledge yet. That in and of itself isn't necessarily cause for the concern as the coaching staff as a whole has de-emphasized a pressure-oriented approach in favor of recruiting until the last moment since the staff would prefer prospects make a final decision instead of a reservation that could lead to a decommitment or post-commitment visits to other schools.
What is increasingly worrisome is the current state of offensive line recruiting overall.
Many targets are already committed or leaning elsewhere
The 247Sports database now lists 13 total offensive line offers for the Longhorns. Of those recruits, eight are currently committed to other programs. Another, Florida offensive guard Parker Boudreaux, did not include the Longhorns among the top 10 schools he recently released.
If Texas were to convince one of the seven recruits who committed to other schools to flip to the Horns, it would be the first time an offensive lineman offered by Texas before the initial commitment has changed his pledge to the Longhorns since at least the 2010 class. The common scenario is for an offensive lineman to switch commitments after receiving an offer from Texas.
The four uncommitted offensive tackle prospects are five-star Louisiana stud Willie Allen, North Mesquite's Jean Delance, and Bryon Nelson Trophy Club's Kellen Diesch. Allen hasn't visited since receiving his offer and is likely to play in the SEC. Delance is currently talking up SEC schools and hasn't made it to campus since receiving his offer, either, despite planning trips for the Junior Day in February and the Orange-White game in April. Diesch visited for the Junior Day, but is from Norman and looks like an Oklahoma lean with 47% of his 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions favoring the Sooners.
Right now, the Longhorns are currently experiencing a worst-case scenario with offensive tackle recruiting -- though Wickline perhaps wasn't that interested in taking Bears commit JP Urquidez, even if there wasn't interest in the other prospects, that scenario suggests an odd proclivity for offering prospects the staff doesn't want to continue pursuing afterwards.
Not to mention a noticeable lack of actual targets despite the apparent need for plenty of bodies.
Lessons from Wickline's Texas tenure
What happens when the respected coach has only a limited amount of time to recruit? When Wickline arrived in 2014, undersized center Terrell Cuney was the only offensive line commit for the Longhorns. So Wickline nabbed Louisiana product Alex Anderson from Arizona State and Houston-area recruit Elijah Rodriguez from Colorado.
It's difficult to judge Wickline too harshly given the imperative to land bodies in less than a month, but so far the returns on Anderson and Rodriguez haven't been especially heartening, with Anderson reportedly on his way out of the program after a year and Rodriguez now playing guard after he arrived on campus standing 6'3 instead of 6'5, as he was listed in high school. On the positive side, Rodriguez is on the depth chart and seemingly in good standing with his position coach and offensive coordinator.
In the 2015 class, some of Wickline's best work was in securing one of the group's most highly-rated prospects, Euless Trinity's Patrick Vahe, who ended up becoming the lone holdover from Mack Brown's pledges at the time of his resignation.
With two other out-of-state prospects, ties to the coaching staff helped play a large role.
"Garrett Thomas, we knew about Garrett because I had some friends within his community," head coach Charlie Strong said on National Signing Day. "Then with [Brandon] Hodges, Coach Wickline's wife actually grew up in Aberdeen, Mississippi, so when we went in to see him, we had to go over to the fire station and were able to tell some stories."
Based on the offers to Hodges and in-state junior college transfer Tristan Nickelson, Wickline clearly values his own evaluations over those of the industry. Hodges was unranked when offered, but did eventually become a four-star prospect by Scout after his recruitment took off during the fall, validating Wickline's initial assessment of his skills.
As opposed to the 2014 duo that Wickline brought in, the 2015 class is rapidly making a mark on the depth chart. Among the four early enrollees, Connor Williams is the starter at right tackle following 15 practices, Hodges looks like a contributor as a swing man, Thomas is playing tackle despite his guard projection by the services, and Nickelson is currently surpassing his rather modest expectations given his consensus two-star rating.
So far so good across the board with that group.
To assess where things stood at the end of last April, Hodges, Nickelson, and Williams weren't really on the recruiting radar for Texas yet, lending some credence to those who believe that there is still plenty of time in the current cycle.
As for potential commits to switch their pledges to Texas, of the eight offensive linemen to sign with Wickline, three of them were committed to other schools when offered -- Anderson, Rodriguez, and Nickelson -- but two were pledged to lower-tier Power 5 programs and none of the three prospects received a Texas offer, committed to another school, and then flipped to Texas.
Is Wickline a good recruiter?
Between the 2010 and 2014 recruiting class, the Cowboys landed 16 consensus four-star prospects overall -- a little more than three per season, so it wasn't like Oklahoma State couldn't land top-rated players.
Here's a look at Wickline's highest-rated offensive line signees during that stretch in order to better understand his recent recruiting acumen:
- Dan Koenig, Cape Coral (Fla.) OT -- The highest-rated member of the 2010 recruiting class, he was the youngest of three brothers to play along the offensive line for Oklahoma State and started for two years, so he's a legacy recruitment.
- Travis Cross, Plano West OT -- A consensus three-star prospect in 2011, Cross played in seven games in 2013 for Oklahoma State at center and guard before graduating and transferring to Houston last summer and starting most of the year at left tackle.
- Michael Wilson, Aledo OT -- The consensus four-star early enrollee redshirted in 2012 and then played sparingly in 2013 before taking over for an injured player last year, starting the final eight games and playing every position but center in the process. A good get for Wickline who is seemingly developing into a contributor.
- Greg Brantley, Carthage OT -- A massive 6'7, 310-pounder out of East Texas, Brantley was another consensus four-star prospect. However, he never made it to Stillwater because of "personal reasons."
- Zachary Crabtree, Mansfield OT -- After a redshirt season, the consensus three-star prospect missed some games because of injury last season, but started when healthy and looks like a future mainstay on the Cowboys line.
- Lemaefe Galeai, Euless Trinity OG -- In landing the No. 60 offensive guard, the 2014 class was the weakest of this sample size. Galeai redshirted after committing to Oklahoma State over offers from Baylor, BYU, and Utah State.
The major takeaway here is that Wickline recruited at an above-average level given the type of recruits that the Cowboys are capable of landing. And, for the most part, these guys have panned out if they managed to arrive on campus, even though plenty of Oklahoma State offensive linemen apparently didn't care for Wickline that much.
Wickline success stories
In looking back even further, the greatest success stories for Wickline in Stillwater were players like Russell Okung, who was an undersized mid three-star prospect out of high school. However, he wasn't exactly an unknown, as he held offers from schools like Arizona State, LSU, Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech, making him more of a good recruiting land for Wickline rather than a true diamond in the rough fashioned into the Big 12's best offensive lineman in 2009.
For the purposes of this piece at this time, casting Okung in that light is more positive for the future of Texas offensive line recruiting.
The 2011 offensive lineman of the year, center Grant Garner, was an undersized low three-star recruit with an average offer list -- Iowa State, Purdue, SMU, Vanderbilt, and Wisconsin -- who eventually became a two-year starter in addition to his major accolade as a senior.
Garner started on an offensive line that included a Rivals low three-star prospect (5.5) at left tackle, a Rivals low three-star prospect (5.5) at left guard, a Rivals two-star prospect (5.3) at right guard, and an unranked junior college prospect in Levy Adcock at right tackle who nonetheless held offers from Alabama and Arkansas.
With the exception of Adcock's strong offer list, the four other prospects on the line make a strong case for Wickline's developmental abilities, though Rivals three-star prospect (5.7) Michael Bowie also started for part of the season and held an impressive offer list.
On the whole, Wickline recruited about as well as expected at Oklahoma State given the limitations of that program. When he wasn't able to land highly-rated players, he turned overlooked recruits into competent starters.
Where does Texas go from here?
The staff will no doubt continue to recruit any of the current targets it truly desires, but would seem to have the best shot of flipping of recent TCU offensive tackle commit Austin Myers among the group of offensive tackle prospects, while landing offensive guard prospect Denzel Okafor is also possibility, though his recruitment is still developing and there are no Crystal Ball predictions for him yet.
Other than Okafor, there aren't many in-state prospects left on the board. Harker Heights offensive tackle Chris Hughes and Arlington Bowie offensive guard Tope Imade are probably next in line for offers. Fellow three-star offensive tackle Braxton Webb is committed to SMU and could be a possible candidate to flip if offered by Texas.
Overall, nine of the top 12 offensive tackles in Texas are already committed.
Since there's no question that Wickline can develop and unlock potential that can render the rankings less meaningful than for most coaches, how the 2016 class shapes up will be about whether he has to settle for what he considers marginal prospects or if he can still land the guys he wants.
In that regard, it's not even necessarily about landing the top prospects in the state, though there is a high correlation between high recruiting rankings and getting selected in the NFL Draft. It's about securing Wickline's top targets, as evidenced by the offers extended.
Neither one of those things are happening right now.
From a wide-angle perspective, that's not concerning from a long-term recruiting standpoint based on Wickline's success in landing some good prospects at Oklahoma State and developing other lower-ranked players.
Still, the 2016 class has the potential to be an average group because of all the misses, the lack of high-level options remaining in state, and the likely need to take short-term fixes in the form of junior college players.