Spring Position Preview
March 8, 2013
A New ChallengeAlthough the University of Houston does not officially move to the BIG EAST until July 1, 2013, the Houston football program will spend this Spring preparing for the challenges it will face in its new conference this fall.
One of the challenges for Tony Levine in his second season as a head coach is a 12-game schedule that features opponents that went to seven bowls in 2012 and a 2012 combined record of 85-65.
Houston will welcome new conference foes Cincinnati (10-3 record in 2013), Memphis (4-8), SMU (7-6) and USF (3-9) to its temporary home while the Houston Football Stadium, set to open in August of 2014, is being constructed.
The Cougars will also travel to face BIG EAST foes UCF (10-4), Louisville (11-2), Rutgers (9-4) and Temple (4-7). In non-conference action, UH will face off against BYU (8-5), UTSA (8-4), Rice (7-6) and Southern (4-7).
In 2013 Houston returns 21 letterwinners on both offense and defense with a combined 303 career starts. In all, 30 players with starting experience return from the 2012 roster that lost 17 starters with a combined 217 games started. The returning group includes eight players that received All-Conference USA honors.
Changes were made to the coaching staff as well. On offense, new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham spent the last eight seasons on an Oklahoma State staff that consistently produced one of the nation's top offenses. He'll be joined on the offensive side of the ball by offensive line coach Glen Elarbee whose 2012 line at Middle Tennessee State ranked second nationally with just seven sacks given up.
On the defensive side of the ball, David Gibbs returns to the college ranks as Houston's defensive coordinator after spending eight of his last nine seasons in the NFL. A veteran of seven collegiate coaching staffs that advanced to bowl games, Gibbs will be joined by linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves. A 28-year coaching veteran, Hargreaves has been a part of a staff that has advanced to a bowl game in 12 of the last 15 seasons including back-to-back BCS National Championship appearances at Miami.
The OffenseExperience will not be a factor on the offensive side of the ball for Houston in 2013 as it returns 17 players with starting experience and lost just one player, RG Jacolby Ashworth, from its 2012 starting lineup.
A number of rushing attempts could be up for grab during spring ball as Houston's leading rusher, Charles Sims, may see limited action this spring as he continues to recover from injuries that forced him to miss three games in 2012.
Familiar faces will be on the receiving end of passes this spring as 89.2 percent of Houston's 2012 receiving yards returns for the 2013 season including 12 of the top 13 receivers.
All three scholarship quarterbacks from 2012 return this season as well.
Houston returns a load of experience up front as the offensive line returns a total of 92 career starts among six players.
QuarterbacksAs previously mentioned, all three scholarship quarterbacks from 2012 return - Rex Dausin, Bram Kohlhausen and David Piland.
Piland enters the spring seventh on Houston's all-time passing charts with 5,585 career yards. The junior finished last season third in Conference USA with 283.5 yards of total offense per game despite missing two games with injuries.
Piland is just six touchdowns away from moving into the top five on the UH career chart after throwing for 16 last year along with 2,924 yards on 256 completions.
Kohlhausen, a sophomore, is the only other returning quarterback on Houston's roster with game experience, after seeing action in three games last year.
Dausin, a redshirt-freshman, threw for 3,310 yards and 34 scores as a senior at San Antonio's Warren High School in 2011. Walk-ons Calvin Garrett and T.J. Menning also joined the program this spring.
Junior college transfer Billy Cosh and highly-touted freshmen John O'Korn and Greg Ward Jr. will join the program this fall.
Running BacksIn his first year as Houston's main back, Charles Sims was arguably Houston's most valuable player despite dealing with some late-season injuries. Even with the injuries that forced him to miss three full games and the second half of three others, Sims still managed to finish the year with 1,224 all-purpose yards.
Already on Houston's top 10 career lists for rushing (No. 7 - 2,370 yards) and receptions (No. 10 - 158 receptions), Sims may be limited this spring giving an opportunity to others as 97.5 percent of Houston's 2012 rushing yards return.
Sophomore Kenneth Farrow finished second on the team in rushing last season with 466 yards and two touchdowns on 86 carries. The power back picked up three starts and also finished with 20 receptions for 165 yards and a touchdown.
Fellow sophomore Ryan Jackson had 59 rushing attempts resulting in 252 yards and three touchdowns last season. In his lone start of the year, Jackson exploded for 129 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in the season finale against Tulane. Junior Randall Hollimon and sophomore Justin Hicks could also see time this spring.
Two running backs will enter the competition for carries in the fall as incoming freshmen Joseph Glenn and Javin Webb make their way to campus.
The fullback position, a position not seen on the Houston campus in some time, will return in 2013. Farrow and former linebackers Xavier Brown and Luke Stice may see time at the position as could defensive end Desmond Pulliam.
ReceiversAny quarterback would express delight in having 12 of the prior season's top 13 receivers back. And that's the case in Houston as returning receivers accounted for 3,511 of Houston's 3,936 receiving yards in 2012.
Three receivers that eclipsed the 40-reception mark return in 2013 led by senior Dewayne Peace who finished with 54 receptions for 603 yards. Sophomore Deontay Greenberry (47 receptions for 564 yards) was one of two freshmen receivers to be named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team as was Larry McDuffey, who led all Cougars with four receiving touchdowns.
Another deep threat for Houston, junior Daniel Spencer averaged 14.1 yards per catch on his 41 receptions for 579 yards. He's joined by seniors Shane Ros, who earned a scholarship after a season that saw him pull in 23 balls for 337 yards and three touchdowns, and Xavier Maxwell, who had 10 receptions for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior Mark Roberts (9-114), redshirt-freshman Andrew Rodriguez (5-82) and sophomore Casey Martin (4-20) round out Houston's returning receivers in 2013. Junior Aaron Johnson is another name to watch.
Incoming freshman D'Juan Hines has enrolled for the spring semester at Houston and will get a jump on an incoming receiver class of four that also includes Demarcus Ayers, Donald Gage III and John Leday.
Another position not recently seen in the Third Ward, tight end, will be one that is reintroduced to the Houston offense. Incoming freshmen tight ends Chauntez Jackson and Deondre Skinner will have opportunities at the position in the fall.
Offensive LineFor the second straight year, Houston returns a multitude of experience along the offensive line losing only one player in its two deep in right guard Jacolby Ashworth.
Six players with a total of 92 career starts return led by the left side of the `Brick Squad' tackle Rowdy Harper and guard Ty Cloud. Harper, a junior, and Cloud, a senior both enter 2013 with 26 career starts to their names. Look for the two to be backed up by sophomore Zach Johnson and senior Josh McNeill, respectively.
Senior Kevin Forsch has 19 career starts to his name with experience at both center and guard. Forsch began 2012 at center before sliding to right guard after junior Bryce Redman started the final six games of the season in the middle of the line. Junior Austin Lunsford provided depth for Redman at center last season, while sophomore Emeka Okafor did the same at the guard positions.
At right tackle Ralph Oragwu returns for his senior season after starting 10 games at the position last year. His backup at the position returns as well as DeAnthony Sims has three career starts to his name.
A sizeable group of four newcomers on the line, that average 6-6 and 329 lbs., arrives in the fall. Junior college transfer Damien Parris joins incoming freshmen Emerald Faletuipapai, Ja'Braylin Thomas and Josh Thomas to form an impressive group of newcomers.
The DefenseDefensive coordinator David Gibbs' previous collegiate stops featured aggressive defenses that were among the nation's leader in sacks while producing a number of stars in the secondary.
While Houston lost two valuable defenders to graduation in D.J. Hayden and Phillip Steward along with a number of defensive linemen, a wealth of talented youngsters return for a defense that will show multiple fronts.
Defensive LineThe unit depleted the most by graduation, the defensive line returns four players with starting experience. The four - Eric Braswell (13), Joey Mbu (8), Tomme Mark (1) and Desmond Pulliam (1) have a combined 23 career starts.
A junior, Mbu led all returning defensive linemen with 27 tackles in 2012 while Mark collected 14 tackles on the year while often holding up the point of attack.
Braswell and Pulliam are the two returning defensive ends with starting experience. A junior, Braswell has 13 career starts and had 18 tackles last season. Pulliam, who suffered a season-ending injury in his first career start last season, finished the year with 10 tackles in nine games.
Originally a defensive back upon his arrival on the UH campus, Eric Eiland moved to linebacker last year and has continued to add size and strength without compromising his speed with a move to defensive end in 2013.
A sophomore, Eiland saw limited time as a freshman before exploding for a sack, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the season finale vs. Tulane.
Joining Eiland as a newcomer on Houston's defensive line will be junior college transfer Trevor Harris. The 6-5, 230 lb., transfer from ASA College will be joined by juniors William Moore and Jon Witten along with redshirt-freshman Cameron Malveaux on the line.
Incoming freshmen Tyus Bowser, Texas' 4A Defensive Player of the Year, and Nick Thurman will also enter the competition on the defensive line in the fall.
LinebackersFor the first time in four years, the Houston linebackers core won't feature Phillip Steward, who had started 47 consecutive games prior to graduation.
A new identity emerges for the linebacking group with new position coach Vernon Hargreaves taking over a group that has experience on the weakside where Derrick Mathews owns 26 career starts. The junior, who has Freshman All-American honors on his resume, tied for second on the team last season with 126 tackles, 17 of which went for loss including six sacks.
In the middle, a player new to the UH game action, but not to the program will take the lead as Trevon Randle becomes eligible after sitting out last season after transferring from LSU. The League City, Texas, native has great athleticism that often saw him taking reps as a scout team running back in 2012.
Vying to replace Steward on the strongside will be senior Austin Wilson, who has experience in 31 games, and early-enrollee Caleb Tucker from Monroe, La..Redshirt-freshman Davonte Thomas may also see time at the strongside position.
Houston product Tyler McCloskey will also join the linebacking group this fall when he begins classes.
Defensive BacksPossibly the most experienced of any group in the Houston program this spring, the secondary returns all four starters from 2012's season finale.
The group's most experienced member is senior corner Zach McMillian, who started every game at the position last season and now has 25 career starts. The Missouri City, Texas, native earned honorable mention All-Conference USA honors last season after leading the league with five interceptions.
Following the season-ending injury of D.J. Hayden, Thomas Bates stepped into the starting role in the other corner position and finished the year with three straight starts en route to leading the squad with 10 pass breakups.
The safety positions will be manned by two sophomores who saw considerable time as true freshmen. Trevon Stewart earned FWAA Freshman All-America honors after starting the final 10 games of the year at strong safety. The Patterson, La., native led all freshmen nationally with 126 tackles while breaking up seven passes.
A high school quarterback, McDonald was a jack-of-all-trades for the Houston secondary in 2012, moving from nickel back to corner to safety. With three starts on the year, McDonald picked off two passes and finished with 35 tackles.
Redshirt-freshmen Steven Aikens and Jarrett Irving have shown promise at the position as well and will be in the spring drills along with sophomore Earl Foster and seniors Kent Brooks and Colton Valencia.
The group will add three in the fall when junior college transfer Kent London and freshmen Nomluis Fruge and Zach White join the roster.
The Special TeamsHouston will look to replace two vital parts of its special teams - kicker Matt Hogan and deep snapper Brandon Hartson, both four-year starters.
Highly-touted freshman kicker Ty Cummings will join the program in the fall.
Leone will be backed up for a second straight year by sophomore Sam Martin.
Dewayne Peace led all Cougars in 2012 with 11 punt returns for 48 yards. In the kick return game, Ryan Jackson led all with 14 returns for 304 yards. Daniel Spencer had four returns for 69 yards while Kenneth Farrow had three for 128 yards and Larry McDuffey three for 63 yards.