* Used Redshirt season
Note: Athletes in bold were starters last season and may start this year (no official depth chart has been released as of this writing).
With nearly twelve weeks to go until summer practices begin (and sixteen until the first games of the 2012 college football season are played), this point in the off-season can be very boring to college football fanatics. With that in mind, I’ve decided to bridge that gap by creating a chart listing who I think will be on scholarship for the 2012 football season, which will also serve as a basis for a discussion on recruiting needs and a depth chart analysis. Disclaimer: Notice that I wrote “who I think will be on scholarship” as this entire article is my opinion on how the 2012 team will look heading into the season. I asked head coach Tony Levine for an official scholarship chart and he respectfully declined, stating that the scholarship count is forever changing. Case in point, as I was writing this article I found out (via twitter) that receiver DeAndre Perry is no longer with the team due to academics. I originally had him as one of the fifteen receivers, and 85 total athletes, on scholarship. The count is now down to 84 as I’m sure coach Levine will award his scholarship to a walk-on near the end of summer practices or merely hold the spot for an incoming freshman for the 2013 class (if DeAndre was even on scholarship in the first place). Also note that both Tyrone Campbell (DL) and Chris Wilson (RB) are not listed because of medical conditions which have effectively ended their careers. Both are still a part of the team but their scholarships do not count as part of the 85.
Coach Levine did not mind me speculating on who is or is not on scholarship, so I implore you fellow Coogfans to speculate with me. If you know of a certain player listed on my chart whom is indeed NOT on scholarship (or if you personally know a Cougar athlete that is on scholarship but not listed on the chart), feel free to correct me on this thread. Again, this article was written with open debate in mind. With that out of the way, let’s speculate, shall we?? This thread will take a look at the defensive side of the football with the next looking at the offense.
Coach Levine stated that the Cougars biggest needs in recruiting are along the offensive and defensive lines, “You win football games a number of ways. One of them that is critical is winning up front on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football, so that’s a major priority for us.” Indeed, according to the chart, three potential starters will begin the 2012 season with no eligibility remaining after the year is over. Big Dominic Miller more than held his own from his nose tackle spot last season, starting 13 out of 14 games. His responsibility (along with the other defensive linemen) in the Cougars defense doesn’t look to change much this season despite switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme as new defensive coordinator Jamie Bryant noted earlier this spring, “we were a one gap responsibility last year in a 3-4 and that’s what we’re gonna be this year.” With David Hunter no longer around after anchoring the Coogs defense from the other tackle spot for the past four seasons, there are a number of athletes looking to step up to replace him, including Radermon Scypion, Ameen Behbahani, Chris Hill, Joey Mbu, Keithon English and Alex Cooper. Scypion played most of spring ball along side of Miller on the first team defense, and like Miller and Behbahani, Scypion is entering his final season of eligibility after an injury plagued career. Hill and Mbu (whom I look for huge a huge season, both figuratively and literally as he’s “down” to 320 pounds) are both redshirt sophomores while Cooper and English are both redshirt freshman. Add those four to incoming highly rated freshman Donald Hopkins and Tommy Mark and the interior of the defensive line looks stocked despite losing two presumed starters at years end.
At defensive end among the ‘two-deep,’ Kelvin King (who has started in a combined 10 games over 38 total over the previous three seasons) is a senior along with Lloyd Allen. Zeke Riser is a redshirt junior who has one year of eligibility remaining after this season. All three have the body type (in the 6-foot-2 to 4, 240 to 270 pound range) to pressure the quarterback very effectively from either end spot. Eric Braswell was a member of the 2011 Conference USA All Freshman team and is just a redshirt sophomore. Although the aforementioned five look to receive a majority of the snaps at end, two wildcards could be Desmond Pulliam and Jon Witten. Pulliam (a redshirt freshman) is listed at 6 feet, 240 pound and coach Levine has compared him to Denver Broncos pro bowler Elvis Dumerville (as Levine was on Louisville’s staff when Dumerville played there) when he said both have, “long arms, great balance, a low center of gravity and a great quick twitch (meaning they are both able to get off the ball and into their opposing offensive lineman quickly).” Witten (a redshirt sophomore) was the surprise of spring, using the quickness he honed as a linebacker to cause havoc in the backfield numerous times. He tore an MCL around the midway point of spring but should be back for the start of summer practices. I look for the freshman along the line to redshirt this season but Coach Bryant has stated, “Everybody will be given the opportunity to play. If they are in the 2-deep at their position they’ll play. If not they’ll redshirt.”
2013 potential prospects: Among the 50 or so offers the coaching staff has out are to four star prospects Bryson Henderson (Arlington, Tx.) and Vincent Taylor (San Antonio Madison) at defensive tackle. Taylor has supposedly added around 30 pounds since the end of last season and is up to 280 pounds on his solid 6-foot-3 inch frame. Henderson looks to use his smaller 250 pound 6-foot-6 inch frame to plow into the backfield as the prototypical one-gap tackle, as he registered 9.5 sacks last season. The Cougars have also offered Scout’s seventh best ranked defensive end Torrodney Prevot (6-foot-4, 205 pounds). The four star prospect is out of Houston’s Taylor high school.
At linebacker two starters return, Phillip Steward at the Sam (strong-side) and Derrick Mathews at the Will (weak-side). Stewart (a senior) is among five linebackers who are entering their final season or have one more left after this one. Everett Daniels ended a more than solid spring as the 1st team Mike (or middle) linebacker. Both Stewart and Daniels are seniors (along with seldom used Kris Johnston) while George Bamfo and Austin Wilson are juniors (Bamfo a redshirt), with one season left after this year. Look for Daniels to come out of the game when the defense goes into its nickel package, which they plan on utilizing a lot this season as more of the pass happy teams in the country play in CUSA. Among the reserve backers, look for Bamfo and Efrem Oliphant to have impactful seasons. Bamfo will continue to use his explosive combination of size (5’11, 215) and speed off of the edge backing up Mathews at Will while Oliphant may back up Daniels at the Mike as he has bulked up to 230 pounds after redshirting the 2011 season (due to injuries). Oliphant was named a member of the 2010 CUSA All Freshman team after finishing the season with 66 tackles, including 3.5 for loss as he started the final three games of the season. Oliphant spent the final week of spring ball at defensive end as Coach Bryant continued to experiment so it remains to be seen where he will start summer practices. Xavier Brown (redshirt sophomore) is yet another in the athletic mold (6’0, 220) that Bryant looks to unleash upon unsuspecting offenses after switching from running back last season. William Moore and Pierce Miller are smaller linebackers who, while not listed on my scholarship chart, could impact special teams. Moore was a special teams standout last season while Miller (converted from receiver) led the White team in tackles during the final scrimmage of the spring. The linebacking corps has a solid five man veteran rotation in Steward, Daniels, Mathews, Bamfo and Oliphant, while remaining young with Brown and standout LSU transfer Trevon Randle waiting in the wings. Randle was rated as the eighth best outside linebacker in the country for the 2010 class by scout.com and could replace Stewart at Sam. Of the incoming freshman, Thaddeus Lagrone might make the biggest impact as his Scout player evaluation suggests, “Good sized safety, if he grows more (currently listed at 215 pounds) he could be an ideal outside linebacker for pass coverage situations. He hits with purpose and viciousness. He squares up and drops the ball carrier or receiver, usually getting a very solid hit. He has great timing on passing situations and is known for knocking the ball down.” Sounds like a young Steward to me.
2013 potential prospects: Among the ten or so offers out to linebackers, the most impactful would no doubt be Sharpstown Mike linebacker Reggie Chevis (6’1, 245). Scout has him listed as the number six middle linebacker in the nation. In reading their player evaluation it’s easy to see why, “A thick-framed, aggressive linebacker. Plays fast and has great instincts. He has a high motor and moves well laterally. Athletic enough to play inside or outside on the college level, but has the look of an old-school, head-knocking style middle linebacker. On film he is a terror against the run. He reads the plays well and closes the gap quickly. He delivers sound hits and finishes tackles. He’s a downhill style player, who will plug holes.”
The secondary will definitely need some TLC during the current evaluation period (coaches are out on the road from April 16th through May 31st evaluating the 2013 class). All eight of the presumed 2-deep at both cornerback and both safety spots have athletes who are either entering the season as seniors or juniors. Lockdown corner D.J. Hayden needs no introduction around these parts, as the 6 foot 190 pounder was named CUSA’s defensive newcomer of the year. Hayden registered 66 tackles (52 solo), 11 pass breakups, 5 forced fumbles (2 of which he recovered), and 2 interceptions (one which he turned into a pick six). Chevy Bennett (or more importantly his health) could be the key to the Cougars secondary this season. Bennett (as was Hayden) transferred last season to UH from Navarro Junior College, immediately impacting the defense before missing a handful of games during the middle portion of the season with knee injuries which disrupted the rotation at both corner and safety. The physical 6-foot-1, 200 pounder played both corner and safety last season but could start this season at the corner spot opposite Hayden, moving inside on a slot receiver in the Cougars nickel package. Both Hayden and Bennett are seniors so the play of junior corners Zach McMillian and Thomas Bates are also key this season, as both will receive plenty of playing time after a season in which the two shorter corners showed much inconsistency as they were picked on by opposing QB’s as Hayden’s side was mainly ignored. McMillian started 13 games last season finishing second on the team with seven passes broken up while Bates also broke up seven passes to add to his three interceptions. Both must improve on their technique as they are both under six feet tall and will be picked on plenty this season, especially on jump ball situations in the red zone. Trevon Stewart is an incoming freshman who, while preventing ideal size (5’10, 175), has the swagger of a shutdown corner needed at a position in which a short memory is useful (as in forgetting a bad play and moving on to the next). Of his four interceptions for Louisiana’s Patterson high, three were taken to the house. Corner backs coach (and recruiting coordinator) Zac Spavital needs to continue on refining the fundamentals and technique of these shorter corners if the pass defense looks to improve on a season in which they were ranked 40th (and 3rd in CUSA) in allowing only 208 passing yards per game. They also finished 3rd in the nation with 21 interceptions.
At safety Chris Cermin and Jeffrey Lewis (who both ended spring on the 1st team at strong and free safety respectively) are seniors. Last seasons starters, Colton Valencia and Kent Brooks are both juniors. It will be an intense battle as to who the starters are come game one, but rest assured all four will see significant action this season (both safety spots are interchangeable in Bryant’s scheme). The no nonsense Bryant has stated numerous times that he doesn’t care who is named as a starter. He only cares about establishing the best players, “The best thing about competition at every spot is every body gets better on a day to day basis. The more competition there is the better everybody gets, which leads to the team getting better.” While Bennett could see plenty of time at safety, a youngster worth noting will be Earl Foster, who established himself (over spring ball) as someone looking to break into the 2-deep come this summer. Foster is a redshirt freshman who has time to develop. Incoming freshmen Devonte Thomas and William Jackson (both out of the greater Houston area) could possibly play this season, depending on what they show during summer practices. However, I would think they both redshirt this season due to lack of depth among lower classmen at safety, and both being raw on defense.
2013 potential prospects: The Cougars have offered the nation’s top ranked corner prospect, Vernon Hargeaves III (out of Tampa, Florida’s Wharton High) as have numerous other universities such as Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, and USC. At safety, Eric Huhn has an offer as well. Huhn is a four star prospect out of Cibolo, Texas.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Cougars can reel in these highly ranked prospects or not, but it won’t be for a lack of confidence as Coach Levine states, “We probably have more respect nationally than some people give us credit for. We’re a Top 25 football team and the response we’ve received over the success of the team over the past few years has really helped to shape our current recruiting efforts over the entire country. There are young men out there who are national recruits who are reaching out to us. Now our focus is on Texas and the greater Houston area, but if there is a legitimate interest from a national recruit we’ll definitely follow up on it.”
While many athletes will receive extensive playing time this season in order to continue building depth in all areas, there are probably ten potential starters on defense (among the 25 total seniors on the roster) who will be playing their final season come September 1st. While this bodes well for the defense this season, plenty of underclassmen need to see the field in order to gain the experience needed in order to help continue the defensive improvement heading into the Big East beginning in 2013. Our next article will take a look at the recruiting needs and potential depth chart of the offense heading into the 2012 season.