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Texas Longhorns continue to struggle recruiting DL in 2016

At some point, this has to become an acknowledged concern. Right?

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports


The signature tweet of head coach Kevin Sumlin has been all too common when Texas Longhorns targets make decisions in recent years.

On Friday, the latest Texas target to commit to Texas A&M was McKinney North defensive end Justin Madubuike, a consensus four-star prospect ranked as the No. 7 strongside defensive end in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings:

A look at Madubuike's 247Sports Cryal Ball predictions tells the ugly tale of how the Horns in recent months with the nation's No. 107 prospect:

justin madubuike 247

More concerningly, Madubuike's pledge continued a trend of struggles for the Longhorns in recruiting defensive linemen, a key position in the class because Texas has struggled to land impact defensive players in the trenches dating back to 2013, when former head coach Mack Brown failed to sign a single prospect at either defensive end or defensive tackle, though Naashon Hughes did grow into a Fox end.

In that class, missing on former commits like Daeshon Hall and A'Shawn Robinson still looms large as the defensive line struggles to make any type of impact in 2015, even against an inferior opponent like Rice. In 2014, head coach Charlie Strong did well to hold onto Derick Roberson and ink Poona Ford and Chris Nelson on National Signing Day, but none of those players have emerged as consistent contributors yet.

The 2015 class didn't feature a single defensive tackle after missing on Daylon Mack late and then losing Du'Vonta Lampkin long after National Signing Day when he couldn't pass his Spanish classes. On the positive side, Charles Omenihu could be an answer at the Fox end, as he moved past Roberson in the rotation last weekend, and junior-college transfer Quincy Vasser could eventually emerge to displace Shiro Davis on the strong side.

Still, the lack of overall playmaking along the defensive line right now puts even more pressure on the 2016 class, which currently features only one commitment from a defensive lineman in Destrehan (La.) product Gerald Wilbon. And Wilbon plans on taking some other official visits this fall, so his recruitment is far from over.

A number of key targets committed elsewhere -- Killeen Shoemaker defensive tackle Kendell Jones pledged to Alabama despite visiting Texas 13 times, Cibolo Steele defensive end Mark Jackson chose Texas A&M, and area prospects Erick Fowler (Manor) and Rahsaan Thornton (Killeen Shoemaker) both committed to LSU, though it's worth noting that Thornton is from Louisiana.

Fort Worth All Saints defensive tackle Michael Williams (Stanford), Houston Westfield defensive tackle Ed Oliver (Houston), and Destrehan (La.) defensive tackle Glen Logan (LSU), Denham Springs defensive end Caleb Roddy (LSU), and Hope (Ark.) defensive end McTelvin Agim are all other targets with Texas offers who chose to commit to other schools, leaving Texas 0-for-8 along the defensive line in head-to-head battles against SEC West schools.

Texas is in the mix for New Orleans (La.) McDonough 35 defensive end Sci Martin and his more highly-considered teammate, defensive tackle Stephon Taylor, as well as Aldine Macarthur strongside defensive end Isaiah Chambers. Then there's Houston Westside defensive tackle Jordan Elliott, the recent Houston decommit who has been to Austin numerous times in the last several months and is one of the most critical targets left in the entire recruiting class for Texas.

If Texas misses on those uncommitted players, the staff will have to hope it can flip prospects like Fowler or Thornton or Jones, who are all still considering the Longhorns and may take visits to Austin this fall. Otherwise, it's going to take a late surge with other targets like Duncanville defensive tackle Marcel Southall or Fort Bend Elkins defensive tackle Ross Blaklock to find the needed numbers.

During the summer, the justification for not becoming concerned with key targets pledging to other schools was that there was still plenty of time until National Signing Day 2016 as the residual confidence from finishing the 2015 class so well provided hope for a similar happy ending to 2016 efforts.

Unfortunately, there's not a single prospect in the 2016 class who could create the same effect as Malik Jefferson had in committing to Texas in 2015. Had Texas A&M hired John Chavis before Jefferson made his decision, or even if Sumlin had told him he wanted to hire Chavis, there's a decent chance that Jefferson would currently be wearing maroon and white along with guys like Kris Boyd and Holton Hill.

And months after missing on all those prospects, the Horns haven't generated much momentum on the recruiting trail, Meanwhile, the blowout loss against Notre Dame and significant defensive struggles now provide a marked contrast to the rejuvenated defense in College Station led by first-year defensive coordinator John Chavis and the overall direction of the Aggie program.

As a direct result, some now believe that key linebacker target Jeffrey McCulloch is leaning towards Texas A&M after favoring Texas early in the process.

After Strong's staff was able to build relationships earlier in the 2016 cycle, it wasn't supposed to be like this. After Jefferson signed and the 2015 class finished ahead of Texas A&M (before losing Lampkin and the Florida kids), it wasn't supposed to be like this. After Strong did well developing players like Mykkele Thompson at Texas and sent so many players from his 2011 Louisvlle class to the NFL, it wasn't supposed to be like this.

For a defensive coach like Strong who has such a good reputation as a coach and as a person, the struggles are rather surprising, especially since the presence of Jefferson at Texas hasn't had much impact yet on the class. That's not a knock on Jefferson, it's just an unfortunate reality because the current landscape of recruiting in the state of Texas is not favorable for the Longhorns right now at all.

Strong is already on record as saying that he needs a talented 2016 class to complete his rebuild and get the Longhorns back to respectability. Right now, it's going to take a major surge to make sure that happens along the defensive line and it may have to happen without the benefit of many wins on the field unless the defense improves rapidly.

With Strong's long-term job security on the line, the stakes are high as the Texas head coach attempts to compete with the cachet of the SEC, which would likely be a difficult task even if the Longhorns were in a much better position as a program and able to sell on-field success to recruits.

Right now, all Strong has to sell is hope and playing time. And right now, defensive linemen in the 2016 class aren't really buying it.