Texas Football: Buying or Selling the Longhorns' Top Fall Camp Performers
Charlie Strong and his Texas Longhorns are almost through their second week of fall camp, and several players have made their unexpected case for a major role in 2014. As we hit the homestretch to the season, which ones are you buying and selling as true breakout candidates?
As expected, the stars have come in and handled their business. David Ash has been the best player on the field according to 247Sports' Jeff Howe, while guys like Cedric Reed and Malcolm Brown continue to set themselves up for nice senior seasons.
Those are the guys that Strong and his staff are supposed to be able to rely on. The surprises, such as walk-on Dylan Haines and freshman Armanti Foreman, are the ones that have the potential to help this team exceed expectations.
So far, these two are among several fall standouts that are ready to turn their solid camp showings into essential roles for the 2014 campaign. But not every camp standout is here to stay, as we will see with Jason Hall and M.J. McFarland.
Buy: S Dylan Haines
Yes, we're buying into walk-on safety Dylan Haines, who has left the realm of motivational ploy and entered full-blown starter territory.
The Horns are well into their second week of fall camp, and Haines continues to take a vast majority of the first-team reps. According to SB Nation's Michael Pelech, the sophomore is a sure tackler, has the coverage skills to play single high and is physical enough to hold his own against bigger receivers like John Harris.
More so than just taking advantage of an opportunity in Josh Turner's absence, Haines has also won over his teammates. The other Longhorn players respect what the 195-pound safety has accomplished this offseason, as Cedric Reed put it on media day:
Hard work man, we got room to do it. Walk-on or not as long as you can play you got a spot. [Defensive coordinator/secondary coach] Coach [Vance] Bedford made that clear when he came here, there were no starting spots. Everybody had to work for it. Dylan was one of those guys who went in there, went to the weight room, watched film, did everything he could to get on the field and it is working out for him.
So long as Haines is outworking everyone else and taking the first-team reps, give him the nod over more athletic guys like Adrian Colbert.
Sell: S Jason Hall
Sticking with the safety position, freshman Jason Hall has exceeded all expectations with his physicality thus far in camp. However, we need to tamp down any talk of him starting until we have something more substantial than a great performance in a drill.
A consensus 3-star recruit (per 247Sports.com), Hall is one of the more unheralded members of Texas' 2014 crop of freshmen. That hasn't stopped him from making noise as a physical presence, especially in the bull-ring drill above (0:40 mark).
The Longhorns need a punisher on the back end, and Hall already looks the part. Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford have taken notice, giving him a steady stream of second-team reps, according to OrangeBloods.com's Dustin McComas.
Regardless of Texas' lack of depth at the position, it's impressive to see Hall rise so fast. He's a near lock to crack the two-deep at this point, but any speculation about him grabbing a starting job is just that until he starts running with the first team.
Buy: WR Armanti Foreman
The supremely quick Jacorey Warrick and his ascendance to the first team should surprise no one. The more interesting development is with freshman Armanti Foreman, who has made a serious play for the final spot in Texas' four-receiver sets.
The reviews are in for Foreman, a 4-star receiver according to 247Sports, and the consensus is that he's just plain impressive. Between Horns Digest's William Wilkerson marveling at the freshman's total package and the Austin-American Statesman's Cedric Golden telling of Foreman fielding punts with one hand, it's hard to envision a scenario in which he's not heavily involved.
"He's a player that has a lot of speed and the thing you like about him is he's one of those guys that can take a 5-yard hitch and take it to a 20-yard gain," Strong told the media on Tuesday. Given Jaxon Shipley's hamstring injury and Daje Johnson's possible dismissal, don't be surprised when Foreman starts the first game of the season.
Sell: TE M.J. McFarland
The opportunity and potential are there for M.J. McFarland, but that's no different from the past two seasons for the redshirt junior. He's still a breakout candidate, but don't get your hopes up.
As Strong told reporters on Tuesday, Greg Daniels will undergo knee surgery that will cause him to miss a substantial amount of time. That leaves Texas with McFarland, returning starter Geoff Swaim and newcomer Blake Whiteley.
Of this group, McFarland is easily the most talented receiver, having amassed 125 receiving yards to Swaim's 14, even though the former failed to catch a ball last season. The 6'4" redshirt junior's issues rest mainly in his blocking, which is why Texas went with Swaim for most of last season.
But Strong has continued to stress the tight end's key role in Shawn Watson's offense, and Barking Carnival's Scipio Tex has quoted the head coach as praising McFarland for having "an outstanding camp."
While that could translate to a heightened workload for the athletic tight end, he's just as likely to flame out. Anyone expecting him to suddenly become the next Jermichael Finley is going to get burned here.
Buy: OL Kent Perkins
Aside from Sedrick Flowers at guard and Dom Espinosa at center, it's anyone's guess as to the makeup of Texas' offensive line in 2014. But no matter what iteration eventually wins out, it's safe to say it will also include sophomore Kent Perkins.
Barely removed from a knee injury that cut his spring short, Perkins has been on a tear throughout camp. Strong told reporters last week that Perkins is "the strongest person we have," and Joe Wickline has him operating as the first-team right guard, per Pelech.
Wickline said last week that Perkins "is a guard by body," but the sophomore also started a game at tackle in 2013. Texas' new offensive line coach covets that kind of versatility, especially because Perkins provides some insurance if Kennedy Estelle and/or Desmond Harrison stay on Strong's bad side.
Simply put, Perkins has a chance to be Texas' best lineman this season, and he will start for the rest of his career.
Buy: DT Hassan Ridgeway
Up to 307 pounds, defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway has become a full-grown beast this offseason in preparation for his breakout campaign.
A raw talent with great upside, Ridgeway kicked it up a notch to become one of Strong's favorite players on the roster. "My big guy, I call him the green mile," Strong said last Wednesday.
Strong later elaborated on Ridgeway's impressive physical ability: "Ridge is doing well. He's a really strong guy, a powerful, really a powerful pass rusher also. He has so much strength that he can take guys, once he get's locked on them he can just throw them out of the way."
Strong isn't kidding, either. Ridgeway's lone tackle for loss last season came when he bullied through his blockers to simultaneously wrap up both the New Mexico State quarterback and running back. With some good coaching, he's going to be a problem for whoever has the misfortune of lining up across from him.
Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson are entrenched as Texas' starters inside, but that won't stop Ridgeway from coming in to blow things up in the backfield.