Texas Football: 5 Biggest Offseason Goals for the Longhorns
Charlie Strong has already made the biggest move of Texas' offseason, but there's plenty more on his wish list with national signing day looming.
Strong scored his first big victory of the 2016 season by hiring Sterlin Gilbert to be his new offensive coordinator. The former Tulsa assistant brings the spread attack Strong has wanted since he came to Austin, and he gives Texas a chance to turn around the nation's No. 83 scoring offense (per cfbstats.com).
That was just the first step on a long path.
Now Texas has to find a quarterback, finish strong on the recruiting trail and sort out a couple of question marks on the roster. Accomplishing all of that will likely determine whether Strong is still Texas' coach in 2017.
Land a Top-20 Recruiting Class
From now until Feb. 3, Texas' primary focus will be on landing one of the best recruiting classes in the country. And the Longhorns are putting themselves in position to do just that.
It's been nerve-wracking, but things are looking up as we approach signing day. The Longhorns have been on fire since landing Jean Delance to kick off the new year, getting big visits from targets like Brandon Jones, Patrick Hudson and Jordan Elliott, to name a few.
At this point, the ceiling for this class is just about limitless. Strong and his staff have generated a lot of positive buzz of late. Meanwhile, chief recruiting rival Texas A&M has hit a few speed bumps, including a decommitment by tight end and Texas target Irvin Smith.
With all the chatter about silent commits, as noted by SB Nation's Wescott Eberts, there's a chance a pretty good class has already been sewn up. Even with Obi Eboh's decommitment, the Longhorns seem destined to pull off at least a top-20 class in 2016.
Find a Starting Quarterback
As has become customary, Texas will spend another offseason trying to find a starting quarterback.
Sterlin Gilbert's search for a leader to run his offense will be the biggest storyline of Texas' offseason. The first-year offensive coordinator has five scholarship players to pick from to run his Art Briles-inspired veer-and-shoot offense.
Returning starter Jerrod Heard will probably get the first look. The rising sophomore provided a spark last season with his dual-threat ability, but intermediate accuracy is a major obstacle for his potential in this offense. As Inside Texas' Ian Boyd mentioned, Heard has a long way to go in terms of decision-making and getting the ball out with velocity.
Instead, Boyd offers up redshirt freshman Matthew Merrick as an interesting alternative. Merrick's a good athlete with a big arm, which certainly gives him the potential to seize the job. If he can grasp the reads he'll be required to make in this offense, there's a chance he'll run away with it.
Obviously who becomes QB1 will engross the Spring but it won't be settled then. Been told to not dismiss Merrick. Smooth delivery, big arm.
And, of course, there's early enrollee Shane Buechele. The true freshman is one of the best pure throwers in the 2016 class, and his tape shows some deceptive athleticism. But even as an early enrollee, it's hard to imagine Strong entrusting his future to a freshman unless Buechele leaves no doubt.
It's anyone's guess how this battle goes, but these are the three names to watch.
Determine Who Will Make Up the Rest of the Offensive Line
In Connor Williams, Patrick Vahe and Kent Perkins, Texas returns its three best linemen from the 2015 season. Filling the other two spots won't be easy work, though.
A Freshman All-American at left tackle, Williams is the only one of these three guaranteed to play where he did last season. When you have an elite talent at that spot like Williams, you just don't move him.
Vahe and Perkins, however, are a little more flexible. Vahe was considered a center by 247Sports, but he's far too good as a pulling guard to move to center unless absolutely necessary. Perkins is even more versatile with experience playing both guard and right tackle, though his best fit also remains at guard.
Unless Texas decides that Perkins, the team's most experienced lineman, would work at center, that spot and right tackle will be open for competition all offseason. Junior Tristan Nickelson saw time on the right side in 2015, while 2015 signee Garrett Thomas should factor in somewhere. Early enrollee Zach Shackelford also told 247Sports' Chris Hummer that he's excited to make the move over to center this spring.
Matt Mattox's system should be a good fit for Texas, but the sooner this group gets sorted out the better. There's great potential here.
Figure Out the Defensive Tackle Position
Without Hassan Ridgeway doing his thing, Texas will be short on impact defensive linemen in 2016. Unless major strides are made this offseason, the lack of depth there could really set the defense back.
Poona Ford and Paul Boyette will undoubtedly be the starters inside. They're the most talented guys left on the roster and by far the most experienced.
Someone will have to step up behind these two, and there's no clear answer as to who it will be. Chris Nelson is raw, Alex Norman has yet to make any sort of impact in his four years and who knows what to expect from redshirt sophomore Jake McMillon.
There's also no definite help on the way from the 2016 class. Three-star Gerald Wilbon is the only current tackle commit, but the coaches are working on whoever will still listen at the position. Even if a big name like Jordan Elliott joins the class, there's no guarantee a true freshman will be ready to contribute at one of the most physical positions in the game.
Expect the Horns to also exhaust their JUCO options in hopes of getting a more game-ready body in the fold.
Iron Out the Secondary
Texas enters the offseason needing a nickel corner and to evaluate its safety position. If talent wins out, the Longhorn secondary should be a young group again in 2016.
With Duke Thomas off to give the NFL a try, there should be a full-blown battle for the nickel corner spot. John Bonney played the position in 2015, as did rising sophomores Kris Boyd and P.J. Locke. As the more physically gifted option, Boyd should get the nod, but he'll have to earn it.
Safety's a little more complex. Both Dylan Haines and Jason Hall return as upperclassmen, but both were uneven at best in 2015. Both DeShon Elliott and Locke will push them for playing time, as will Brandon Jones should he commit to Texas.
A future Texas secondary with Brandon Jones, Kris Boyd, Holton Hill, DeShon Elliot, and anyone else would rival the amazing 05 and 09 groups
As a senior, Haines will probably keep his job, while Elliott should round out a starting group composed entirely of underclassmen. There's plenty of talent to make that work, especially if the coaches commit to the youth early on.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats and information courtesy of TexasSports.com.