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Tom Herman’s Texas Debut Brings About More Questions Than Answers

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I wasn’t planning or expecting to have to drop one of these pieces so early in the season, but now that I’ve had a day and some change to think it over I’m going put some of my thoughts on paper about what transpired on Saturday in Austin.

I said in the predictions piece on Friday that no matter how the game played out that you couldn’t get too high or too low because the season can’t be won or lost in week one. I’m sticking by that because obviously there is still plenty of season left to circle the wagons. They say in coaching that when you go back and watch the film it is neither as good nor as bad as you thought was when the game was playing out live. More times than none that holds true.

I’m sure when Tom Herman and his staff go back through the film they will find some positives that they feel like they can build on, but they will probably also find plenty of things that they either need to fix or scrap completely going forward. At the end of the day the game against the Terps brought about a lot more questions than answers and given how the schedule is setup, that isn’t promising for the Longhorns.

So where do we start? From the moment this staff was hired and put in place we’ve heard time and time again about how the little things have been stressed and how Herman constantly harps on the details. It was hammered home how the team would be sound fundamentally and discipline would be instilled after the previous staff failed to accomplish that. After taking in that game in its entirety I can safely say it feels like everyone was sold a bill of fake goods.

Bad angles in pursuit, alarming number of missed tackles, defenders not hitting their run fits, busting simple protections in pass protection, blunders on special teams, and lastly… penalties. These are things that plagued this team last year and led them becoming the butt of several jokes nationwide. After watching this team on Saturday all those things mentioned seemed to be front and center once again like nothing had changed. Except this time there is no Charlie Strong to blame it on.

After the game, Herman said something along lines that if everyone expected things to fixed in nine months then they were mistaken. I don’t think anyone reasonable expected all issues to magically disappear between now and last November, but at bare minimum I was expecting this team to be able to go out there and execute what is being asked of them and that they will play sound, disciplined football. It’s safe to say that bar was not cleared.

At this point I have questions that span from things such as why some guys seem to be stagnant in their development and when is it time to give other guys a bite at the apple to what exactly was going in the coaches’ office when they were going over game planning for Maryland?

For instance, the staff knew going in they were deficient at tight end and were going to have to trot out Garret Gray as their starter if they wanted to use him in personnel packages. Gray is a converted wide receiver who in normal circumstances is probably not going to see too much PT in an ideal situation. The coaches knew going in that the situation was far from ideal and they still opted not scheme around the position like Herman had previously mentioned. Instead they put Gray in situations in which he had to win as a blocker on the edge and it went about as bad you would expect. They also opted to keep Gray on the field when they decided to go to empty sets rather than putting another receiver out there, which I didn’t really understand at all.

That’s just one example, but here’s another. Linebackers are still completely lost when it comes to their run fits. We saw a lot of this last year to the point where you had to ask if guys just weren’t getting it or were the coaches just horrible teachers. At this point it’s probably a bit of both because after having months to hammer out the basics they were back to getting gutted in the run game and letting Maryland rip off big runs. It was no secret that Maryland wanted to establish the run early and pound the rock. Everyone knew for months that was what they wanted to do when they rolled into Austin. Yet the defense looked completely bewildered and confused.

Want another? The secondary is still getting balls thrown over their head in crucial situations where they absolutely can’t allow it and guys seem to not know where there help is coming from. This once again led to the defense not being able to get off the field and kept drives alive for Maryland. You can take your pick and just about every guy in the starting lineup gave it up on Saturday. So once again are things just not clicking for guys or are the coaches horrible teachers?

These are the kinds of things going through my mind as I watch the same issues from last year play out in week one of this season.

The offense has plenty of things it has sort out in short order, but if the defense is going to allow 40+ per game, then it makes the margin of error for the offense almost nonexistent and forces them to have to be perfect. That’s not feasible.

Speaking of the offense, my worries about the running back position came to fruition on Saturday. Texas doesn’t have a feature back on the roster to pick up the slack left by D’Onta Foreman (landing JK Dobbins stings even more now). On top of that, the offensive line wasn’t getting a consistent push at the LOS for the run game to get going and they had Shane Buechele under fire most of afternoon, which was something I wasn’t anticipating to be an issue outside of right tackle. The run game was basically abandoned early on as Texas found itself in a big hole it had to crawl out of thus leading to Buechele having to throw the ball 50+ times.

Anytime the Texas offense looked like it was getting some momentum or putting a drive together, they found a way to shot themselves in the foot via penalties, lack of execution, or poor play calling. I love Drew Mehringer as a recruiter, but he better be drilling his group all week on how to run a proper pick route. If my three year old daughter can tell it’s an illegal pick then you need to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate how you are teaching the technique.

While I’m talking about coaches going back to the drawing board, Derek Warehime needs to rally his troops. It’s unacceptable that Maryland was able to get pressure on Buechele with as few as three rushers at times. It’s unacceptable that his bunch looked befuddled when it came to picking up blitzing linebackers who are tipping their hand. This is day one stuff that an experience group shouldn’t be struggling with in week one. Can’t happen and shouldn’t happen.

This brings me to the topic of the quarterback. As you see I just laid out some issues that were surrounding Buechele on Saturday and I’ve already previously written on the board that I don’t fault him for a lot of the stuff that transpired out there. Was he without fault? Absolutely not. The first series of the game was as bad of a series you will see from Buechele and it resulted in him getting squared up for a big hit that he doesn’t need to be taking. He wasn’t as crisp on the deep balls as we’ve seen in the past, he self-sacked and self-pressured himself at times, and he isn’t going to strike fear into a defense with his wheels and ability to improvise. He’s not perfect and nobody is saying he is.

With all that said and all the issues plaguing the offense, Buechele still posted a respectable stat line that included 375 yards passing with a completion percentage of 65% and three total touchdowns. Lets make things clear. Buechele is far from the biggest issue holding the offense or the team back right now. Before we start screaming for a change at quarterback, I would rather see a staff competent enough to scheme around the strengths of their starting quarterback who threw for almost 3,000 yards last year and set freshmen records in 2016.

Capable staffs can scheme around the strengths of their personnel. I don’t think Sam Ehlinger, a kid who was just taking snaps on the high school level several months ago, is going to be some kind of magic bullet that people are making him out to be. He has yet to take a snap at the collegiate level and people think he will be the answer to kick starting the run game without having anything to go off of. If the offensive line doesn’t get its act together it may not matter who is back there taking snaps, so be careful what you ask for.

I’ve talked/written a lot. But these are the things that have been on my mind since the clock hit triple zeroes on Saturday. At this point I have as many questions for the coaches as I do for the players, because I feel like the coaches didn’t have their team put in the best possible position to go play confidently and to be successful.

Texas was never going to win all of their games this year. That wasn’t feasible. Thinking this team was going to hit the corner and win 10+ games wasn’t any more feasible. At this point this team needs to show it can put together a complete football game for sixty minutes before we start trying to predict wins. Saturday’s loss to Maryland showed that this team isn’t anywhere close to competing for championships of any kind. The season isn’t over by any stretch, but expectations need to be dialed back and recalibrated until the team proves it on the field.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. danny hale

    September 4, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    Great point about game plans by both coordinators.We all knew Maryland was a run first team and if they beat you on pass plays you could live with that as long as you stopped the run, the defense chose to not stop the run or pass a lot of blame should also be placed on these players who refuse to play sound football.On offense why insist on playing a TE when no on team is able to play position.Playing Gray as in line blocker allowed extra defender to stop run game and allow extra pass rusher which is very poor coaching. This teams strength on offense is at WR so playing 4 WRs who can spread defense out is much better option if they can be coached into not running pick plays. The O-line continued same issues of letting defenders run free to QB and getting no push in run game. Chris Warren averaged 6 yards a carry but only got 5 carries that is Shawn Watson bad.

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College Football

Seahorn’s Five Thoughts: Tulsa

Texas turned in a rough performance, and the road ahead only gets tougher

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Photo via: Jamie Harms, USA TODAY Sports

Here are a few thoughts from the hip on the lackluster win against the Golden Hurricane this evening in Austin.

The Lack of Killer Instinct

This team still has not figured out how to beat up on an inferior opponent and step on the throat when the opportunity presents itself. This Tulsa team won two games last year and on paper isn’t even close to the talent level of Texas. Yet after shutting Tulsa out in the first half, the Golden Hurricane managed to rally and make this a close game when Texas sputtered on offense and the defense finally started breaking after bending on several occasions in the red zone.

This was a game that Texas was supposed to be able build an early lead, get the starters out, and allow your reserves to get some valuable live game reps and that was never able to happen. If you can’t beat up on a team that probably cashed a check to come play in Austin this weekend, then I don’t even want to begin to think what will happen when USC rolls into town.

Feed Keontay Ingram

Every time number 26 in burnt orange and white touches the ball, he flashes. The talent he shows is undeniable and he once again found himself in the end zone this week. Ingram received more carries, but I still want to see him get the ball put in his belly because it’s obvious he can be a play maker for this offense, but just needs the opportunities.

This is nothing against Tre Watson, who had a solid night at the office, but Ingram is the long-term bell cow back for this offense and his development needs to be put on the express lane going forward.

This Isn’t Last Year’s Defense

I expected the defense to struggle some against Maryland, but I was not expecting some of the struggles I saw tonight. This game was a few missed field goals and some dropped passes away from looking very different and would have swung the game in favor of the Golden Hurricane. On one hand you want to commend the defense for bowing its neck on several occasions early on and keeping Tulsa off the board, but on the other side of the coin they conceded several big plays and 4th down conversions down the home stretch that allowed Tulsa to stay on the field and make it a game.

Another thing to note is that Texas once again struggled to get pressure on the quarterback and didn’t record a sack when the defensive front was expected to be a strength coming into the season. None of this bodes particularly well, as the schedule only gets tougher going forward.

The Future Is Bright At Safety

A bright spot from tonight that I have to mention is the highlight plays made by freshmen safeties Caden Sterns and BJ Foster. Both former five star recruits have forced their way onto the field early and both came away with interceptions tonight. It’s hard to understate how difficult it is to see the field so early at a position that requires so much cerebral awareness, but so far Foster and Sterns have taken to it like fish to water and have rewarded the defense staff with some solid play the first two weeks.

Offensive Line Performance

While the offense still has some kinks to work out, the offensive turned in a pretty solid performance and once again provided Sam Ehlinger with good protection and kept him clean. On top of keeping Ehlinger off his back, the big fellas up front paved the way for the run game to the tune of 241 yards at 5 yards per carry. Texas will take that all day and twice on Sundays.

While this game will certainly be graded on a curve because of the opponent, it is encouraging to see this unit playing much better than they did last year and that will be very beneficial for offense as they try to hit their stride.

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College Football

Seahorn’s Five Thoughts Following The Loss To Maryland

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Photo: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

For the second year in a row the Longhorns fell to the Maryland Terrrapins, and for the second year in a row the Texas staff and players find themselves trying to figure out what went wrong in the season opener. The frustration was obvious in the post-game availability with players and coaches, but this frustration is something that Longhorn players and fans alike have come to know for several years now.

Like last year, the Longhorns will have to find a way to put this tough loss behind them and circle the wagons as they prepare to take on Tulsa the week before hosting USC. I know folks are going to focus on the negatives after a game like this, but I am going to try to highlight some of the positives to take away from today’s game.

Pass Protection

I”ll start with a positive observation. While the offensive line struggled to consistently open holes and establish a new line of scrimmage, I can say the pass protection certainly looked much better in week one this year compared to last year. Sam Ehlinger didn’t find himself under constant pressure, and when he did he was typically able to use his feet to escape and make a play or get rid of the ball. The lone sack appeared to to be a coverage sack in which Ehlinger was forced to hold the ball much longer than he would have liked, and pressure eventually got him.

The offensive line obviously still has a lot of work to do in the run-game, but seeing them doing a good job of giving Ehlinger a consistent pocket to work with is encouraging to see early on.

Responding To Adversity

With the game starting how it did I have to say it was encouraging to see the team buckle down and claw their way back into the game when things could have easily gotten out of hand. It may have not have resulted in a win today, but the team showing that they are willing to scrap and continue to fight to the final whistle is something you want to see. I know this will sound like a moral victory or something of the like, but I was worried things were going to spiral early and get ugly. The team showed they could bow their neck and hit back after taking it on the chin early.

Turnovers and Penalties

Okay it’s time for some negatives.  Turnovers and penalties were absolute killers. I started praising the offense because they did a good job of protecting the ball in the first half, and then they turned turned it over three consecutive times on the final three drives of the game. They had plenty of opportunities to take the lead late in the game. One of those a was an interception in which Ehlinger’s hand was hit as he threw, so I will give him a little bit of grace. But Ehlinger’s second interception and the fumble by Tre Watson are things that just can’t happen at that point in any game.  Those mistakes were absolutely brutal considering the Longhorns were moving the ball down the field. Those turnovers ended up being the deciding factor at the end of the day, and it will be something that will frustrates the staff and players when they turn the film on tomorrow. Also, this team is developing a bad habit of turning the football over in crunch-time and that has to stop if they expect to start pulling out some of these nail-biters.

Regarding penalties, the most impactful one was Gary Johnson’s targeting called. Johnson was ejected as a result and wouldn’t return for the remainder of the game. There were also several other penalties that extended drives for Maryland. At the end of it, Texas had 10 penalties that went for 102 yards. In a game as tight as this one was, that can be a killer.

The Running Back Rotation

One of the more popular topics following today’s game was the use, or lack thereof, of true freshmen running back Keaontay Ingram. Ingram showed some flashes early on in the game, rushing 6 times for 37 yards with a long of 18 yards. Coach Herman said in his post game press conference that he opted to lean on his 5th year senior RB Tre Watson with the game being tight. While I agree it’s a tough spot to put your rookie running back in considering it’s his first college game, I think you still have to try to mix him in there given he was able to find some success early. While there wasn’t a consistent push from the Texas offensive line, it was clear that Watson and Ingram were the most effective of the backs that got touches today.

Obviously it won’t matter if the line doesn’t get better and open holes consistently, but the talent is definitely there and I expect Ingram to become more involved as he gets his feet wet. I’m much more excited about this group than I was last year as a whole.

Third Down Efficiency

3 of 15 on third down conversions will not win you many football games. The must improve drastically in this area and needs to find a way to keep drives alive, or they will end up putting the defense back out on the field often. When facing teams like Maryland, who is content to pound the rock and work the clock as they nickel and dime you up and down the field, you have to find a way to keep the ball out of their hands and give your defense a rest. This ties back into the lack of execution and Texas shooting themselves in the foot, both of which seemed to happen far too often at critical points in today’s game.

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College Football

Staff Predictions: Texas vs. Maryland

The HornSports staff anticipates that Texas will be a vastly different team in 2018

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Photo via: John Gutierrez, USA TODAY Sports

Texas is looking to get 2018 started on the right track, after dropping last season’s opener to Maryland. Our staff delves into what the Longhorns must do to avenge last year’s loss.

Daniel Seahorn

After the debacle last year to open the season, this prediction comes with a bit of a wrinkle for me. We all felt that Texas would win the game and it certainly felt it was heading that way early, but we all know how that ended up playing out.

Chapter two of this series will be interesting because the Terps have dealt with a ton of distractions heading into this matchup and I expect Texas to be dialed in on making hints right after the let down in Austin. With new offensive coordinator Matt Canada calling the shots for Maryland, there could be a bit of a surprise element for the Terps, who have opted not to name a starter at QB.

I expect a better performance from the Longhorns, but I’m in wait and see mode before I predict them handling the Terps as the spread indicates. I’m picking Texas to get redemption, but I think it will be close for most of the way.

Prediction: Texas 28, Maryland 21

Jameson McCausland

Football is finally back! Last year, I predicted the Longhorns to be victorious over Maryland by a final of 35-10. Not the best start.

This year’s rematch features many interesting headlines. It will be interesting to see how Maryland plays with a cloud of uncertainty surrounding their program. Interim head coach Matt Canada has some talent to work with offensively and Maryland proved last year they are not scared of the Longhorns. Despite Texas being dangerously thin at LB, Todd Orlando has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to scheming around his personnel.

For Texas on offense, Sam Ehlinger will need to show he has taken the next step in his development. Maryland lost several key players defensively, and an improved offensive line should give Ehlinger time to get the ball to Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey.

I think Maryland will keep it close for a majority of the game, but Texas won’t allow themselves to get embarrassed by the Terrapins for the second year in a row.

Prediction: Texas 31, Maryland 17

Aaron Carrara

Can a sputtering Texas offense get things going early and establish some consistency? That’s been the key question for the last few years and Texas has yet to make us think it can. It’s game one and Ehlinger’s ability to manage the offense will be under the magnifying glass, as will the team’s ability to find a running game.  An offensive line with more experience and upperclassmen should help in that effort, especially with the addition of Calvin Anderson at left tackle.  I expect the defensive unit to respond early to what will likely amount to a heavy rushing attack from the Terrapins’ dual-threat quarterbacks Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill.  Texas shows signs of rust in this one but wins its opener to start Tom Herman’s second-year campaign at 1-0.

Prediction: Texas 38, Maryland 24

Harrison Wier

A large advantage Texas has going into round two of this matchup is consistency. For the first time in years, the Longhorns are familiar with scheme on both sides of the ball. The Texas offense has not had the same identity for more than one year in quite some time. This sense of familiarity allows for less time learning in the offseason and more time crafting and perfecting.

For Maryland, the story is different. Head coach DJ Durkin is on administrative leave, and newly implemented offensive coordinator Matt Canada is taking the reigns for week one. Maryland was already tasked with learning a new offensive scheme this offseason, but now they have to play under an entirely different coach.

For the Longhorns, defense should not be an issue, even after losing several key contributors to graduation and the NFL. Todd Orlando knows how to prepare, and the addition of the 2018 class gives the Texas defense the potential to be just as good as last season.

On offense, Sam Ehlinger should be drastically improved in his decision making and awareness in the pocket, and the Texas run game should be on a different level. The addition of graduate transfers Calvin Anderson (LT) and Tre Watson (RB) will add a new dimension to the Longhorns offense.

Although Maryland is no slouch, I expect Texas to be vastly improved from a year ago. This game will be tight, but Texas will pull away late.

Prediction: Texas 38, Maryland 28

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Big 12

Commitment Spotlight: Javonne Shepherd

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Pure tackle prospects are hard to find and are always in high demand. Texas learned this the hard way in 2017 once Connor Williams went down and they were forced to play some guys out of position on both edges of their offensive line.

Needless to say, the Texas staff has been hard at work this cycle trying to land the top tackle prospects that reside in the Lone Star State this cycle and their hard work already resulted in landing Conroe Oak Ridge offensive tackle Tyler Johnson. With Atascocita’s Kenyon Green off the board to Texas A&M (some think Green is a tackle, but I don’t necessarily subscribe to that line of thinking) that leaves Houston North Forest’s Javonne Shepherd.

Shepherd quickly turned into one of the biggest in-state dogfights between Texas and Texas A&M this cycle, and with him potentially holding the greatest amount of upside at the position it makes sense. Early on it looked like A&M was poised to land both Green and Shepherd, as there was plenty of scuttle that the duo wanted to play together at the next level. As we all know by now there are no givens in world of recruiting and things can and always will change.

In the case of Shepherd, things begin to change in favor of the Longhorns earlier this spring when he was able to make it to Austin early in the spring and begin to form a bond with new Texas offensive line coach Herb Hand. That trip would be the first of several trips Shepherd made to Austin before the dead period hit and each time he left with Texas heavily on his mind.

This was a battle that Texas not only needed to win from a perception standpoint, but most importantly they needed it from a roster management standpoint. The Texas offensive line room needs more bodies like Shepherd in the pipeline and with his commitment to Texas; the Longhorns have solidified a big position of need this cycle.

Film Analysis

Player Information

Name: Javonne Shepherd

Position:  OT

High School: North Forest

City & State: Houston, Texas

 Measurables

Height: 6’6 (Unverified)

Weight:  319 (Unverified)

40-yard: 4.76 (Unverified)

Shuttle: 4.58 (Unverified)

Vertical: 34 (Unverified)

Statistics

No Stats Available

Film

https://www.hudl.com/video/3/7660667/5a130e5fda522d0e08ef8e64

Pros:

  • Possesses very good measurables for the offensive tackle position. At 6’6, 320 pounds his size won’t be issue for whether he can stick at the position.
  • Possesses good length, which will cause edge defenders issues when you combine it with his size.
  • Possesses the athletic traits you in a future left tackle. Moves very well laterally for his size and his vertical shows he possesses some explosiveness.
  • Has a very high ceiling and isn’t close to hitting it, which makes him a very enticing and intriguing prospect.
  • Flashes a bit of a mean streak and shows that he can be a capable block finisher.
  • Very nimble for his size and shows that he can be capable puller from the tackle spot.
  • Possesses good functional strength at this stage in his development.

Cons:

  • Lacks the quality of film you would expect from a recruit of his caliber.
  • With his size and athletic ability, I expected to turn on the film and see him dominant from snap to snap given his competition, but I didn’t see that.
  • His highlight tape probably could have done without the very meh cut block attempts on the backside of plays.
  • Very raw at this point in his development and will really benefit from collegiate coaching once he arrives on campus.
  • Possesses great physical tools, but will likely have to redshirt and shape up his technique before he can be thrown into the fire.
  • Need to see more reps of him as a pass blocker on tape. Majority of his highlight films consisted of run plays.

Summary

Javonne Shepherd is entering his 3rd year as a varsity starter at offensive tackle for Houston North Forest and has logged snaps at both left and right tackle at this point in his high school career. At 6’6, 319 pounds, Shepherd possesses very good size and should have no issues sticking at tackle from a measurable standpoint or athletic standpoint. Shepherd has been blessed with athletic traits that makes him a very enticing prospect that offensive line coaches would love to get their hands on to develop. On top of having very good size, Shepherd possesses long arms, good feet, he’s nimble and coordinated, has good flexibility, and on top of that he shows that he can be a finisher. From a physical standpoint, he checks off all the boxes that you look for when you draw up a collegiate offensive tackle. On the other side of the coin, Shepherd is extremely raw at this point from a technique standpoint and he lacks the dominant film you would expect to see from a prospect of his caliber. While he does show flashes of being up to line up and flat out dominate defenders at the POA, I was expecting to see a lot more of it from snap to snap as I sifted through his sophomore and junior film. Another red flag for me is that I didn’t get to see much from him as a pass blocker due to his tape being very heavy on run blocking, so I have questions about how far along he is in that department and it will be something I will be keeping my eye on during his senior year. This could be a result of the offense he is in being run oriented, but I would have much rather seen some clips of him in pass pro over him cutting defenders on the backside of run plays. Shepherd is a gifted prospect, but the more I watch him the more I feel like he has some boom/bust to him a player, but he’s the type of player you gamble on and trust your offensive line coach to get the most out of him. He’s a project player, but he’s a project player that has NFL upside who could potentially anchor your offensive line for several years.

Final Verdict

This recruitment reached silly levels as both coaches and media members wore out Shepherd’s cell phone trying to continuously get updates on his visit intentions over the past month. It gave everyone a sneak peek of why some prospects choose to get through the recruiting process as quickly as possible so that they don’t have to be hounded night and day and honestly I don’t really blame them.

From a recruiting perception standpoint, this is big head to head victory for Tom Herman and his staff over Jimbo Fisher and in-state rival Texas A&M, who was viewed as the favorite to land Shepherd for some time. Much was made of Shepherd and Kenyon Green’s friendship and them wanting to play together at the next level, but package deals often don’t work out in recruiting and this is another data point to support that. At the end of the day recruits are going to do what is best for them and that is how it should be.

Texas offensive line coach Herb Hand deserves tremendous credit in landing Shepherd, as his impact was felt in this one from the moment Shepherd made it to campus this spring and begin building the relationship. Slowly but surely the tide began to turn in this recruitment and it led to Shepherd giving his pledge to Longhorns and giving them a talent tackle duo in Shepherd and Tyler Johnson.

Texas has landed two talented tackles this cycle, and now it has until February to find some interior bodies to go in between them to solidify the rest of their offensive line class.

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