Texas' offensive line at practice
The Horn continues its annual position-by-position analysis series breaking down every position on the Longhorn football team. We begin with the offensive line.
From 5-7 two seasons ago to where they are now, they Texas Longhorns have made significant strides in their quest to reclaim their reputation of old as one of the Big 12’s best.
Defensively, the pieces are in place to pronounce the unit as one of the top groups in the country, much less the Big 12. It is the offense, however, that will have to make the biggest leaps forward if the Longhorns are to contend for a conference title and beyond.
The one unit that could transform the offense from good to great is the offensive line, and if the right cards fall in place, the Longhorns could surprise many as they look at the 2012 season with optimism and determination.
First, let’s take a look at what the starting five will look like on opening weekend against Wyoming.
RT: Josh Cochran
RG: Mason Walters
C: Dom Espinosa
LG: Trey Hopkins
LT: Donald Hawkins
Sophomore standout Josh Cochran enters the season as a full-time starter after replacing senior out-of-favor Tray Allen last year. Despite the perpetual growing pains throughout the 2011 campaign, the Hallsville, Texas product provided an immediate upgrade on the edge and symbolized the ushering in of a new era in Texas football.
Now as a second-year player with a number of starts under his belt, Cochran will have to maintain an even higher set of expectations from offensive line coach Stacy Searels and the Texas faithful. Cochran is still very much a young gun along the line, but his great feet and early experience as a freshman will go a long way towards his development as one of the offensive line’s most important assets moving forward.
Opposite to Cochran will be junior college transfer Donald Hawkins, who embodies all that has changed in the vision and approach of Mack Brown and this program. For the first time, Brown dipped into the JUCO ranks to seek out immediate difference makers for the quick fix. If the preliminary reports are accurate, Hawkins should be just that.
Coming to Austin looking for a fresh start from Northwest Community College in Tunica, Miss., Hawkins will get thrown into the mix immediately as a starter. The junior will arrive with a wealth of experience, which will have to mesh well with the adjustment in speed, power, athleticism and competition at the Division I level. His presence brings a much needed body for a line that has suffered from years of poor development, poor evaluation and attrition.
Junior-to-be Mason Walters looks to be the anchor for a line that should be miles ahead of where it was a season ago. As a bridge between the Longhorns of old and new, Walters has made the transition and has emerged as the undeniable vocal leader of the group. He is a year older and a year further along under the tutelage of Searels and the Bennie Wylie workout extravaganza. Do not get on his bad side, either.
Dom Espinosa was thrown into the fire as a freshman at center, and though the Cedar Park product flashed some brilliance early in the season, he had his fair share of facepalming moments as the year wore on.
Reports have detailed Espinosa making dramatic strength improvements, but if he can wrap his head around the mental aspect of handling the nose of the opposing defense, he will do well to hold down his starter’s role. He could be in the most danger of losing his job, but as of right now, he should have no reason to fear that potential.
Trey Hopkins—who enters his third season at Texas—slides back into his natural position at guard after spending ample time on the edge as a tackle. The return to the interior will bring a decent bout of athleticism with it and hopefully will secure more confidence in a running game that will be a featured component of the Texas offense.
The Galena Park North Shore product continually drew reviews as the next Justin Blalock, who by all accounts was no shabby player. And though the junior’s reputation has yet to precede itself, there is plenty of promise out of a player who was expected to line up in the interior and is finally receiving that opportunity full-time.
Luke Poehlmann, Garrett Porter, Thomas Ashcraft, Sedrick Flowers, Garrett Greenlea, Marcus Hutchins, Taylor Doyle, Camrhon Hughes, Curtis Riser, Kennedy Estelle
The ugly truth of the matter here is this. One glance at the list of backups displays incredible inexperience. Perhaps an even uglier truth is that if the Longhorns have to dip into their extremely fragile depth for the long-term, there could be serious repercussions due to the drop in sheer ability.
If there is any injury in the starting five (cross your fingers), the Longhorns could be forced to shift things around significantly to play to the strengths of their backups.
Poehlmann appears to be the only player ready to take on a full load at any moment, but even that prospect presents some concerns.
Porter and Ashcraft look to be in the same boat going nowhere. With little to no experience coming into the season, these two members of the 2009 recruiting class will need to take the next step in order to secure some level of confidence and depth in the trenches.
Flowers may be the most promising of the backups moving forward. Of the four offensive line recruits in the 2011 class, Flowers came in the smallest, but could very well be the most powerful. In fact, look for Flowers to get some work in the rotation up front. Reports over the spring and summer have been positive for the former Galena Park North Shore standout, but we may have to wait until the season rolls around to get a real idea of where he could be headed.
After a redshirt season in 2011, Greenlea and Hutchins may be in the same predicament as last year. There is ample room in front of both of them if they were to make the necessary developments, but they could be in danger of dropping in depth if they cannot make those same, necessary developments.
True freshmen Camrhon Hughes—who enrolled at Texas in January—Curtis Riser and Kennedy Estelle could be all as good as advertised. But until all three arrive on campus, strut their stuff and size up to the competition already on site, the expectation for the three is TBD.
The Bottom Line
While there are several factors working in favor of the offensive line making big strides throughout the season, two are huge players.
It will be the second year under both offensive line coach Searels and strength and conditioning coach Wylie. Any bumps in the road because of unfamiliarity with the system or vision of the program will go down as unacceptable from here on out. The big boys should be in tip-top shape and they should have a better understanding of what the offense is trying to do (also in the second year under Bryan Harsin).
Truth be told, while the top five look to be great anchors for the offensive game plan, it is hard to express that same confidence when dealing with a two-deep in the trenches. Texas may only be able to reach six or seven deep comfortably, and even that could be a stretch.
At the end of the day, the majority of this group has been through a season together, and there is little more encouraging than solid chemistry on the offensive line.