“All of them — I’m sure I’m going to leave some of them out.”
When asked about which redshirting freshmen players Tom Herman is excited about heading into bowl practices and the 2018 season, the head coach was effusive in his praise.
A significant number of the 2017 signees are already playing for the Longhorns, but several more who haven’t seen the field are worth mentioning.
Cornerback Kobe Boyce — One of the only players mentioned by Herman on Monday, Boyce is a long, athletic cornerback who emerged later in the recruiting cycle than many of his peers.
“I spend most of my time with the offense, you know, so he has given our offense a heck of a look all year,” Herman said on Tuesday.
Ranked as the No. 55 cornerback nationally, Boyce wasn’t a highly-regarded prospect even when he signed, but he ran a verified 4.49 40-yard dash in high school and also recorded a 4.12 shuttle and a 37.5-inch vertical leap.
After a year in the Texas strength and conditioning program, his athleticism should be improved in 2018, when he will have a chance to compete in the cornerback rotation if Holton Hill decides to leave for the NFL.
The key for Boyce will be improving his strength so that he can handle more physical wide receivers and hold up against blockers when defending screens or setting the edge against the run.
Safety Montrell Estell — Like Boyce, Estell needed a season to redshirt and get stronger, but unlike Boyce, he was a coveted recruit as a consensus four-star prospect and the nation’s No. 11 athlete, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
A two-way player in high school, Estell had more than 1,500 yards of offense and 20 touchdowns as a senior. With smooth athleticism, Estell made the difficult look easy — hurdling two defenders on one play and catching a pass behind a defender’s back on another. He scored on both.
At safety, Estell has range, ball skills, and that signature East Texas toughness. In track and field, he was the 3A state triple jump champion. If junior DeShon Elliott jumps to the NFL, Estell could work his way into the rotation at safety in 2018.
Linebacker Marqez Bimage — The Brenham product isn’t redshirting this season, but Herman praised his effort on the scout team. With three tackles in 2017, Bimage has also been a consistent player on special teams.
The task for the coaching staff will be determining where Bimage best fits at linebacker. Does he fit the best at Mike, Rover, or B-backer? The need next season will likely be at the second level with junior Malik Jefferson’s likely departure, but Bimage’s natural pass-rushing ability and physicality could make him a perfect fit at B-backer.
Tight end Reese Leitao — A suspension for the first three games due to an offseason drug arrest put Leitao behind fellow freshman Cade Brewer at the tight end position, resulting in his redshirt. However, there was plenty of preseason buzz about the Jenks product, who is relatively new to the game after focusing on basketball early in high school.
Transitioning to the physicality of the position shouldn’t be an issue since Leitao was a standout defensive end — several schools even recruited him at the position. The bigger keys for Leitao will be working on his route running and explosiveness as he competes for the in-line tight end role.
If Andrew Beck can come back healthy next season, Leitao will likely serve as his back up, but could be pressed into more significant playing time if Beck suffers another foot issue.
Wide receiver Jordan Pouncey — One of the latest additions to the recruiting class, Pouncey was a productive player at the lower levels of Florida high school football, spending time at running back, wide receiver, and on defense.
The testing numbers are a bit difficult to make sense of, as he ran a 4.65 40-yard dash and a 4.61 shuttle, but also recorded a 36.5-inch vertical leap. If his vertical was more indicative of his athleticism, that significantly increases his upside in terms of projecting his straight-line speed. Otherwise, he’ll have to succeed by running good routes and consistently catching the football.
On film, he did show some of those skills as a senior, making difficult catches, finishing long runs or catches with touchdowns, turning the corner at top speed, and even flashing some elusiveness with his change of direction.
Offensive tackle Samuel Cosmi — Like Bimage and running back Danny Young, Cosmi was a late flip from Houston, filling a big need as a developmental tackle project. Listed at 6’6 and 285 by the school upon enrollment, Cosmi has gained 20 pounds since arriving. Considering that he was listed at 260 out of high school, he’s probably between 280 and 290 pounds now.
In serving as the scout team tackle, Cosmi has benefited from being able to go against talented defensive ends like Charles Omenihu, Malcolm Roach, and Breckyn Hager in practice.
Cosmo may not be ready to play next season, but he’s tough and athletic, two qualities that could help him at least somewhat approximate the success of Connor Williams as he gets stronger.
Since 11 of the 17 signees have played already, including Bimage, the only player that Herman left out is defensive end Max Cummins, another late addition who competed in the private school ranks. Like Cosmi, Cummins is a project who could become a contributor at defensive end once older players like Omenihu and Hager graduate.
As a whole, the 2017 class has already surpassed the expectations that accompanied it to campus as the nation’s 25th-ranked group. With continued development from the players who have already made an impact on the field and some growth from the redshirting players, it’s possible that Herman assembled the rarest of transitional classes — a successful one.