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December 27, 2012

The TicketCity Locker Room

Q: (JSheezy512) - What does the two-deep look like going into the 2013 season in your opinion?

A: Good question to lead things off and I believe the two-deep will look very similar to the one that the Longhorns roll into San Antonio on Saturday with. Here's my nine-months-out projection for the 2013 team.

Quarterback: Starter: David Ash (Jr.), Back-up: Case McCoy (Sr.)
Tailback: Starter: Johnathan Gray (So.), Back-up: Malcolm Brown (Jr.)
Fullback: Starter: Joe Bergeron (Jr.), Back-up: Chet Moss (So.)
Wide receiver (H): Starter: Jaxon Shipley (Jr.), Back-up: Marcus Johnson (So.)
Wide receiver (X): Starter: Mike Davis (Sr.), Back-up: Kendall Sanders (So.)
Wide receiver (Z): Starter: Cayleb Jones (So.), Back-up: Daje Johnson (So.)
Tight end: Starter: MJ McFarland (So.), Back-up: Greg Daniels (Jr.)
Left tackle: Starter: Donald Hawkins (Sr.), Back-up: Kennedy Estelle (So.)
Left guard: Starter: Trey Hopkins (Sr.), Back-up: Sedrick Flowers (Jr.)
Center: Starter: Dominic Espinosa (Jr.), Back-up: Garrett Porter (Sr.)
Right guard: Starter: Mason Walters (Sr.), Back-up: Thomas Ashcraft (Sr.)
Right tackle: Starter: Josh Cochran (Jr.), Back-up: Camrhon Hughes (RS Fr.)

Offensive notes: The quarterback position is the quarterback position. While it might make some cringe that the same two names are listed in the same two spots, there's nothing on campus or in the works in recruiting right now that makes me think it'll be anything other than Ash/McCoy for another year. When I look at the tailbacks, Brown's strong all-around game could make him a perfect combo back to pair with Gray and I think Bergeron is going to need to begin his transition into his pro position if he's going to have one. Turning him into a jack-of-all-trades RB/FB/H-back is supposed to be his destiny. With Ryan Roberson gone, I believe it's critical that Bergeron adapt and take control of the fullback job because his presence means more versatility and talent on the field at the same time for the offense. As it relates to the offensive line, I decided to hold off on projecting how Desmond Harrison fits into the equation until he commits, but if he signs with the Longhorns, you could have a situation where everyone on the left side slides down a spot, meaning that Hawkins could contend for a starting job at guard and Hopkins could step ahead of Espinosa at center.

Buck end: Starter: Jackson Jeffcoat (Sr.), Back-up: Shiro Davis (So.)
Nose tackle: Starter: Malcom Brown (So.), Back-up: Desmond Jackson (Jr.)
Defensive tackle: Starter: Brandon Moore (Sr.), Back-up: Ashton Dorsey/Chris Whaley (Sr.)
Strong-side end: Starter: Cedric Reed (Jr.), Back-up: Reggie Wilson (Sr.)
SAM linebacker: Starter: Jordan Hicks (Sr.), Back-up: Tevin Jackson (Jr.)
MIKE linebacker: Starter: Steve Edmond (Jr.), Back-up: Dalton Santos (So.)
WILL linebacker: Starter: Peter Jinkens (So.), Back-up: Kendall Thompson (Jr.)
Cornerback: Starter: Carrington Byndom (Sr.), Back-up: Leroy Scott (Jr.)
Free safety: Starter: Quandre Diggs (Jr.), Back-up: Josh Turner (Jr.)
Strong safety: Starter: Adrian Phillips (Sr.), Back-up: Mykkele Thompson (Jr.)
Cornerback: Starter: Duke Thomas (So.), Back-up: Sheroid Evans (Jr.)

Defensive notes: There's good news and bad news. The good news is that the defense loses only two starters, so much of the depth chart will remain intact as the Longhorns go into 2013. The bad news is that all of these returning players comprised what is the worst defense in the history of the program. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the young players in the program compete for playing time at defensive end, but for now I'm still leaning with the group with the most experience. There's an obvious logjam at linebacker that needs to be worked out when Hicks returns to the line-up, but Jinkens needs to be on the field. As for the secondary, I'm projecting a full-time move of Diggs to Vaccaro's critically important position at safety and slot corner in the nickel by the time spring ball rolls around.

Place-kicker: Starter: Nick Jordan (So.), Back-up: Anthony Fera (Sr.)
Punter: Starter: Anthony Fera (Sr.), Back-up: TBD
Punt returns: Starter: Quandre Diggs (Jr.), Back-up: Jaxon Shipey (Jr.)
Kickoff returns: Starter: Daje Johnson (So.), Back-up: Duke Thomas (So.)
Kickoffs: Starter: Nick Rose (So.), Back-up: Nick Jordan (So.)
Holder: Starter: Cade McCrary (Sr.), Back-up: Case McCoy (Sr.)
Snapper: Starter: Nate Boyer (Jr.), Back-up: Kyle Ashby (So.)

Special teams notes: Yes, the Longhorns lose Alex King, Marquise Goodwin and DJ Monroe, but they return everything else, which means that this group will have a ton of continuity from this season to next and the entire group grades out fairly well on paper. This should be an area of strength.

Q: (TheDude41) - Is it pretty safe to say that as a rule of thumb for recruiting that you recruit athletes for defense and football players for offense? Seems we have been recruiting athletes for both sides of the ball but not enough football players. How do you see the recruiting strategy changing under Major?

A: If you're Texas, you should never have to compromise in recruiting, which means that the Longhorns should be taking super-athletic guys that are also great football players on offense AND defense. The Longhorns need a big receiver that can stretch the field vertically, but the offense shouldn't have a talent issue within the skill positions. Incredibly, the results from recruiting in 2006-09 left the program in terrible shape in 2010-11, but don't view it as a major issue right now (no pun intended).

Q: (Bevo61) - If the move becomes permanent with Diggs to safety, who do you see stepping up at corner (S.Evans, O. Thomas, J. Turner)? Since Chris Whaley played de against KSU, can we see a position change for him and give more snaps to Malcom Brown? Will losing A'Shawn Robinson be a big loss since we have quality depth there? Has the staff shown interest in Devin Lauderdale? If Claude Mathis becomes a member on the staff, do you think Dontre Wilson gives us a second look? How would you feel if the staff experimented with working Mykkele Thompson at WR?

A: I think the battle is on at cornerback and it's simply a survival of the fittest. The guy that has the best off-season is likely going to take the job if and when Diggs makes the move to safety full-time. I view all three of those players you mentioned as possible NFL guys, so it's a tough call right now.

As for Whaley, I think we'll see the Longhorns use him in that spot for the bowl game, but it remains to be seen whether this is a move they'll go to full-time. If I'm Whaley, I'm going all-in in the next nine months because it's getting to be now or never …  the NFL scouts will be watching and the competition for snaps at his position is tough sledding, as he won't be the only senior trying to impress NFL scouts.

The best way to answer your question about Robinson is to list the number of five-star players that are currently on the roster: Alex Okafor, Mason Walters, Jordan Hicks, Jackson Jeffcoat, Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Malcom Brown. is there anyone from that group that the Longhorns can truly afford to lose? Depth or no depth, missing out on an elite prospect like Robinson matters quite a bit. While there are a million things that can happen to sidetrack any prospect, the math says that there's a 50-50 chance that Robinson emerges as an impact/high end player.

Also, I don't get the sense that the Longhorns have any interest in Lauderdale and I don't think Wilson is coming to Texas, regardless of the running back coach hire after the bowl game.

Finally, I think moving to Thompson would be a good experiment, but the team is not lacking for wide receiver talent and he's competing for a starting job at safety. I think I'd just continue to let the kid develop a little because he's got a chance to still be a very good player. After all, this was his first season to taste significant playing time.

Q: (brianut) - 1. Your projection on Big 12 bowl games?

2. Could you possibly list the top 2 or 3 commitments in your mind for the Big 12 schools in OK and TX?

3. Can you give one great recruiting story so far from 2012?

A: Let's start with some bowl predictions…

Winners: Baylor over UCLA, Texas Tech over Minnesota, West Virginia over Syracuse, TCU over Michigan State, Oklahoma State over Purdue and Iowa State over Tulsa

Losers: Oregon beats Kansas State and Texas A&M beats Oklahoma

Second, if we're talking about the best commitments in what used to be the old Big 12 South, I think it looks like this:

Oklahoma: Cypress Ranch running back Keith Ford, Colleyville Heritage quarterback Cody Thomas and Oklahoma prep defensive end DJ Ward. (It's not a special recruiting class on paper)

Oklahoma State: Emporia (KS) High athlete Jerel Morrow, John Tyler wide receiver Fred Ross and Dallas Skyline wide receiver Ra'Shaad Samples

Baylor: Forth Worth Southwest athlete Robbie Rhodes, Hargrave Military linebacker Brian Nance and Katy defensive back Kyle Fulks

TCU: Arlington Martin running back Kyle Hicks, Mansfield defensive back George Baltimore and East Bernard athlete Ty Slanina

Texas Tech: Fort Bend Marshall offensive lineman Maurice Porter, Whitehouse wide receiver Dylan Cantrell and SA O'Connor offensive lineman Baylen Brown.

(Fact: The Longhorns currently have commitments from nine prospects with at least a four-star grade from Rivals.com, while Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech combine for 11 as a group.)

Finally, I think my favorite moment of the recruiting year occurred when I was in Oklahoma City for game one of the NBA finals. While I was inside the arena I couldn't get any reception, so as soon as the game is over, I start getting a slew of messages on my phone, including the text from Orangebloods that stated that Geoff Swaim had committed to the Longhorns. Like everyone, as soon as I received the text, I said, "WTF?" It's the first time in my career that I've ever had anything remotely similar happen.

Q: (RRDoughNuts) - Mack retires after the 2013 season and you are the acting athletic director. Who are the first five coaches you call?

A: I'll give you six: Nick Saban (and I offer him 10 million per and make almost any concession that he wants), Gary Patterson, David Shaw, Mike Zimmer, Kyle Shanahan and Charlie Strong.

Q: (dtrains) - Sell me on David Ash as a championship quality quarterback for the next two seasons. I know he ranks as a top 20 quarterback nationally, but numbers can be misleading and in this case they most certainly are. I think we are screwed at the quarterback position and it means Mack leaves town with his tail between his legs.

A: I can't sell you on Ash as a championship quarterback, at least not yet. While he statistically had a good year, he still has several rungs on the ladder left to climb before we begin to have a conversation about him becoming elite. Among the things he needs to do going into the 2013 season …

a. Stay healthy
b. Keep from getting benched in games
c. Beat a team of higher quality than six or seven wins.
d. Develop the ability to make second and third progressions in the passing game
e. Continue to develop as a leader because your quarterback MUST be an alpha-male.

Those are just a few of the areas we all need to see from Ash before we can have the championship conversation. The good news is that he's displayed qualities as a player that makes you think he can get there, as I don't think there's anything from the list above that he is incapable of pulling off, but that doesn't mean that the steps don't need to be taken. They absolutely do and until that progress is made, it's hard to talk about this team as anything more than a seven- or eight-win outfit.

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