To understand a football coach’s priorities, go look at his roster. Some Big 12 coaches lean toward skill-position players. Their Southeastern Conference counterparts lean defense.
And Texas’ Charlie Strong?
“I’m big into linemen,” Strong said. “I tell these guys all the time, ‘I’ll find a little guy.’ I want big guys. Big guys are hard to find. And big guys beat up little guys.”
Every college coach must manage the allotted 85 scholarships with the same meticulous attention to detail that NFL teams devote to an active 53-man roster.
In an in-depth conversation about Texas’ roster with the American-Statesman last week, Strong said he’s willing to commit 31 of his 85 scholarships to offensive and defensive linemen and possibly lighten up at running back and receiver.
From the looks of things, Strong wants to build an SEC-style roster, which fits his persona as a defensive coach. It all starts up front, though. That’s how badly Strong wants to reshape the Longhorns from the inside out.
There are currently 12 offensive linemen on scholarship; Strong wants 15 to 18. There are 10 defensive linemen; Strong wants 14.
And some fans may faint over this: Strong wants more tight ends. Texas currently has five; he wants six, again highlighting the importance of blocking within the offense. In recent years, that’s been the most unproductive position on the field.
Strong likes the fact that Texas already carries 12 linebackers, even though “a lot of them are beat up,” he said. He’d like to get four more cornerbacks and a few more safeties.
So what’s getting sacrificed? Texas needs at least one more quarterback, Strong said, but future rosters could see one fewer running back and maybe two receivers.
“This is what we’re striving for, but we’re never going to turn down a good player,” Strong said. “If there’s an outstanding player there at wide receiver, yes, I’m going to take him.”
Managing the roster is a nonstop process. Strong has said he wants to see the players go through spring drills before suggesting anyone change positions.
But his philosophical approach to roster makeup and the overall position numbers make up the backbone of how the Longhorns will look going forward.
“We have our board, and we know what we want. But it’s all a mix-and-match game,” Strong said. “You’ve got to put it all together and really have to massage it. But the key is you have a system in place so you know where you’d like to be.”
Going after linemen
In Strong’s mind, every senior class should produce one offensive and one defensive lineman for the NFL draft. Texas hasn’t had a lineman drafted in the first three rounds since 2010.
“Me personally, I want to go big,” Strong said. “You win big. You win with guys up front on your defensive front and win with guys on your offensive line. That’s going to tell me whether we’re going to be a physical football team when we can get those guys.”
Strong and the coaching staff have already broken down the projected roster and determined where they want to direct recruiting resources.
According to 247Sports’ recruiting database, Texas has already made 60 scholarship offers to players in the 2015 recruiting class. Of that group, 24 are linemen. Those numbers could jump dramatically after the team’s junior day recruiting weekend, which finishes up Sunday.
The new coaching staff has already taken some recruiting lumps in the trenches. It was widely reported how three 2014 defensive line commitments went elsewhere after Strong did not retain former defensive tackles coach Bo Davis, who’s now at Alabama. Decommitments are somewhat routine after a coaching change, though.
Former Texas coach Mack Brown landed a commitment from Keller defensive lineman Sione Teuhema (6 feet 3 inches, 220 pounds). Teuhema changed his mind and signed with LSU on Feb. 5. That prompted his younger brother, Maea, to change his mind, too.
Maea Teuhema is the No. 1-ranked player on the American-Statesman’s 2015 Fabulous 55 list of the state’s top recruits and is considered one of the nation’s best offensive line prospects.
Texas’ 2015 class still has Euless Trinity guard Patrick Vahe (6-3, 280) and DeSoto defensive tackle Bryce English (5-11, 315). That class will fill up with other linemen as the months progress. The coaching staff scored a victory Saturday when Ronnie Major (6-6, 290) from Huntsville switched his commitment to Texas from Big 12 champion Baylor.
‘Ten, ten, five’
Strong has stated that he wants to sign 10 impact players in every recruiting class, a second 10 of “core” players and another five who might be viewed as sleepers, under-the-radar types who could blossom into big contributors.
He expanded on that thought with the American-Statesman in the coaches’ conference room.
“And at the end of the day, you’re going to win with that second 10,” Strong said. “That top 10, they’re going to be more concerned about themselves. Ten, ten, five. I just think you’ve got to start off and categorize them.
“Look at the football team right now; how many teams have a really great player? Not many,” he added. “There’s maybe one or two. But then they’ve got that other set of guys that make up the core of the team.
“(Texas defensive end) Ced Reed is that solid guy you always depend on. Look at the end of the game, and he quietly had 10 tackles. Those are the type of guys that you win with. That solid group.”
Right now, it’s somewhat difficult for Strong to determine where the current players fit into those categories. Players are going through offseason workouts and won’t put on any pads until spring football practice begins March 18.
“Also, they’re trying to figure out who we are,” Strong said. “They’re kind of sitting back. That egg hasn’t cracked, and they haven’t come out of that shell. They’re trying to see what our pulse is and see how we’re going to go.”