FROM THE STANDS: 2015 Class, The Defense

Texas hired two new coaches over the weekend: Jeff Traylor and Brick Haley. Let’s break it down.

Coming from powerhouse Gilmer High School, Jeff Traylor joins the Texas staff as the tight ends and special teams coach. In his 15 years as the head coach at Gilmer, Traylor led the Buckeyes to three state championships and two other Championship Game appearances. Traylor graduated from Gilmer High School in 1986 and played football at Stephen F. Austin before getting into coaching. In his time as the head coach, Gilmer put 24 players into the college football world.

Brick Haley comes to Texas from LSU, where he coached the defensive line since 2009. The LSU Tigers are a known commodity in college football, and one of the reasons for that is Haley. A terrific recruiter and developer, Haley put nine defensive linemen in the NFL in his six seasons as the DL coach. Prior to LSU, Haley spent two years with the Chicago Bears as the defensive line coach, and before that was Mississippi State’s DL coach from 2004-2006. Haley played linebacker at Alabama A&M from 1984-88 and went into the Alabama A&M Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005. After college he jumped right into coaching, starting in high school before climbing the ladder with stops at Austin Peay, Houston, Troy State, Clemson, Baylor and Georgia Tech.

So how do these two fit into the Charlie Strong program at Texas?

Remember earlier we talked about the criteria Strong was looking for: great coaches, great recruiters, knowledge of the state and the ability to coach special teams. I’ll address these hires by each point.

  • Great coaches: LSU was 59-18 in Haley’s six seasons and, as mentioned, Traylor was 125-76 at Gilmer. LSU played for one national title in Haley’s time there and Traylor is one of only four Texas high school coaches to win three state titles. Four. In the state’s history. Do not discount the effects of a terrific high school coach on the college level: remember, Gus Malzahn was a high school coach in 2005. And when thinking about development, look no further than all the d-linemen from LSU pulling paychecks in the NFL and the 24 guys Traylor has fed to college football programs.
  • Great recruiters: Brick Haley was a monster at LSU. He got the Tigers into living rooms and in contention with just about everyone they wanted to talk to. They didn’t always get the man they wanted, but they had a shot. It seems like at Texas the closer is Charlie Strong, and Haley is the perfect guy to open doors and be the setup man. He knows the Southeast very, very well and all the high school coaches from the Texas border to the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Knows the state: Remember last spring when a Texas high school coach said the Longhorns more or less had a recruiting problem in Texas? That coach was Cedar Hill’s Joey Maguire, who was in contention and interviewed for one of the vacancies on the Texas staff. I thought the fact he was in contention spoke volumes about the mindset of Strong: he was listening and realized Maguire was probably right. He cut loose his former in-state ties (Bruce Chambers)  and set out to start over. What he ended up with is a coach with only three peers (3-time state champs) in state history, from one of the premier programs (Gilmer) in the state that continuously put players into college football. He’s a known commodity in Texas high school football circles, and he’s the ambassador for the University of Texas in East Texas high schools, where the Dez Bryants, Rex Hadnots, Brandon Pettigrews, Sean Weatherspoons and Red Bryants of the world came from. The Horns have landed a few (Gilmer alums David Snow and Curtis Brown), but historically they haven’t fared well in talent-rich East Texas. This should be an immediate upgrade in that respect, and while the D/FW area didn’t completely get addressed, it wasn’t like the last connection to Dallas was getting many positive returns, and I can almost guarantee you the D/FW coaches either know or know of Jeff Traylor. He’s immediately going to open at least as many doors as the last guy did (expect many more doors to be opening), and that number will only go up. We don’t know what sort of recruiter Traylor will be yet, but you have to believe Strong likes what he sees, and his name alone will get Texas into just about any door east of Dallas. And if you’ve been paying attention, you know often and successfully LSU dips into Texas for players. Those coaches in southeast Texas and Houston all know Brick Haley, too.
  • Ability to coach special teams: That’s going to be Traylor. He’s going to bring energy and enthusiasm to the job that I don’t think was there last year. It’s not rocket science, coaching special teams; every coach on the Texas staff could do it if they were asked. It’s all about energy and urgency, and frankly I didn’t see much of either of those last year on specials for Texas. Traylor is going to bring the sorely needed battlejoy to the unit, and the talented underclassmen hungry for playing time should be the perfect personnel.

Texas knocked it out with those two hires if you ask me and, when you include Jay Norvell, I think Texas got a lot better across the board. We will see how it all plays out when spring practice starts.

Texas Basketball

The Horns handled their business Saturday night against Tech and now have won three straight. Texas has clawed back to .500 in the league with a 6-6 record and are 17-8 overall. The Longhorns had a nice 3-game break from the top of the league, but now round two with the contenders begins. This week Texas travels to No. 17 ou on Tuesday (ESPN2, 8 pm) and hosts No. 14 Iowa State on Saturday (ESPN2, 1 pm). They also still must travel to No. 21 West Virginia and No. 8 Kansas as well as host No. 16 Baylor in the next two weeks. The Horns are going to have to work very hard to be above .500 at the end of the season in Big 12 play, and being at least .500 in conference play is vital to getting an NCAA Tournament berth, even if you are in the best basketball conference in America.

The good news is ou looked very beatable last week. A win in Norman and the confidence is sky-high. And ou sucks. Get the road win, Horns.


The Class of 2015 — The Defense

Charlie Strong knows what he’s doing on defense. That’s just a fact. The guy finds, grooms and creates great defenders and then sends them off to the NFL. His time at Louisville and Florida are proof of this. I understand the offense is a work in progress and that turned some potential recruits off, but that is not the case on the other side of the ball. And you’ll notice the high school recruits are seeing that, too. With the exception of a very few, Texas CLEANED UP on the defensive side of the ball. I expect several of these guys to be competing and even starting in game one next year. Let’s jump in and see what’s good.

Same as last week — the stars below are the Rivals rankings, 1-5.


Kris Boyd

Defensive Back

6-feet, 180 pounds

Gilmer (GHS)

4-Stars

Boyd is everything that Charlie Strong wants in a football player: talented, intense and hungry. At 6-feet, 180 pounds already, he’s big enough to come and play immediately. Even if he wasn’t a 6-foot corner, his 4.49 speed probably gets him on the field in 2015. With that speed and that size, combined with the ability to turn and react to a cutting wide out — that’s called “loose hips.” The looser the hips, the easier the db can turn and run with a receiver in any direction. — Boyd is going to be in the mix for playing time this fall.

I don’t know if he’ll unseat anyone as the starter, but he is most definitely going to be a guy that’s on the field a lot this fall in the pass-happy Big 12.

Boyd, along with cornerback Holton Hill, committed together on Time Warner Sports the week before signing day, picking Texas over Texas A&M.


Cecil Cherry

Linebacker

6-feet, 235 pounds

Lakeland, FL (Victory Christian Academy)

4-stars

Cecil Cherry is my favorite defensive recruit on this team and I could make the argument he’s my favorite overall. The guy absolutely bleeds burnt orange and has since his visit. Just check out his Twitter feed. He’s excited to be a Longhorn and he’s ready to get on field.

Originally a Tennessee commit, Cherry visited Texas and fell in love with Austin and the Horns, And, while he didn’t officially flip right away, it was clear to everyone that Cherry was changing his color orange. Cherry is another one of the young, hungry, intense Floridians that Charlie Strong wants to help add an edge to the Texas team. Cherry seems happy to fill the role.

He reminds me a lot of Aaron Harris coming out of high school: both Rivals 4-star players, both 6-feet tall, both 230ish pounds and both full of intensity and attitude. And like Aaron Harris did, Cecil Cherry is going to be a difference maker for the Texas Longhorns on defense, and I think it’s next year.


DaVante Davis

Defensive Back

6-foot-2, 188 pounds

Miami, FL (Washington)

4-stars

High school teammates with Devonaire Clarington and Gilbert Johnson, DaVante Davis committed to Texas on New Year’s Day, announcing via Twitter that he was a Longhorn. As it got closer to signing day, Davis felt the pull of home state Florida State and Miami as well as Auburn, where former Texas commit Tim Irvin was trying to get the Florida guys to follow him. I thought for sure he was on the way elsewhere, but at the end of the day he stuck with his Texas pledge and signed with the Horns.

Rated the No. 45 player in the state of Florida regardless of position, Davis brings the same attributes to Texas that Cecil Cherry does. At 6-foot-2, he is a long, rangy guy that can play both cornerback and safety. He’ll get the first crack at cornerback, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up playing safety in the long-term. I think he’s a shade behind two other corners in this class (Boyd and Holton Hill), but he could easily take a spot in the defensive back rotation and on special teams with a great camp this summer. I think he ends up redshirting this fall and jumps into the mix next spring as a safety.


DeShon Elliott

Defensive Back

6-foot-2, 205 pounds

Rockwall (Heath)

4-stars

This kid is seriously put together and looks the part already. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Elliot could outgrow the safety spot end up playing linebacker. In fact he’s already bigger than one lb in this class right now. He looks like those old cover 2 safeties that Bob Stoops had that would eat up Chris Simms passes 12 years ago: big, athletic, aggressive and possibly NFL bound. I know he hasn’t played a down yet, but he sure looks like an NFL safety if he can maintain that 205-210-pound range.

He comes in and competes for time right away, and I think he fights his way on the field. I don’t expect he’ll be the starter right away, but I do expect him to be the No. 2 guy that could take over the job as the season wears on. I think he’s that good.

DeShon Elliott is going to be one of the first players in this class to hit the field.


Breckyn Hager

Linebacker

6-foot-3, 210 pounds

Austin (Westlake)

2-stars

Son of No. 60 and brother of NFL-bound Bryce from Baylor, Hager has a pedigree like few on this team. Originally a Baylor commit, Hager was offered by Texas and pretty much immediately flipped to the Longhorns. If Breckyn is the same player as his older brother, Texas hit a homerun. Bryce Hager was a three-time All Big 12 linebacker and Butkus Award candidate. And oh yeah, he has two Big 12 Championship rings. He’s off to the NFL in some capacity, as little brother Brecken begins his college career.

He’s bigger than Bryce and I think he ends up on the defensive line. I see him redshirting this fall after a move to defensive end, and in the spring of 2016 he competes for defensive end playing time at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds.

Watch for Breckyn to have Bryce-like success at Texas, but at defensive end.


Holton Hill

Defensive Back

6-foot-2, 175 pounds

Houston (Lamar)

4-stars

The other half of the cornerback duo that drove to Austin to commit, Holton Hill picked Texas over LSU and A&M, but had his choice of just about any school in the country. Rated the No.14 player in the state and the No.121 player in the nation, Hill was a hot commodity.

At 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, he’s got the length and size to handle the bigger wide outs Texas will face. With 4.5 speed, he also has the speed to run with the slot receivers and deep threats out there as well. In short, Hill is the total package of speed, size and athleticism at the cornerback spot. His hips are loose like Kris Boyd, but he’s a solid two inches taller with a longer wingspan, meaning he has more coverage ability and can close faster.

I expect Holton Hill to be starting opposite Duke Thomas next fall at one cornerback because of that size, speed and athleticism.


Malik Jefferson

Linebacker

6-foot-2, 218 pounds

Mesquite (Poteet)

5-stars

And here’s another guy I expect to be a week one starter next year. Jefferson’s athleticism for his size is just freaky: he’s been compared to Derrick Johnson by most of the recruiting experts, and many consider him to be the best linebacker prospect to come out of the state of Texas since DJ in 2001. That is high praise, but if you look at his film you see why they think that. Here you go. He runs like a safety, but has the build and game of a linebacker, just like Johnson did. He might be a bit light right now to take every single play, but he will play A LOT. And with a spring and summer to grow under Pat Moorer — he graduated early and is enrolled in classes and going through spring and the off-season. — he could easily be at 230 pounds by the start of the season. Either way, at 218 or 230, pencil in Malik Jefferson as a starting linebacker for the Notre Dame game next year.

Every coach needs a pied piper in recruiting. They need that one guy that everyone else looks up to and wants to play with and follow. That pied piper for Charlie Strong was Malik Jefferson. He’s a big name in the high school football world and a guy that other recruits know and want to play with because he’s so good. His presence helped land Kris Boyd and Holton Hill, and even some of the offensive players as well.

You name a school, Malik Jefferson had an offer, but he chose Texas over A&M with his teammate Deandre McNeal.


Du’Vonta Lampkin

Defensive Tackle

6-foot-4, 306 pounds

Houston (Cypress Creek)

3-stars

With the loss of Malcom Brown to the NFL draft, the door is open for someone in the defensive tackle rotation. That someone could be Du’Vonta Lampkin. A Texas commit last summer, Lampkin flirted hard with the sooners. So hard that lots of people pretty much wrote him off as an oklahoma flip, but then that pied piper, Malik Jefferson, committed to Texas and those on the fence, like Lampkin, quickly realized how good this class was starting to look.

I like Lampkin a lot if he comes in ready to play. He’s a massive guy that can control gaps and has surprising quickness for a man as big as he is. He’s strong, athletic and will surprise offensive linemen with his initial burst.

I say “if he comes in ready to play” because, per Barking Carnival, Charlie Strong said Lampkin was about “340 pounds now” during his signing day interviews. If that’s the case, I don’t know that Lampkin will be ready to play just yet. It might take a year with Pat Moorer to figure out the best way to keep him at his ideal weight, but that report could be wrong. And even if it isn’t wrong, an elite 18-year athlete could drop 30 or so pounds in a matter of weeks and be ready to go when the freshmen arrive this summer.

He’s going to be a very good player for Texas, it’s just a matter of when.


PJ Locke

Defensive Back

5-foot-10, 185 pounds

Beaumont (Central)

3-stars

A signing day flip from Oregon, Locke comes in as the least known recruit that Texas has ever received. A long-time Duck commit, Locke flew under the entire radar for just about everyone. Even Texas. The Horns lost a db commit to Texas Tech, and Vance Bedford immediately picked up the phone and brought Locke in for a visit. Locke, seeing the drive and distance from Austin to Eugene, decided to stay in-state and play for the Horns.

And Texas picked up a hidden gem if you ask me. (Did you ask me? I asked me.) Locke looks an awful like fellow Golden Triangle native Earl Thomas. He’s 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, which is 10 pounds heavier than Thomas was coming out of high school, but for the most part no one knows who he is. Why is that?

Again, Barking Carnival broke it down perfectly. Last week we talked extensively about the misses on 3-star players and below, and Locke looks like the poster boy for that this year. I think he’ll follow the Earl Thomas plan and redshirt this fall, bulking up and competing for a safety spot in 2016.


Charles Ominehu

Defensive End

6-foot-4, 227 pounds

Rowlett (RHS)

4-stars

You know I’m big on comparisons. I think Charles Ominehu looks like Brian Orakpo 2.0. Both 4-star players, each at 6-foot-4, 220ish pounds before they entered college. Ominehu looks a bit heavier than Rak did and I think he could be the exact same player his freshman year, coming off the bench in pass rush situations as he learns the defense. Orakpo filled out nicely as his career advanced, and with the same frame Ominehu has the ability to do the exact same thing.

Ominehu is a big personality that helped recruit everyone else in this class and seems to have the same big personality and alpha male leadership characteristics that Orakpo did at Texas. Everything I see from him I like, just like Orakpo, and I expect he’s on the two-deep when the season starts.


Cameron Townsend

Linebacker

6-foot-1, 206 pounds

Missouri City (Ridge Point)

3-stars

This is another guy that could be easily overlooked at the position with Cecil Cherry, Malik Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler in the class. I said last week not to sleep on Tristian Houston, who will no doubt get less publicity than the more publicized running backs in the class; same goes for Townsend. He’s got great instincts at the lb spot and seems like a good fit for Texas in a league where the linebackers have to blitz and cover receivers. The problem for Townsend is he needs about 20 pounds to get on the field and stay there, and he might not get there this fall. He will get there, but my guess is he redshirts this fall and bulks up for a run at 2016.

Townsend had offers from just about everyone in the country, including ou, Nebraska, USC and TCU, officially committed on 01/23.


Quincy Vasser

Defensive End

6-foot-2, 265 pounds

Corsicana (Navarro JC)

3-stars

Already on campus, I am penciling in Vasser as a starter at defensive end next fall. The Longhorns need a run-stopping defensive end and Vasser is that guy. At 265 pounds (probably closer to 270 if not bigger by the time the season starts), Vasser is a big, physical player that can help control the line of scrimmage, set the edge and allow the linebackers to make plays. He’s going to make plays himself, but a big body at defensive end can prevent the offense from getting the running game outside by blowing up the tackle/tight end trying to block him, effectively blocking the path to the corner around the defense. Texas, not to mention Quincy Vasser himself, expects him to be that guy. He comes to Austin from junior college and he’s a college ready player from a maturity and physical standpoint. He should pick up the defense pretty quickly and take over the strong side defensive end role, and I don’t think he gives it back until he graduates.

A long-time Georgia commit, Vasser flipped to Texas in December and enrolled for the spring semester.


Anthony Wheeler

Linebacker

6-foot-2, 216 pounds

Dallas (Skyline)

4-stars

I didn’t expect to get Wheeler, who committed to Texas on TV at the Under Armour game in January. A long-time oklahoma sooner lean, Wheeler surprised a lot of people when he committed to Texas. Wheeler said he really connected with Charlie Strong during his recruitment as Strong was personally in charge of Wheeler. Any day you get a great player AND steal him from your rival is a good day. That was a good day.

Wheeler is just about the same sort of player as Malik Jefferson, but not quite as fast. He’s got the same combination of size, speed and athleticism as Jefferson and should work his way onto the field this fall. I’ve seen him projected by some as a middle linebacker (where he played last year in high school), but I think he moves back outside (where he played his junior year) and wrecks shop opposite Jefferson with Mr. Cherry holding it down inside.

Texas runs a ton of nickel defense (five dbs) and removes the middle linebacker to accomplish this. I see Wheeler and Jefferson being those two linebackers that stay on the field, even next fall at times. I think he’s too good and too talented to redshirt this year, so expect to see him on the field. If I had to guess I’d say he’s behind fellow Skyline alumnus Peter Jinkens this fall and killing it on special teams, but he could explode on the scene this summer.

 

So …

 

There you go, the defensive players from the class of 2015. I love these guys and see several multi-year starters in here. I love PJ Locke being the new Earl Thomas and think everyone in this class can be major contributor for Texas.

Let me hear your thoughts.

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