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How Texas has filled late needs under Tom Herman

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From the graduate transfer market to late-rising junior-college prospects, the Horns have successfully addressed roster gaps during the Tom Herman era.

NCAA Football: Texas at Texas Christian Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, the Texas Longhorns announced the additions of Michigan Wolverines graduate transfer wide receiver Tarik Black and former Baylor Bears cornerback signee Jahdae Barron, filling two important needs for the program — a fourth-year wide receiver and a second cornerback out of high school.

The moves are part of a more systematic effort by head coach Tom Herman and his staff, managed in large part by Director of Player Personnel Derek Chang, to ensure that the roster doesn’t suffer from failing to address short-term and long-term needs left unfilled by a recruiting cycle.

Addressing every position of need to the fullest is obviously the initial plan, but recruiting doesn’t always work out neatly, necessitating some further due diligence on graduate transfers, unsigned junior college prospects, and the occasional recruit with a release from their National Letter of Intent.

As the injury situation on defense revealed last season, Herman and Chang haven’t fully fixed the issues resulting from poor roster management under former head coach Charlie Strong and the attrition caused by Herman’s arrival in Austin.

To be clear, Herman deserves blame for subpar development in 2019, something that he’s admitted publicly on multiple occasions and attempted to address after the regular season by replacing seven of his 10 on-field assistants. Not to mention the fact that significant due diligence working to uncover players like Juwan Mitchell should be a base-level part of the job.

But building ideal depth takes time and due diligence was not a prominent attribute of the recruiting process under the last two Texas head coaches in the 2010s.

So with the recent additions of Black and Barron, it’s worth looking back at the other offseason moves made by Herman since arriving and the extent to which those moves paid off in meaningful contributions.

2017

Syracuse graduate transfer TE Kendall Moore

Texas entered Herman’s first offseason with a mess at the tight end position — junior Andrew Beck was back after starting three games in 2016, but there weren’t any commits when Herman arrived. One of his eventual additions, Oklahoma product Reese Leitao, was arrested with $1,300 in cash and admitted to selling Xanax at his high school in late February of 2017. Leitao avoided felony charges and was ultimately suspended for three games, leading to a redshirt year.

As with the Black situation now at wide receiver, Texas had a need for an experienced player at tight end and landed Moore from Syracuse. It wasn’t a splashy addition because Moore wasn’t a splashy player — he didn’t earn any starts as a junior and came to Austin with 15 career receptions for 150 yards and two touchdowns.

When Moore wasn’t able to enroll for summer classes, his acclimation period happened during preseason camp as Beck suffered a season-ending foot injury.

The loss of Beck forced converted wide receiver Garrett Gray into the starting lineup until he suffered a knee injury that ultimately ended his Longhorns career.

Down to Moore and freshman Cade Brewer, himself a converted wide receiver from his time at Lake Travis, Texas lost half of its scholarship wide receivers before the season opener was even over.

Moore ended up ceding playing time to Brewer until he suffered his own season-ending knee injury against TCU, eventually starting five games and serving as an adequate blocker in the run game. As a receiver, Moore didn’t make an impact until the Texas Bowl, when his only career catch in burnt orange and white resulted in a touchdown.

The tight position was a disaster in 2017 and Moore wasn’t a significant contributor, but he was the difference between a disaster and an absolute disaster. That’s 2017 Texas football in a nutshell.

Oklahoma State graduate transfer deep snapper Kaleb Smith

The addition of a deep snapper is the type of news that reveals itself when the school updates the preseason roster. So it was for Smith, who started out snapping on punts with the Cowboys, but transitioned to field goals and place kicks as a freshman and contributed in that role for three seasons.

Texas had a need at the position because deep snapper Jak Holbrook was 5’11 and 205 pounds — well on the small side for field goals and place kicks. Remember those three blocked extra points by Oklahoma State in 2016? Two were a result of defenders coming through the A gaps because Holbrook needed so much help as a blocker.

Enter Smith on field goals and extra points. The burly Texan was able to solidify the middle at 6’3 and 275 pounds and help avoid the special teams disasters characterizing Strong’s final season in Austin.

2018

Rice graduate transfer Calvin Anderson

Injuries cratered the offensive line in 2017, leaving Denzel Okafor and Tristan Nickelson to spend time at left tackle. Texas finished 108th in sacks allowed with 34 — 2.6 per game.

With the hire of Herb Hand to coach the position, the Longhorns looked for an upgrade at left tackle following Okafor’s struggles and Nickelson’s departure. There were signs of Sam Cosmi’s emergence and Derek Kerstetter had started the final 10 games of 2017 at right tackle, but there wasn’t enough proven experience there.

Anderson was one of the most coveted transfers on the market — Auburn, Michigan, and Oklahoma were his other three finalists, but the addition of Hand helped Anderson make a business decision to return to Austin. An undersized lineman from Westlake who was lightly recruited, Anderson blossomed into an excellent pass protector with the Owls and maintained that ability at Texas with the increase in competition level.

Not only did Anderson start all 14 games, he was durable, with a lost shoe the only thing that kept him off the field. And while he wasn’t overpowering in the running game, Anderson arguably provided the biggest year-to-year upgrade of all the Texas graduate transfers in the Herman era.

California graduate transfer running back Tre Watson

A torn ACL cost Watson most of the 2017 season after he emerged as a dual-threat back during his junior year with 1,156 all-purpose yards and four rushing touchdowns. Watson worked to rehabilitate his knee as he became one of the better running backs on the graduate transfer market, eventually choosing Texas over LSU and Texas Tech.

With Chris Warren III gone to transfer and then to the NFL as an undrafted free agent, Texas had a depth issue at running back after freshman Daniel Young emerged as the starter by the bowl game despite modest expectations for his ability to contribute immediately.

Suffice it to say that the Horns needed an upgrade at the position even beyond the state’s top 2018 running back, Keaontay Ingram.

When some minor injuries limited Ingram as a freshman, Watson emerged as the team’s best running back, starting 12 games and finishing first on the team in carries (186) and rushing yards (786), along with three touchdowns rushing and three touchdowns receiving on 22 catches.

Watson wasn’t a particularly dynamic player — he only had two runs over 20 yards — in an offense that likewise wasn’t dynamic, either. The Longhorns did get a player who made the offense work by running hard in between the tackles and making the most of his 195 pounds to pick up extra yardage.

That max-effort style endeared Watson to the burnt orange faithful, as he finished his brief Texas career as a fan favorite.

For the program, as the Longhorns worked to rebuild the running back position following the issues in 2017, Watson was a key piece in providing a bridge to 2018 as Ingram developed and the staff added more high school talent to the position.

2019

Georgia Tech graduate transfer offensive guard Parker Braun

After the 2018 season, Texas lost 82 combined games and nine combined years of experience from the guard position with the graduations of Elijah Rodriguez and Patrick Vahe. The Longhorns had two contributors in Kerstetter and Okafor back to fill in on the right side, but there wasn’t any other proven depth at guard.

So when Paul Johnson retired at Georgia Tech, Texas product Parker Braun entered the transfer portal with one year of eligibility remaining. A two-time All-ACC selection in Johnson’s triple option offense, Braun was known as a high-energy mauler in the running game, especially pulling into space, earning interest from programs like Florida, Miami, and Ohio State.

Once again, Hand landed his top target and Braun quickly emerged as the starter at left guard next to Cosmi.

The results were mixed at times — the two provided effective combo blocks at the point of attack and Braun played with his trademark energy, but the transition to playing much more often in pass protection caused some problems.

In the end, although Braun perhaps fell short of expectations overall, he was a solid and durable contributor who kept less effective players off the field.

Iowa Western offensive lineman Willie Tyler

A one-time basketball player from Wisconsin who missed his junior season of high school football, Tyler initially landed at Garden City, but left when the coaches asked him to move from defense to offense. Eventually, Tyler ended up at Iowa Western and emerged as an intriguing prospect because of his size at 6’7 and 330 pounds.

Texas won out over West Virginia and interest from bigger programs like Alabama well after National Signing Day when several misses along the offensive line left a spot open in the 2019 recruiting class.

Tyler redshirted last season and may not be a strong candidate to earn a starting role this year, but he still has three seasons of eligibility remaining and could eventually grow into a contributor.

Perhaps it doesn’t happen — Tyler arrived as a raw prospect and may never reach his potential.

The bet from the Texas coaches is in their ability to tap into Tyler’s significant ceiling thanks to his size, strength, athleticism, and potential for a sharp growth curve. Aided by a year of hindsight, that still seems like a bet worth taking.

Butler CC linebacker Juwan Mitchell

When key 2019 linebacker signee De’Gabriel Floyd was diagnosed with spinal stenosis that eventually ended his football career, the Longhorns were in a dire position at an already-thin position. With a weak graduate transfer market at linebacker, there weren’t a lot of options for a one-year player.

Enter Mitchell, who was once a member of the 2017 recruiting class out of New Jersey before landing at Butler CC for the 2018 season, along with eventual Texas signee Jacoby Jones, a defensive end. After signing with Rutgers and intending to enroll last spring, Mitchell had an admissions issue that eventually resulted in his commitment to Minnesota as a member of the 2020 recruiting class.

When Arkansas and Texas offered Mitchell as a 2019 prospect, however, he reconsidered and took official visits to both schools before committing to the Longhorns hours after leaving Austin.

Strong instincts at the position and further injuries helped Mitchell start in five games and register 39 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks. By the Alamo Bowl, however, Mitchell was in the dog house enough with coaches after leaving the field early after the Texas Tech game that former walk-on linebacker Cort Jaquess earned a start.

Weeks later, Mitchell entered the NCAA transfer portal, but ended up removing his name and remaining in Austin.

While maturity issues are a concern as Mitchell enters his junior season, he’s still a strong contender to earn the starting job at an inside linebacker position. And that means that he was an extremely valuable addition to the 2019 recruiting class.


Other than some arguably over-critical evaluations of Braun’s season on the Forty Acres, the graduate transfers on this list all achieved at the expected level or above. Mitchell quickly became contributor the coaches couldn’t afford to lose when he briefly entered and then left the transfer portal.

For Black and Barron and the two other players still on campus, their trajectories will become an important component of whether Herman is able to develop players well enough to finally displace Oklahoma as the Big 12’s top program.

Since Mitchell is already positioned as a potential starter for the next two seasons, if two of the three other late additions become contributors, the Longhorns may finally have the ideal depth necessary to survive inevitable injuries and attrition.

And that doesn’t even include all the walk ons who earned scholarships like Jaquess, former Under All-American deep snapper Justin Mader, also a starter, and former Rice linebacker commit Luke Brockermeyer, older brother of 2021 offensive line standouts Tommy and James.

Another walk on, former New Mexico State linebacker commit Jett Bush, became a freshman contributor on kickoff coverage.

After a sustained stretch of Texas staffs that didn’t pay enough attention to all the details to address program needs, it’s been heartening to see Herman and Chang not only show competency in such a key aspect of program management, but also produce strong results so far from their efforts.