With all the early entrants to the draft after yet another mediocre year of football, a lot of Longhorn fans are fretting about the future of the team in 2018. Let’s lay this all out and try to guess our way into 2018.
Some of the biggest question marks lie upfront. With the (expected) departure of Connor Williams, the already shaky line looks a little worse for wear. Texas is going to need an entire line to fill the whole that an All-American at a key position leaves behind. There are a few guys already on campus I could see partially filling in that void:
Patrick Vahe – while he doesn’t have a very high ceiling and had a very rocky 2017 campaign, an offensive lineman with four years of experience is worth his weight in gold. Vahe should be the rock of the offensive line next year if he cleans up some fundamentals over the spring and summer.
Zach Shackelford – Like Vahe, his ceiling is not Sistine, and he had a rough go in 2017. However, he will be in for his 3rd year as a starter and with a full summer of rest and recovery, Shackelford very well could look better in 2018.
Patrick Hudson – Man did he look good in his game action until the unfortunate injury. This guy was highly recruited for a reason and assuming he recovers well I’d expect him to pick up where he left off.
Derek Kerstetter – For expecting to be a redshirt then getting chucked into the fire, Kerstetter seemed to be the guy on the line that had his stuff together for the most part. Whether they move him inside or outside, I expect Kerstetter to take a step forward.
Elijah Rodriguez – He and Kerstetter will play musical chairs on the right side. We’ll see what he looks like in the bowl game 😉
Sam Cosmi – Surprise! Sam Cosmi has been the guy who the coaches have been grooming over the season to replace Connor Williams. Whether that happens or not is up to whatever deity you pray to (I know I’ll be sacrificing a few sheep to Saturn for him to make an immediate impact). When we asked our source about his progress we were told, “He’s got great feet and is going to give immediate help against the pass rush. He’s getting his body right, but he will be good. Definitely going to compete at tackle next season.”
Key word for Cosmi and the offensive line is compete. This line needs internal competition in a bad way; however, the problem is that a team cannot have competition without depth. That is why getting a JUCO or two in this class is so important, whether that be Traore, Hardy, Elbert, Johnson, or whoever. Don’t discount a guy like Reese Moore who is a very athletic and underrated prospect.
My way, way, way too early prediction for next year’s line looks a little something like this:
1st Team: JUCO #1 TBD – Vahe – Shackelford – Kerstetter/Rodriguez – Rodriguez/Kerstetter
With your 6th, 7th, and 8th guys being Hudson, Cosmi, and JUCO #2 TBD.
Okay, so offensive line out of the way. Let’s get to the easier stuff.
This will be a four horse race between Buechele, Ehlinger, Rising, and Thompson that should shake out in the spring. I’ll be assuming Ehlinger wins this race and will be the starting QB until the angry mob throws him out for the 3rd true freshman QB in as many years.
Daniel Young will be the starter, sharing a heavy load with Toneil Carter whilst true freshman Keaontay Ingram gets his fair share of snaps. This one seems pretty cut and dry unless Kirk Johnson finds the fountain of youth and soaks his entire body in it for the offseason.
Texas had a pretty stacked receiver room this year. Next year looks even better. Collin Johnson is an upperclassman, Jerrod Heard gets his 3rd year as a WR, and Lil’Jordan Humphries and Reggie Hemphill are proven inside wide receivers. Not to mention all the talent backing them up and coming in the 2018 class. I’m not worried.
Texas will have depth? Texas will have depth! For the first time in what feels like decades, Texas will have some depth at the tight end position. With the (hopeful) return of Andrew Beck, Texas will have Cade Brewer coming off both an awesome freshman season and ACL injury, will be able to take the training wheels off of Reese Leitao, and give incoming Malcolm Epps some time to learn blocking at the next level… Depth.
Fingers crossed Michael Dickson returns. Cameron Dicker “The Kicker.”
So everything is not lost on the offensive side of the ball. In fact, it doesn’t look bad at all.
Now let’s look at…
This one is tougher to look positively on. With the departure of Poona Ford, Deshon Elliott, Holton Hill, and (possibly) Malik Jefferson, Texas is losing what my friend Rod Babers refers to as the defense’s central nervous system (S, MLB, DT) and their (should have been All-American) cover corner. Texas is doomed right?
Poona has been an unstoppable force up the middle and while Texas doesn’t have a nose tackle that has the motor of Poona Ford they do have Chris Nelson returning who hasn’t had too shabby of a season despite what his stats sheet says. With him, Gerald Wilbon, Jamari Chisholm, and Taquon Graham fighting it out, I expect Texas to be fine up the middle. On the outside at DE, take you pick of Omenihu, Roach, Graham, and Hager. While depth may be an issue Texas faces, I think the starting guys upfront will be okay.
Let’s assume Malik Jefferson leaves. While Texas would never be able to replace the freak of nature that is Malik Jefferson, they do have another (lesser) freak in Gary Johnson. While he doesn’t have the raw athleticism of Malik, he does possess similar attributes. He’d be the guy I could see immediately getting in and taking over that “Do Everything” Linebacker roll.
At B-Backer Jeffrey McCulloch will step up and replace Naashon Hughes, and has a higher ceiling than Hughes as well. Backing him up should be Marquez Bimage who is a heck of a blitzer, but we’ve heard struggles a bit when asked to drop back.
Up the middle will be Anthony Wheeler. Not a Malik replacement at all, but not a terrible player.
Once again, the linebackers will be alright with depth being a possible issue. Texas is going to need to get someone who can make an immediate impact when they step on campus in either Byron Hobbs, Ayodele Adeoye, Demarvion Overshown, or (hopefully) Dashaun White. This will shake out over the summer and give us a clearer picture.
Nickelbacker will be interesting. While you’d think the obvious choice would be PJ Locke, there is some mumbling that he is being tested at safety and Josh Thompson is playing at Nickle. Either way there a number of ways this could shake out and even John Bonney could get into the mix.
Again, losing Holton Hill hurts a lot. That dude made plays that are astounding and locked down some of the best receivers in the country making DeShon Elliott’s job a dream. However, his departure was expected from the moment Herman set foot in Austin. That’s why your current recruiting class consists of some of the top talent in the nation at defensive back. In fact I think a guy like Caden Sterns could come in and make an immediate impact. Get Anthony Cook in the class and you’re cooking with gas.
However, Texas has a potential replacement in Kris Boyd. While his eye discipline was miss or miss early on in the season, he improved to the point where he made sure the West Virginia WRs and Dylan Cantrell couldn’t get anything going because he’d be right there to break things up. Boyd is exactly the type of player the coaches want. I think with another year under Orlando he’ll become a force. Battling for the other corner will be Davante Davis, Kobe Boyce, Montrell Estell, Josh Thompson, and all the incoming freshmen.
Davante Davis has the size but lacks the confidence.
Kobe Boyce is a sleeper. That guy has so much talent and has torn it up on the scout team. I’m excited about him
Josh Thompson showed he needs to acclimate to the next level, but the game is there for him to take. I think a lot of his problems can be chalked up to “freshmen mistakes.”
So while the secondary won’t really be able to fully recover from losing Holton Hill, I don’t think all is lost. It will be a step down and there will be a lot of unexperienced talent on the depth chart. There will be mistakes, but it should be expected.
It’s hard to replace 6 interceptions and a guy who fits runs like a Mack truck. This will be just like the corner situation, a lot of unexperienced talent with a guy or two who have been there done that.
While Brandon Jones has an up and down year like Kris Boyd, experience is the best teacher. We didn’t expect last year’s Deshon Elliot to be what he was this year. In the same way, I think Brandon Jones can grow up, slow the game down, and make better decisions. Brandon Jones will move into the position Elliott held and John Bonney will most likely start off taking Jones’ old spot.
John Bonney is “ole reliable.” Not because he’s reliable, but because you can reliable know what you’re going to get out of him on at his floor, a solid effort with minimal mistakes. I’m not worried with him taking over and think it could be a good step.
If someone is able take over one is able to take over one of these guys’ jobs then Texas is in a good place.
Here are the guys who could do that.
Montell Estell – The coaching staff raves about Montrell. Another guy to expect big things out of.
BJ Foster, Caden Sterns, DeMarvion Overshown – These three incoming freshmen are ones I could see making an immediate impact and fighting for some playing time or even a starting spot. Each has a tremendous skill set and are very exciting prospects.
Let me reiterate, the loss of your four best players will hurt. I hope that surprises no one. While these guys had pretty unbelievable years and are nigh impossible to replace, I believe Texas will be able to fill these spots adequately enough to not fall off the face of the earth like some fans believe. With the coaching acumen of Todd Orlando or (God forbid) even his replacement who will come from the same tree, I trust the coaching staff to get things right on this end.