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5 Texas players who can help salvage perception of the 2012 recruiting class

Not all is lost for the nation's No. 2 class just yet.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Gang Or Die group of 2012 isn't among the top 10 recruiting classes now because four of the top seven recruits are no longer enrolled as members of the Texas Longhorns football team and 10 of the top 14 haven't lived up to expectations.

But there are five players who can help salvage the perception of the No. 2 recruiting class with big seasons in 2015 that would help the Longhorns return to competitiveness.

Running back Johnathan Gray (No. 1 recruit in class)

The top running back in the 2012 class and the No. 6 prospect overall, Gray hasn't lived up to the massive fanfare created by his record-setting high school career. An Achilles injury that ended his 2013 season against West Virginia also limited him last fall, reducing his explosiveness early in the season. And there was also the terrible offensive line he was running behind.

Now Gray has one last chance to prove that he deserved his consensus five-star ranking by finishing out his Texas career with a strong season. No longer forced to split carries with Malcolm Brown, Gray has the chance to take over as the clear feature back for the first time in his career.

Aiding in that cause are the signs that the old Gray was coming back as the 2014 season progressed:

Since offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Wickline now has more options along the offensive line, improved play from that unit would help Gray find more holes more easily. Planned offensive tweaks that will reportedly include operating at a higher tempo and the possible expanded use of the quarterback run game would tire out defenses and force them to expend more resources stopping the quarterback, thereby opening up more running lanes for Gray.

As a whole, it's going to be hard for Gray to leave Austin without being something of a disappointment, but a 1,500-yard season would go a long way towards quieting any detractors. And it's not out of reach if a few things come together.

Defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway (No. 17 recruit in class)

In any re-ranking of the Texas recruiting class, the former US Army All-American would surely occupy the No. 2 spot behind fellow defensive tackle Malcom Brown, who looks poised to become a first-round pick in this year's NFL Draft.

Now well over 300 pounds, Ridgeway blossomed as a redshirt sophomore after showing some flashes in 2013, finishing second on the team in sacks (4.5) and fourth in tackles for loss (11) after taking over for the injured Desmond Jackson in the Kansas game. Ridgeway responded with seven tackles in Lawrence, including one for loss.

If Ridgeway can continue to improve his conditioning and his technique, his pure natural ability to overpower opponents and disrupt plays could allow him to produce similar numbers to Brown last year, assuming that Ridgeway doesn't suffer adversely from the increased attention opposing offenses will pay to him now that Brown isn't playing next to him.

Cornerback Duke Thomas (No. 11 recruit in class)

The key with the former Copperas Cove quarterback is to reduce the mental mistakes that plagued his 2014 season, especially getting beat on double moves against UCLA and Kansas State, with the former blunder especially costly since it resulted in the game-winning score for the Bruins.

As the coaching staff continues to work with him on keeping his eyes right and understanding the down and distance and overall game situation, Thomas has a chance to emerge as a leader in the secondary and an All-Conference performer -- the talent is there.

He was active as a tackler with 53 stops in 2014, finished second on the team with three interceptions, and led the team with 10 passes defensed, good enough to earn honorable mention All-Big 12 honors from the coaches.

Considering that Thomas came to Texas as a raw prospect with little experience at the cornerback position, his ability to turn that potential into production is one of the best stories in the class and eliminating fixable mistakes as a senior would help him elevate his game to a high level.

Linebacker Dalton Santos (No. 15 recruit in class)

The Man from Van was a fan favorite early in his Texas career after laying some devastating hits on special teams. The physicality is still there for Santos, but the rest of his game hasn't come together for him over the last two seasons, in part because of fellow linebacker Steve Edmond's improvement and in part because of some nagging injuries.

Santos missed the Oklahoma State game because of a head injury and didn't play in two other contests in 2014, limiting his significant contributions to four tackles in a start against Iowa State. On the season, the 6'3, 252-pounder recorded only 11 tackles.

But now that Edmond is gone, Santos has a chance to step into the starting role at middle linebacker. Edmond and Jordan Hicks both developed in 2014, so it's not hard to imagine that the former four-star prospect could do the same in his final season on the Forty Acres.

Wide receiver Marcus Johnson (No. 18 recruit in class)

Long touchdowns on wheel routes against Oklahoma and TCU helped provide some optimism that Johnson could build on his breakout sophomore season with an even greater impact on the 2014 team. In catching 27 passes for 313 yards and one touchdown, Johnson's 2014 season was a disappointment, even if he did finish as the team's third-leading receiver. Most frustrating was the fact that Johnson simply wasn't reliable.

He'll have to be in 2014 because leading receivers John Harris and Jaxon Shipley both graduated and no other receiver caught more than 10 passes last season. If Johnson doesn't fulfill the potential that he hinted at two years ago, Texas could really struggle at wide receiver with so little experience returning.