By: Justin Wells and Ian Boyd
Last week, Ian Boyd told us the Top 10 most important players in Tom Herman’s inaugural season. Today, he and I discuss the five guys nobody is talking about but should. From the hardest hitter, most difficult to tackle and hardest worker, here are the Longhorns you need to know about.
Chris Brown – DB (RS-Fr): When speaking with former players and former staffers, the name Chris Brown came up most often. He’s versatile (safety and nickel), has decent size (5-foot-10, 200), and has tremendous work ethic. “Hardest hitter on the team”, “desires to separate you from the ball”, “knocked Foreman’s helmet off 10 yards downfield,” were just a few of the comments used. Everyone talks about Boyd, Davis, Hill, and Locke, and for good reason. But Brown is the guy that could make a name for himself in the next few years. – Justin Wells
If there’s anything that Tom Herman and Todd Orlando love on D, it’s guys that will knock you out. By all accounts, there’s no one on the team more eager to do that than Chris Brown and that was probably the most distinctive trait to his high school film as well. Orlando also loves sub-packages, so DBs that are violent and versatile can find a lot of snaps at safety, nickel, or dime. Where he fits over the next few years will likely depend on how much range he has in coverage. Do they want him near the line as a nickel or dime or can he apply his savagery in deep zone? The word on Brown out of campus suggests he might have upside in deep zone as WRs were often afraid to go over the middle when he was patrolling that turf. It’s still just possible to land knockout, intimidating blows to receivers coming over the middle under modern rules and guys that know how to do so are invaluable. – Ian Boyd
Davion Curtis – WR (RS- Fr): When you’ve got Collin Johnson, Devin Duvernay, and John Burt in your receiving corps, it’s easy to forget Curtis. But the people who played and coached with him didn’t. “Best route runner”, “outstanding feet, focus, and hands”, and “great attitude and coachable.” Curtis will likely play slot and outside receiver this fall. That’s where his versatility and natural ability will be utilized. Texas fans should be happy his redshirt wasn’t burned last year. – JW
Curtis’ apparent reputation as a dominant route runner is frankly shocking and should be horrifying to the rest of the league. We’re talking about a guy who ran a 10.85 in high school so when you start hearing things about how good his feet are, how precise his routes can be, and how well he’s taking to coaching then it’s really time to take notice. Presumably the staff will factor him in as a guy they use to threaten defenses over the top, although with skilled route running he may also find himself as a target on snag routes hunting for space inside, the snag route is a major component to the Herman offense and it’s as much about feel and precision as anything else. A guy like Curtis who works hard and knows how to hunt open space could find himself a lot of targets on third down, the fact that he might break free for a TD after the catch surely just sweetens the deal for the coaching staff.
Currently there’s a logjam at the position but it sounds like we can expect Curtis to figure into the 2017 rotation and possibly even be a prominent figure depending on how well guys above him take to the new regime. – IB
Charles Omenihu – DE (Junior): When Omenihu arrived in Austin, he was a skinny (6-foot-5, 220) defensive end with untapped potential. So what did he do? He worked his ass off on and off the field. He got bigger (6-foot-6, 264), watched tons of film, and became a technician with two goals: Bring Texas back and make it to the NFL. Those are still his goals and with new DC Todd Orlando, they look more attainable than ever. “One of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen”, “Gets better every single day”, “will play on Sundays at this rate”, “the attitude this program needs”.- JW
The main problem with my suggested 2-4-5 front for Texas to get Malcolm Roach and Breckyn Hager on the field together, besides it’s absence from previous Orlando playbooks, is Charles Omenihu. The junior keeps growing into the SDE we all figured he might be while maintaining his relentless motor and drive, Texas may not be able to afford to take him off the field.
So, he’ll probably find himself utilized in a similar fashion as last year, lining up as a 4i-tech in the 3-3-5 package or in a 5-tech in Orlando’s 4-2 even front. Like with Charlie’s D, he’ll have opportunities to knife into interior gaps and try to get pressure up the middle but Orlando’s scheme will also regularly set him loose on the edge while a LB takes on the task of blowing by guards. He’ll come from everywhere, essentially, and probably be involved in Orlando’s third down “pscyho” packages that feature everyone standing up before the snap.
If he continues to make gains in size and strength to anchor against tackles in the run game then the new scheme should really suit his ability to cause disruption on different areas of the field. – IB
Brandon Jones – S (soph): It’s hard not to talk about a 5-star who was the highest rated safety in the nation in 2016’s class. His physical abilities jump off the chart. His size (6-foot-0, 205), speed (4.4 40), and determination to be the greatest example to his teammates, and his mom and brothers in Nacogdoches doesn’t go unnoticed. “Total package”, “when the game slows down for him, it’s over, he’ll dominate”, “can play any spot in the secondary – CB, nickel, or safety”. He played as a true freshman for a reason. When I read early reports about what toys Herman has to play with in 2017, and don’t see his name, I laugh. And he just gets more motivated. – JW
I’ve maintained since signing day that despite his blistering speed and range, Brandon Jones is probably a guy that the staff will want to get close to the action as the boundary safety in the base defense. The field safety is going to find himself playing deep-matching zone or dropping down over a slot receiver on the majority of his snaps but the boundary safety gets to mix it up in the box and even blitz, which is where you want a physically dominant and violent player like Jones.
You figure Jason Hall is probably juuuust ahead of him in contention for that role in the defense, but for how long is probably more up to Jones then it is to Hall. In the meantime, he’ll also be able to compete for a spot in the dime sub-packages when Orlando will be keen to get more physical, versatile DBs on the field. Let’s go ahead and set the over/under for sacks by Jones in his career at Texas at 10. – IB
Kirk Johnson – WR (RS-soph): When talking about the stable of running backs in the Texas program last year, it was all Chris Warren and D’Onta Foreman. And for good reason. One (CW3) broke the single game rushing mark his freshman year, while the other broke numerous rushing records in 2016 (D’Onta) on his way to the Doak Walker Award and soon NFL riches. It was easy to overlook Kirk, who was recovering from a major injury. Those days could soon pass. Some around the program feel Johnson has more upside than any in the program. “He has another gear”, “plants that foot and it’s over”, “hardest to tackle”, “in the open field, forget it”. If Johnson is fully healthy come this spring, a tandem of him and Warren could make Herman’s first year on the 40 Acres a much easier transition. – JW
If you watched Houston last year with Duke Catalon, you’ll likely have noticed that they loved to get him involved in the passing game on quick bubble routes to the perimeter. If you’ve followed IT for a while, you’ll remember that coaches absolutely raved about Kirk Johnson’s hands and route running out of the backfield when he came to Texas. That actually made it rather sad that the veer and shoot offense Texas installed a year ago was largely absent of RB pass game utilization.
But now, great talent meets great opportunity. Texas could use the quick bubble to Johnson running out of the backfield as action to bolster multiple parts of their offense, perhaps including inside runs to Chris Warren or another RB. Whoever wins the RB job at Texas is going to have a nice time running behind a left side featuring Connor Williams and Jake McMillon, who were dominant in McMillon’s starting stretch. Johnson’s change of direction projects to just about any sort of running scheme but his ability to bounce outside means he’ll probably be running off Connor Williams’ hip more often than not if he gets the majority of the carries. – IB