The 2010’s have been a really bad decade thus far for Texas football.
The Longhorns have gone 41-35 overall in this span and only 27-26 in Big 12 play. Humiliating defeats against BYU, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, and Iowa State have littered virtually every season and there hasn’t been much to excite fans other than recruiting and the hope for next season.
There’s good reason to believe that this could turn around in the latter half of the decade now that Charlie has some top-rated players and cohesive staff together but in the meantime I’d look to pause and look back at some of the better Longhorns who suited up over these last six, ignominious seasons.
This is an “all-underrated team” looking to acknowledge some guys that have been overlooked largely due to playing on okay or bad teams but put down some memorable seasons in burnt orange.
To be clear, this isn’t an “all-2010’s” team or you’d see names like Sam Acho or Kenny Vaccaro, who’s brilliance shone too bright for us to miss. Instead, we’re going to make sure we pay our dues to overlooked lettermen that paid their dues and were simply unlucky enough to be good players in off years.
We’ll start on defense:
2010’s All-Underrated Defense
Defensive end: Cedric Reed
Peak year: 2013, 79 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 5 fumbles forced
It’s easy to forget Reed because he played opposite Jackson Jeffcoat in 2013 (who had 13 sacks that year) and because he was much quieter in 2014 due to being moved inside to a strongside end position in a new scheme and playing through some injuries. However, Reed was arguably the best defensive player on the team in 2013 and had one of the single best defensive seasons of any Texas D-lineman in the 2010s.
Defensive tackle: Hassan Ridgeway
Peak year: 2014, 43 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 6 sacks
Part of the reason the 2014 Texas defense was particularly dominant was that it was nearly impossible to handle a pass-rush where opponents had to account for Steve Edmond or Jordan Hicks blitzing, Malcom Brown working inside or out, and Hassan Ridgeway isolated on a guard or center.
Ridgeway repeatedly overpowered opposing interior O-lineman in that setting and flashed major potential for 2015 and beyond that was ultimately squandered by injuries and other issues. Nevertheless, it’s easy to dwell on that and forget his amazing 2014 season.
Defensive tackle: Chris Whaley
Peak year: 2013, 25 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, INT/TD
Whaley was another freakishly athletic tackle who’s potential was cut short due to being first miscast as a RB and then injury which derailed a strong 2013 season. Texas had Whaley working as an ultra-quick nose tackle that had to be double-teamed by any opponent that didn’t want him knifing into their backfield on every 1st and 10. Despite getting that attention he was still causing real disruption before going down to injury.
Defensive end: Eddie Jones
Peak year: 2010, 52 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 6 sacks
It was between Jones and Naashon Hughes for this spot and big Eddie narrowly beat out a player who’s fighting to keep his starting role in 2016. Jones was a solid contributor for three seasons, was always productive, and got more of the limelight in 2010. Alex Okafor and Jeffcoat dominated the defensive end position for much of the 2010’s, but those two got more than enough credit for what they accomplished. Jones played in Sundays as well despite nagging injuries his entire career. The BEast Texas native (Kilgore) is now the DC at Blinn Junior College.
Linebacker: Steve Edmond
Peak year: 2014, 131 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks
Big, bad Steve Edmond finally put it all together in 2014 under Strong’s guidance. I’d say his breakout moment came when it was time to back up his “Baylor is trash” comments and he responded with 19 tackles and two sacks in a game where Texas could have shocked the nation had the offense brought a similar fire. Edmond always had an insane combination of size and athleticism of the sort you normally only see from SEC linebackers but it never quite came together until Strong won his trust and simplified his role in 2014. The three-time Daingerfield HS state champion earned his degree in Spring 2016.
Linebacker: Peter Jinkens
Peak year: 2015, 75 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks
This is where we tip our hat to Jinkens for having a pretty disruptive season in 2015, even though his inability to completely lock down the inside linebacker spot he was miscast in limited how Texas could utilize Malik Jefferson at times.
Despite being an outside-backer who was bulked up and moved inside out of necessity and asked to anchor an exceptionally young defense, Jinkens still led the team in tackles and made quite a few plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Will he be missed in 2016? Probably not. Was his senior effort worth a round of applause? Absolutely. #RipsShirtOff
Nickel: Duke Thomas
Peak year: 2015, 58 tackles, 6 passes defended
Orlando “Duke” Thomas was a very good player for several years at Texas that played almost every position in the secondary in 2015. He started the year in the nickel as one of the few Longhorns with the know-how and physicality to handle that role, then played some corner here and there over the course of the year, and finally flashed some amazing potential as a strong safety in the final two games.
Thomas was a very willing tackler for a smaller guy and capable of covering most anyone in the league either inside or outside. If he hadn’t had a weakness for double moves (although what corner doesn’t?), his legacy would be closer to what he deserves.
Peak year: 2014, 69 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 passes defended
Thompson was one of several highly touted Longhorn recruits on defense that Charlie Strong got much more of than Mack had over the previous seasons. Duane Akina seemed to fashion him as the ultimate deep safety who could cover any mistake and make the deep middle of the field disappear. Instead he lacked confidence in run support (who wouldn’t, playing behind those undisciplined fronts?) and was infrequently able to utilize his athleticism in coverage.
Then Strong gave him confidence, he started playing more physical, and he was able to play the nickel, corner, and strong safety positions for Texas in 2014 well enough to get himself drafted by the New York Giants.
Free safety: Blake Gideon
Peak year: 2011, 82 tackles, 6 passes defended
Well duh, right? History should be kinder to Gideon than I or most other Longhorn fans were to the two-star, four-year starter from Leander, Texas. The best way to appreciate Gideon in retrospect, besides looking at his solid stats or re-examining his game film which shows a better player than you might remember from key plays over a long career, is by comparing him to the other safeties to try and handle the spacing and skill in the Big 12 over the last 10 years. When compared with his peers, Gideon stands out as a legitimately good safety and worthy Longhorn.
He was quite good as a senior in 2011 working in Diaz’s cover 4/fire zone defense that tended to play to his strengths. He’s now a college coach.
Strong safety: Adrian Phillips
Peak year: 2013, 82 tackles, 5 passes defended
Adrian Phillips went from being a player that everyone was excited about after playing a solid role on a very good 2011 defense to being a heavily maligned scapegoat for the disastrous 2012 defensive season.
Phillips missed tackles and assignments all over the field in 2012 and struggled to handle his myriad of roles or recover from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss much of the offseason. Texas had Phillips playing nickel, dime, and both safety positions in 2012 after playing corner and safety in 2011 and he wasn’t ready for the challenge. In 2013, he rebounded and lived up to his Swiss army-knife potential and nearly dragged a bad defense to a respectable finish. He also played in the NFL four for seasons.
Cornerback: Carrington Byndom
Peak year: 2012, 55 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 9 passes defended
In my estimation Byndom just doesn’t quite get the credit he deserves for locking down half the field for three consecutive seasons from 2011-2013. The year 2011 was his finest statistically as he picked off two passes and broke up 15 more playing opposite a freshman Quandre Diggs.
However I’m partial to his 2012 effort where he picked off three passes and broke up six more while playing in a defensive scheme that put him on an island much more often with shakier safety play helping inside. The East Texan (Lufkin) was also a lot more physical and willing on corner blitzes then Longhorns probably remember.
2010’s All-underrated Offense
QB: David Ash
Peak year: 2012, 318 passes for 2699 yards, 8.5 ypa, 19-8 TD-INT ratio
The 2012 season was a strong hint that David Ash’s future might include All-Big 12 honors and the end of Texas’ quarterback succession problem. He was effective throwing down the field and consistently accurate in the screens and quick passes that then OC Bryan Harsin was able to scheme for him in the offense.
Of the various QB tragedies that Texas experienced in the 2010’s the lost potential of David Ash ranks No. 1. With another year of coaching, he could have been a contender.
RB: Cody Johnson
Peak year: 2011, 48 rushes for 200 yards, 4.2 ypc, 6 TDs
Cody Johnson was actually the leading rusher in 2010 after serving as a short-yardage battering ram in both 2008 and 2009. Johnson finished his career with 36 touchdowns, which is amazing, but 2011 was perhaps his most impressive year.
In order to suit the team’s personnel and Harsin’s offensive designs, CoJo spent the year learning to play fullback and ended up becoming pretty good at it by the end of the year. He was rewarded for that sacrifice with some short-yardage carries here and there and he delivered as always.
TE/FB: Geoff Swaim
Peak year: 2013
Texas “nearly won” the Big 12 in 2013 due in large part to the efforts of Trey Hopkins and Geoff Swaim, who combined to give the Longhorn run game a lot more punch at the point of attack than most of the league knew how to deal with. There’s hope that we’ll see something similar (or better) from a Vahe-Williams-Perkins-Bluiett combo in 2016.
Swaim was such a great blocker that many NFL teams – he as drafted by the Dallas Cowboys – wished he were just a tad larger so they could try to bulk him up into a tackle. He’s the prototype for Gilbert’s new veer and shoot offense but he was mighty effective in the Harsin and Applewhite systems as well.
Slot: Jaxon Shipley
Peak year: 2012, 59 catches for 737 yards and 6 TDs
Most everyone already knows how good Jaxon Shipley was at Texas, the man had at least 40 catches and 570 receiving yards all four years in Austin. However, it’s worth belaboring how good Shipley might have been had he played more than a single season with a good QB (2012 with Ash).
At most other programs in the Big 12, Shipley would have been an All-Big 12 performer in most of his years of eligibility. His fantastic routes and flypaper hands were largely wasted from 2011 to 2014. He currently plays for the Arizona Cardinals.
WR: James Kirkendoll
Peak year: 2010, 52 catches for 707 yards and 2 TDs
Kirkendoll wasn’t one of the better WRs of the 2010’s for Texas but he was a solid one and a sacrificial one that was at his best in the slot but had to move outside to fill the team’s need. Considering that he put these stats up catching balls thrown from sophomore Garrett Gilbert playing behind a weak OL imagine what he might have done if allowed to play in the slot in 2010 as a 2nd option on a better offense…
WR: John Harris
Peak year: 2014, 68 catches for 1051 yards and 7 TDs
It’s worth recognizing that as bad as 2014 was, it would have been much worse if not for Swoopes’ limited excellence in throwing quick routes to John Harris. Texas moved the physical senior all over the place to try and set up Swoopes for easy success and he proved a reliable target with some after the catch upside thanks to hard running. Mike Davis was the more explosive forgotten outside receiver of the 2010s but Harris was a major reason for Texas managing to avoid a total collapse in Year 1 of the Strong era.
LT: Donald Hawkins
Peak year: 2013
Hawkins was a 2nd team All-Big 12 performer at left tackle in 2013 for what was by far the best O-line Texas has fielded this decade and the only one comparable to the units in the 2000’s. The hope had been that uber-talented JUCO Desmond Harrison would win the job but fellow JUCO Hawkins held it down admirably and proved very difficult to replace in 2014.
LG: Trey Hopkins
Peak year: 2013
Hopkins is the best offensive lineman Texas has had thus far in “the lost decade” and perhaps the best player on this entire list. He started four games at guard as a freshman and played in every game. As a sophomore he started every game at right tackle, then locked down left guard for the next two years until forced back to right tackle for his final game against Oregon (in which he mauled their fronts).
OC: Dominic Espinosa
Peak year: 2013
Espinosa was a very good center who has long been overlooked for two very important contributions he made to the offense. The first was in 2011 when he was able to hold down the center spot well enough as a redshirt freshman to allow Snow to move to left guard, where he was a first-teamer thanks to his effective pulling. The second was his own ability as a puller that allowed Texas to build around the “pin and pull” running play from 2012 to 2013.Everyone remembers Espinosa struggling to blow bigger nose tackles off the ball but everyone forgets his unique ability to turn the corner and find linebackers in space. When Espinosa was lost for the year early in 2014, the offensive line was basically doomed.
RG: David Snow
Peak year: 2011
Technically Snow played this season at left guard but it’d be wrong to leave him off the list considering he was a first team All-Big 12 performer in 2011. Texas fans have tended to overlook OL play over the course of the decade as a rule so virtually every starter Texas has had is eligible for this honor. It’s worth remembering that not every lineman for Texas in this period was a disappointment and the Gilmer-Ex still makes a living playing football, last appearing for the Buffalo Bills.
RT: Josh Cochran
Peak year: 2012
Imagine if Connor Williams was a tad less talented and suffered injuries in his junior year that prematurely ended his career and you have the story of Josh Cochran. He started seven games at left tackle as a freshman, then got stronger and moved to right tackle in 2012 where he was reasonably effective for a good rushing attack. Cochran was very good for an underclassman and had a really bright future before injuries took it all away.
Texas hasn’t had the kind of decade fans expected after nearly winning the 2nd championship of the Mack Brown era in 2009 but it wasn’t the fault of these guys who all showed up and showed well with the eyes of Texas upon them. The East Texan native (Hallsville) native is now the OL coach at ETBU.