Texas Football: 5 Biggest Holes the Longhorns Must Fill for 2013
Heading into an Alamo Bowl matchup with Oregon State, the Texas Longhorns have a plethora of questions that need answering before next season. Chief among those questions will be filling both current and future roster holes to get this thing turned around in 2013.
It is an awkward time to be a Texas Longhorns fan. The former arch-rival Aggies just picked up a Heisman Trophy, the Longhorns just lost their fourth 2013 commit in tight end prospect Durham Smythe and the team will now have its third offensive coordinator in three years.
Still, the long-term outlook is not terribly bleak for the Longhorns. The team only graduates four of 22 starters following this season, along with four other regular contributors, and should have obvious holes at only five positions in 2013.
Here are the five positions where Texas will have its biggest gaps at the conclusion of 2012 and how these spots can be shored up in the offseason.
The most obvious hole on the Texas roster is at quarterback, a position that has underachieved for the third consecutive season.
On the surface, the Longhorns are not in bad shape under center with David Ash, who will be a junior in 2013. He has completed almost 68 percent of his passes in throwing for just under 2,500 yards and 17 touchdowns with a respectable seven interceptions.
But Ash, and the position in general, has struggled in big games against tougher defenses. In Texas' last three losses, Ash and junior Case McCoy have thrown only two touchdowns against seven interceptions. In other words, neither signal-caller has been up to challenge when the team has needed him most.
Texas does have two redshirt freshmen in Connor Brewer and Jalen Overstreet that the coaches seem to be high on, but that is about it. Top recruit Tyrone Swoopes is not the home run fans had hoped and is probably a two-year project, and Bryan Harsin's departure for Arkansas State likely kills any of Texas' designs on bringing in a JUCO prospect.
Unless Brewer or Overstreet can take command of the position in the offseason, Texas likely has at least one more season of mediocre play from the game's most important position.
Another hole the Longhorns will have to fill on their roster prior to the 2013 kickoff is at kicker, where they have struggled to find a replacement for the departed Justin Tucker.
The Longhorn kickers game has been just awful in 2012. Penn State transfer Anthony Fera and freshman Nick Jordan have combined to go 10-for-17 on field goals, connecting on only one of six attempts of 40 yards or more. Tucker, by comparison, was 17-for-21 kicking field goals including 5-for-6 from beyond 40 yards last season.
Texas has five kickers to chose from in Fera, Jordan, junior Will Russ and sophomores Nick Rose and Ben Pruitt. Since the program cannot afford to scholarship another kicker, the hope is that Fera will improve greatly once he has fully recovered from the groin injury. If not, any guess is good as another.
Whoever the coaches choose for 2013, he needs to be able to connect from beyond 40 yards, or Texas might be better off using four downs on the opponents' side of the field.
The Longhorns will lose Kenny Vaccaro to graduation after this 2012 season, leaving probably the largest hole on the team at the safety position.
Vaccaro's departure is a significant blow to a secondary that has underachieved in 2012. Not only did junior Adrian Phillips struggle mightily in his first season starting at safety, but both Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs failed to improve on stellar 2011 campaigns. Without Vaccaro, this group could come apart at the seams in 2013.
Rising junior Josh Turner did show some flashes this season, but Texas probably needs to explore replacing Phillips as well. Without a sure-fire safety prospect yet in the recruiting ranks, Turner's classmates Mykkele Thompson and Sheroid Evans are the likeliest candidates to step in as starters.
Luckily for Texas, it has one of the best in defensive backs coach Duane Akina, and it is very doubtful that he will allow a second consecutive down year from his secondary.
Texas also loses sack maven Alex Okafor to graduation this offseason, leaving the team without its best defensive end from the past two seasons.
If Kenny Vaccaro was Texas' best defensive player in 2012, then Okafor could not have been far behind. The senior bookend had eight sacks this season, nearly winning the West Virginia game by himself and proving a valuable leader for the entire team throughout the season.
Texas will return another top-tier end in Jackson Jeffcoat along with three other potential starters in Cedric Reed, Reggie Wilson and Shiro Davis. But Jeffcoat has had two season-ending injuries in his career while neither of the other three players have consistently produced.
The position could get an extra boost next season from top recruit Jake Raulerson, who confirmed a week ago that he would start out at defensive end. Still, another severe injury to Jeffcoat in 2013 could leave this team without any sort of consistent pass-rusher, which is needed in the Big 12.
As ridiculous as it may sound Texas will be hard-pressed this offseason to replace senior punter Alex King, who was far and away the team's best special teams player in 2012.
Acquiring Anthony Fera from Penn State may not have worked out well for the 'Horns, but getting King from Duke certainly did. King's average of 45.3 yards per punt would have been good enough for ninth in the nation had he qualified, and he was very effective in pinning opponents 15 times inside their own 20.
Fera was an effective punter during his days at Penn State and will probably do double duty in 2013. But should he continue with both power and accuracy as he did in 2012, Texas fans will quickly realize the value of an effective punter.