After bringing his startup program to their first taste of post-season play, it’s time for first-year head coach Frank Wilson to once again prove his ability as one of the top recruiters in college football. The Roadrunners are pretty well positioned for 2017 as they return the overwhelming majority of the roster that took the program to its first bowl game last season. Of course any team will have various needs to address in each off-season no matter how young and successful they may be. Let’s take a look at three positions where UTSA will need to find solutions before National Signing Day on February 1st.
1: A Starter at Left Tackle
For whatever reason, UTSA has historically struggled to recruit offensive linemen. Cody Harris, a member of the “Original 18” players that helped get the program off the ground, has been UTSA’s best offensive tackle despite being lightly recruited out of local Smithson Valley High School. This year UTSA will seek to replace LSU graduate transfer Jevonte Domond. At 6’5”, 300 pounds, Domond provided stabilization to the position but only had a single season of eligibility. The Roadrunners will need to find a multi-year starter at the position that can keep Dalton Sturm and future quarterbacks protected against the blitz.
The Roadrunners currently have two promising athletes committed at the position and remain in the hunt for an additional bookend tackle. Josh Dunlop, a three-star 6’7”, 315 JUCO transfer, is already on campus in San Antonio and is the odds-on favorite to start next season. Dunlop academically qualified to play Division I football out of high school so he’ll have three seasons of eligibility as opposed to the usual two seasons JUCO transfers typically have to work with.
UTSA has also been active at the prep level, earning the commitment of 6’5” offensive tackle Dominic Pastucci. The Austin-area native has impressive athleticism and strength but he’ll probably need a redshirt season to fill out to playing weight. The Roadrunners are also fighting for the commitment of mammoth offensive tackle Patrick Nuss. The 6’7” tackle was committed to Western Kentucky for some time before deciding to look elsewhere following the departure of Jeff Brohm to Purdue. Nuss has scheduled visits with UAB and UTSA and took an official visit to ULL last week. Expect this recruiting battle to come down to the wire.
2: An Instant-Impact Running Back
UTSA will be losing their all-time leading rusher in Jarveon Williams this off season. While junior Jalen Rhodes has impressed in his first two seasons he can’t carry the load of the ground game all on his own. The Roadrunners will need to find a running back that can step onto campus and immediately handle carries in offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo’s pro-style offense.
Keller, Texas running back Anthony Smith is currently UTSA’s only commitment at the position. A three-star back, Smith has impressive patience and cutting ability similar to that of Rhodes. Ideally Smith would be allowed a redshirt year to build out his 190 pound frame but the lack of depth on the roster will likely force him into action as a true freshman.
The Roadrunners made a splash last weekend after then-Syracuse commit BJ Daniels decommitted from the Orange during his official visit to UTSA. Daniels will no longer visit Syracuse but is scheduled to visit South Florida before signing day. The big-body back out of Florida certainly loved his visit to San Antonio judging by his social media activity over the weekend. Daniels seems to have developed a strong relationship with the UTSA coaching staff and other prospects making their visit. It will be tough to beat out Charlie Strong for a local athlete but recruiting is a relationship-based business and UTSA can offer immediate playing time.
3: A Michael Egwuagu Replacement
There’s no way around it— Michael Egwuagu was a very special player for UTSA. He didn’t quite have the size or strength to play a traditional linebacker position but he was excellent as a nickel corner and hybrid safety. Egwuagu was so talented that at times it felt like the rest of the defense molded around where he was lined up at. With his graduation pending, UTSA will likely look a bit different on the defensive side of the ball in 2017.
I could see defensive coordinator Pete Golding electing for a more traditional nickel corner to fill in Egwuagu’s spot if Golding decides to move away from the hybrid safety/linebacker position that was a bit of a relic from former coordinator Neal Neathery’s 4-2-5 alignment. The position calls for a dynamic athlete that can keep up with slot receivers quickness while also playing downhill with leverage in the run game. This article gives a good look at the history of the position.
UTSA may already have a solution on campus in cornerback Devron Davis. The highly-recruited corner was UTSA’s best corner against the run last season and UTSA needs to find a way to keep him on the field. The Roadrunners also have two defensive backs that might be able to carve out a home at the position. Three-star JUCO safety/corner Jay Jay Smith turned down two SEC offers to sign with UTSA and has the physicality and speed to play up close to the tackle box. His experience playing multiple positions in the secondary gives him a level of familiarity with the nickel corner and hybrid safety roles.
Michael Moore, a 6’2” cornerback out of Palomar Community College, might be the biggest X-factor in UTSA’s incoming recruiting class. While Moore didn’t have any other reported offers, his highlight film is one of the most explosive I’ve ever seen from a defensive back. If there’s something about Moore’s game that scared away other coaching staffs he certainly has the athleticism and ball skills to make up for those potential deficiencies with some quality coaching. His range and burst make him a great candidate to compete both out wide and in the slot.
With just two weekends of official visits remaining the recruiting season is in full swing. While UTSA currently holds 23 commitments in their 2017 recruiting class the staff is still scouring the country for the best options to round out the class. The Roadrunners already have the strongest recruiting class in Conference USA but are in the mix for a few high-level recruits that could jump UTSA into the top 50 of recruiting classes in 2017. Be sure to check back for additional recruiting coverage over the next few weeks as we approach national signing day. You can also find up-to-the-minute UTSA recruiting coverage at BirdsUp.com on the Rivals network.