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Longhorns recruiting class small, but formidable

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The Longhorns were one of the youngest teams in the country a year ago, so coach Mack Brown didn't have a lot of immediate playing time to offer recruits. That's a good thing, because he didn't get a ton of them.

Of course, quality counts more than quantity, and the Longhorns picked up a lot of quality. That's particularly true on the offensive line, where the Longhorns signed five players, including Desmond Harrison. Harrison, the top-ranked junior-college tackle in the country, could start right away in September.

But there were disappointments too. For starters, the Longhorns were left at the altar by their defensive line targets. Andrew Billings chose Baylor over Texas the day before signing day. A'Shawn Robinson switched his Texas commit to Alabama. Daeshon Hall decommitted over the summer.

That wasn't all. Ricky Seals-Jones changed his mind and went to Texas A&M. Tight end Durham Smythe picked Notre Dame. Kyle Hicks, a running back, went to TCU. All were top in-state prospects, the kind that the Longhorns usually come up with.

For Brown, some of this serves as a cautionary tale going forward.

"We already have seven commitments for a year from now. Some of these kids we're going to have to keep a year and a half," Brown said. "If one of them backs out on you in December, it really hurts you. What I've talked to our coaches about is you have to do a better job of making sure you trust the parents and that you don't talk one into coming. If he decides to come now, if you get a commitment, it better be because he's wanting to come, not because you recruited him and talked him into it."

Still, as Brown pointed out, it's not like the Longhorns had a lot of space on the roster.

"Some of the guys today have asked me why only 15 recruits? You go back, you can only sign 28 [recruits] in a class. We had 28 last year. You can sign 50 over a two-year period. We had 22 three years ago," Brown said. "You have to stay at 85 [scholarships] or under when the guys report in August. We had 16 to get to 85, so we have 84 scholarships now."

And by many measures, Brown still wound up with the top-rated class in the Big 12. But there are no running backs or defensive linemen, and the decommits are a worrying sign for fans who are already on the fence about the coaching staff.

But if the fans are concerned, Brown remains confident in his squad.

"We have a small senior class next year, but a really big junior and sophomore class, and a smaller freshmen class," he said. "The strength of this football team now is the sophomores and juniors that have played so much the last few years. We have 19 returning starters, so I think we have a chance to be very good."

TOP OF THE CLASS

OL Desmond Harrison (Contra Costa CC) -- One of the consensus top junior-college tackles in the country, Harrison looks the part of a Big 12 lineman. The coaches might want to see the 6-8, 310-pound lineman put on a few pounds, but his arrival should end any complacency among the five returning starters on the Texas line.

C Darius James (Harker Heights HS, Killeen, Texas) -- James was the top-ranked prep center despite missing most of the season due to injury, but it takes just a quick look at the video to see why. Already big for a college center at 6-5, 319 pounds, he also has the size to play guard if needed.

WR Jacorey Warrick (Cypress Falls HS, Houston, Texas) -- Warrick was one of the top wideouts in the country, with the speed and the hands to make an immediate impact.

NOTES, QUOTES

McCoy, Hicks back in the fold following suspensions

--The Longhorns dealt with a distraction during the Alamo Bowl, as LB Jordan Hicks and QB Case McCoy were both suspended for the game after being subject to allegations of sexual assault. However, no charges were filed, and the case was closed in mid-January. Both players have been reinstated to the team.

--Mack Brown brought in Larry Porter to be the running backs coach, taking over some of the responsibilities that Major Applewhite had a year ago. Applewhite's role has been increased because of the departure of co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin for Arkansas State. Porter, the head coach at Memphis in 2010-11, has the reputation of being one of the top recruiters in the game.

SPRING SNAPSHOT

Practice priorities: Texas is hoping to become a title contender in 2013, which means there are a lot of holes to fix this spring. The Longhorns have a long way to go on defense to get to that level, but they are more stable on the offensive side of the ball, as most of the key players -- including the entire starting offensive line -- are back for another year.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We all get excited about signing day. We have had some top-ranked signing classes that haven't panned out. We need to evaluate this class four or five years from now and see who is playing." -- Texas coach Mack Brown

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

KEY LOSSES: S Kenny Vaccaro, DE Alex Okafor, WR Marquise Goodwin

PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2013:

QB David Ash -- He improved as a sophomore, but still struggled against the elite teams on the Longhorns' schedule. If Texas is going to take the leap to become a title contender in 2013, Ash will need to perform against Oklahoma and TCU like he does against weaker foes.

LB Jordan Hicks -- Took on mythical proportions among some Longhorn fans, since the defense seemed to immediately implode after he was lost for the season in the third game. The Longhorns badly need Hicks to stabilize a defense that had problems tackling and preventing big plays for much of the year.

RB Johnathan Gray -- As the top recruit a year ago, he didn't disappoint as a freshman. Emerging as the starter late in the year, he led the Longhorns with 701 yards rushing and leads a crowded backfield that includes returnees Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron.

CB Quandre Diggs -- Led the Longhorns with four interceptions, but he bears some responsibility for a unit that was disappointing in 2012. The Texas secondary was hit or miss too often a year ago, particularly against top opponents.

PLAYER NOTES:

--QB Connor Brewer was arrested in early February on charges of public intoxication and possessing a fake ID. There was no immediate word on what sanctions Brewer might face within the program.

--WR Mike Davis was at one point reportedly strongly considering going pro, but he ultimately decided to come back for his senior season. Davis caught 57 passes for 939 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior.
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