FootballFootball Recruiting

NSD 2015: Offensive line

Patrick Vahe. (Justin Wells/IT)
Patrick Vahe. (Justin Wells/IT)

If you only follow recruiting towards NSD and aren’t overly familiar with the class this is the series for you. You’ll be up to speed without having to go through the dramatic ups and downs of the cycle.

It was going to take a lot to coax Joe Wickline from the ultimate comfort zone that was Stillwater. While you try to reconcile ‘comfort’ and ‘Stillwater’ I’ll continue. Wickline had built a great national reputation as an identifier and developer of raw talent, as well as a person who understood how to best utilize his players.

His zone blocking schemes have been often duplicated, but not so much replicated. It’s an attractive offense ideal for recruiting the region. Year after year Oklahoma State experienced success in the trenches, sometimes even after heavy losses and much inexperience.

It takes a lot to leave that behind, even if the upgrade from Stillwater to Austin is just as great as the upgrade from Oklahoma State to Texas.

It’s obvious Charlie Strong has afforded Wickline a wide berth when it comes to coaching style and evaluation, and that must have been much of the attraction for the venerable coach to make the move.

His coaching style is interesting, especially when projecting success or failure for a prospect. It’s nearly as likely a physically superior athlete won’t experience as much success as the gritty project. You must be mentally strong to thrive under Coach Wick, and some intelligence doesn’t hurt either.

If a player does take to Wickline’s coaching, he’ll surely maximize his potential. Finding guys like that is on the order.

Though the Texas offensive line struggled for nearly the entire season, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the future of the unit. That’s partly because of Wickline’s much deserved reputation as well as the number of bodies Texas is dedicating to the problem.

As Bill Parcells once famously stated, “If they want you to cook dinner, you ought to be able to buy some of the groceries.”

Lets see if Wickline can get something cooking with his new ingredients.

It’s a big class in size and numbers with complementary parts. It’s easy to project a 5-man line with this grouping. Another positive: four of the six commitments are already on campus, including two Jucos who will vie for starter’s snaps.

C Patrick Vahe, Euless Trinity (Euless, TX)

A holdover commit from Mack Brown’s final days, Vahe has stuck by Texas since his commitment in July of 2013.

Evaluation: He’s a tackle athlete in an interior lineman’s body. Length (he’s 6-foot-2) is his only limiting factor but as a center that won’t hurt him much, in fact his natural leverage should help him hold his ground versus big bulls. He’ll be excellent on the move as he’s extremely quick and light on his feet. Using angles and leverage, along with his NASTY play style, Vahe should become a factor creating running room on Inside Zone.

2015 Projection: Linemen especially benefit from a redshirt year, but Vahe’s a guy I could see playing if he had to. I’d rather he redshirt, get stronger and adjust to the college game. Because of Taylor Doyle and Jake Raulerson ahead of him, I think he’ll be allowed to do so.

Beyond 2015: I really like him as a multi-year starter and a guy who can push Raulerson next spring.

OT Ronnie “Buck” Major, Huntsville (Huntsville, TX)

Wickline wasted no time going to work and flipping Major from Baylor last February. Now the question is, will he qualify?

Evaluation: Wickline is extremely high on Major, therefore I’m high on Major. From a size and ability standpoint, Major is similar to Kennedy Estelle at this same point. Ideal size and length (6-foot-6, 300) to play the edge, but very raw technique and fundamentals. He’s a plus+ athlete who bends well, but he has a long way to go when it comes to footwork and hand placement.

2015 Projection: Guys like Major are the reason redshirts exist. Hopefully he’s sitting out at Texas rather than playing at Tyler JC.

Beyond 2015: If nobody takes control of right tackle this season, Major could be thrust into action in 2016, but he may still need more time. With more seasoning I expect him to become a multi-year starter, perhaps even starting for as many as three seasons.

The following players are already on campus.

OT Connor Williams, Coppell (Coppell, TX)

Perhaps the highest upside player of the bunch, he’s new to offensive tackle but has tons of ability.

Evaluation: Athletically, he’s nearly ideal. He first received offers as a tight end, then as center, before finally asserting himself as a left tackle prospect. Rare is the high school left tackle who projects to the same position in college, so Williams has tons of value in that regard. He has enough length (6-foot-5) to stay on the edge and plenty of foot quickness. Put those traits with his flexibility and disposition and Texas has a fine prospect on its hands. He’s still learning the position so who better to develop him?

2015 Projection: He’ll weigh 300 pounds by fall camp so he’ll have the necessary size, if not the strength. His athleticism should translate almost immediately so that won’t likely hinder him from playing next year. Whether he plays or not will likely have as much to do with other players as much as him. If he’s an upgrade over Marcus Hutchins (or someone else), you play him. If it’s too close to call, he should redshirt unless the staff predicts a big jump in production as the season progresses. I can see him playing. I can see him redshirting. I lean towards the redshirt.

Beyond 2015: Williams has the type of ability that will make it hard to recruit over him, especially with a head start on any 2016 prospects. If he doesn’t play in 2015, I expect him to be challenging to start in 2016 unless Tristan Nickelson or Brandon Hodges take control of left tackle.

OG Garrett Thomas, Many (Many, LA)

A nice win over Oklahoma for Strong and Wickline.

Evaluation: A high school tackle who won’t have the movement skills required to play outside, Thomas projects as a quality interior piece because of his size, disposition, and ability to finish blocks. He gets out of his stance decently on the pull but isn’t the quickest in space. Still, I like the way the kid plays the game and the cerebral aspects he brings to the table. I can’t entirely rule him out as a center.

2015 Projection: A certain redshirt candidate.

Beyond 2015: His intelligence and work ethic would make him a Wickline favorite if Wickline had favorites. I see him as a long-term depth piece who could see significant playing time down the road. If he becomes a bit more quicker/athletic with enhanced S&C, he may push to start sooner than I realize.

OT Tristan Nickelson, Navarro JC (Corsicana, TX)

Determined worker takes the road less traveled to Austin. From high school afterthought to prep school to one year in the Juco ranks, Nickelson has hit the big time.

Evaluation: Every player is different; each with their own defining traits. For Nickelson, it’s extreme length (6-foot-8) and work ethic. At 6-foot-8, 305 pounds, he lacks some of the quickness you’d prefer to see outside but he’s so big it’s hard to get around him. He bottled up and frustrated former TCU defensive end Devonte Fields this year. His coordination continues to improve as he gets stronger and he bends pretty well for his size. He needs to get stronger in his base anchor and get displacement in the run game.

2015 Projection: Texas needs immediate help at the tackle position, because of that I think he’ll play. Desmond Harrison is gone, and Camrhon Hughes will likely be gone as well. Need will likely trump the want to redshirt Nickelson. I could see him playing quite a bit in 2015, perhaps even starting.

Beyond 2015: A positive to Nickelson is he has three years to play as well as a redshirt season still at his disposal. He improves by the day and if he plays well in 2015, he’ll position himself well to compete as younger, more talented players enter the depth chart.

OT Brandon Hodges, East Mississippi CC (Scooba, MS)

Expected to provide immediate help, Hodges has the hole shot to become a starter at right tackle.

Evaluation: Big 12 ready with regards to size and strength. Movement skills are good, not great. Stands a bit high in his kick-step but that will be worked out. He’ll be a better run-blocker early in his time at Texas than in pass protection, but that’s not a terrible thing when factoring in the offense’s intent.

2015 Projection: Likely starter at right tackle and should be a big factor in improving the run game.

Beyond 2015:
If he plays well next season, he’ll be your 2016 starter as well, effectively buying Texas time to develop some prime talent.

OVERALL UNIT GRADES

Athleticism: B
Hit needs: B+
Immediate help: B-
Upside: B
Fit: B+
Class composition: B+

Closing: Losing Toby Weathersby late hurt, but the class should be fairly productive early and has tremendous long-term upside with Williams, Vahe, and Major.

Losing Major too would round these grades downward.