One of the definitions for “Spring” in Websters Dictionary is “to move suddenly upward or forward” and for a team coming off 5-7 and 8-5 seasons, this is a perfect definition of what we hope the Longhorns do in the Spring/Summer before this season. The coaching staff said things have come easier for this group since they are not engaged in the installation of schemes and most folks have had a year in the program. So what has the off-season told us thus far about the 2012 Texas Longhorns? Lets take a look at whats happened thus far, and what to expect, starting with the offense.
Quarterback – Lets be honest, this is the most debated, beat to death topic in Austin. After the Spring game I can tell you with absolute certainty, this football team belongs to David Ash. Ash had a great Spring game, managing the offense, making plays, and above all else he looked completely comfortable in his own skin and with his role. Between his performance in the bowl game and the spring game, I think Ash took the step mentally Garrett Gilbert never did. Numerous reports out of spring practices confirm his confidence, performance, and leadership abilities being far superior to what we saw in 2011. Ash is strong, smart, confident, and with the war machine he should be piloting in 2012, this is exactly what Texas needs. We don’t need Tom Brady, we need Trent Dilfer from the Ravens Super Bowl Championship team. Be smart, make some plays, and pilot the offense.
For you Case McCoy fans, you have to accept he is the #2 right guy now, and probably slips to #4 by this time next season. McCoy had a terrible spring game, and once you see it in person, the difference in arm strength between Ash, Conner Brewer, and McCoy is readily apparent. Great kid, but he is not his brother, and he never will be.
Conner Brewer saw action with the third stringers and walk-ons, and he looked fairly sharp, which is exactly what you hope for against that kind of competition. Co-Offensive Coordinator Bryan Harsin has been pleased with his development and noted Brewer is very quick to ask questions, learn from his mistakes, and avoid repeat foul ups. Brewer is a guy who could probably grow into a productive starter by his junior year if not facing Tyrone Swoops and the barrage of qb’s coming into the program over the the next couple of seasons. Truth be told, I would feel more comfortable calling on Brewer in the second half of the season should Ash miss time. Don’t forget dual threat Jalen Overstreet, who will be here for the fall and will probably get the first crack at running the Wildcat offense (think John Chiles with more QB skills).
Overall ‘Horns, be happy. We are headed in the right direction at the QB position, and this is quickly becoming a slot where we wont need to rebuild, we’ll just reload.
Running Back – Its an embarrassment of riches ‘Horn fans, and its only going to get better. Malcolm Brown looks sleek, polished, and ready add to a fantastic 2011 season. Jeremy Hills looked great in the spring game and will be a good 3rd down back if he should be called upon.
Then there is the 241lb nightmare in burnt orange, Joe Bergeron. Bergeron is a war machine who looks for contact and brings the pain every time someone has to tackle him. He should hit camp this fall around 245lbs, and with his blend of power and speed, I’m not sure who the hell is going to tackle this guy. Top it off with 5 star stud Johnathan Gray, who blends Bergeron’s power and Brown’s speed, and you’ve got arguably the best backfield in the nation.
None of this accounts for the most under used X Factor in college football, RB/WR DJ Monroe. All he does every time he touches the football is electrify, as evidenced by his long touchdown run in the spring game where you knew he was gone when still 7 yards deep in the backfield. Harsin and Applewhite HAVE to find a way to get the football in his hands.
Receivers – Mike Davis looked great in the spring, and with his sudden change in heart, desire, and attitude, Id give some credence to the talk of his former roommate Darius Terrell, now at Missouri, poisoning his desire to play for Texas and contributing to a poor 2011. The Longhorns need a true #1 WR to emerge early, and by all accounts Davis is the guy. He has established good chemistry with Ash, and this is something that really lacked between Ash and his receivers last season. On a personal note, Davis is a great follow on Twitter if you’re looking for some positive thoughts and motivation.
Jaxon Shipley is another key component who had a great spring. By all accounts, Shipley has looked even more polished this off season (if that is possible) and may be better than his brother. With Davis emerging as a dependable deep threat, Shipley will be able to settle into the #2 WR/Slot role his brother perfected. Shipley’s improvement is only going to make life worse for the linebackers who already cant cover him.
Past these two, the cupboard is still light at best, and this is a problem the Horns need to address by week 1. Marquise Goodwin, Cayleb Jones, Kendall Sanders, Marcus Johnson, Daje Johnson, Miles Onyegbule, and DeSean Hales are all going to get a shot to see who wants to step up and play.
Hales had a good spring, but he has done that before and promptly went AWOL in the fall. Goodwin is a track star with all the potential but none of the true focus to really excel on the football field (Please prove me wrong). Onyegbule has potential but will be coming off a severe injury and might not hit any kind of real football form this season.
The remainder are all freshman, and all have potential. On paper, Cayleb Jones looks like he has the best shot of being out there in a meaningful role Week 1, but the nagging injury bug follows him around. This group of new comers needs to be ready to contribute in a hurry…we need it.
Tight Ends – MJ McFarland. DJ Grant. That’s about it. Is this a bad thing? Certainly not, as both guys are athletic freaks who could be match-up nightmares for opposing defenses. McFarland is young, but already goes 6-6 and over 240lbs. Grant has more experience, and goes around 240lbs on a 6-3 frame. Grant is a guy to me who truly has the ability to be a 1st round NFL pick if he’d put in the work. When he is on, he can’t be covered, but the problem is he isn’t always on, and I think he’s perfectly content being what he is and moving on after college. Its a shame, because he made the defense look stupid on his long touchdown catch in the spring game, and you all saw his work during the season last year, when he was on.
So, that opens the door for MJ McFarland, who could end up being a 6-7, 255lbs guy this time next year with amazing hands and speed to burn…..if he wants it. The offense really needs a do it all TE to emerge, and right now neither guy looks like they really want it. If you could put Blaine Irby’s heart and desire in the bodies of these two they’d catch 80 passes a piece. Good thing is with the talent and size these guys have, TE will still be a serviceable position until next fall when Belton TE Durham Smythe arrives on campus and promptly snaps up the job no one seems to want to fight for.
Offensive Line – The most maligned unit on campus honestly looked a hell of a lot better in the spring facing the monsters on the Texas defensive line. Mason Walters looks the part of a leader, and the year with Bennie Wylie and Stacey Searels really shows on the field. That said, center Dominic Espinosa still looks like the weak link in the line, and is in a battle for his job which could be filled by Walters if absolutely necessary, but at a detriment to the team. Josh Cochran and 6-7 320lb freshman man child Cameron Hughes also had productive springs but still need more work. The big story on the line is new JUCO left tackle Donald Hawkins. I liked what I saw from him, and I think he will be well on his way to earth mover status by the time Week 1 kicks off. The guy is hungry, wants to learn, has made vast improvements already, and best off all he wants to be here. The offensive line is still a year away from being an elite unit, but the changes have been so subtle and constant, Horns fans are going to one day soon wonder just where the hell this SEC offensive line came from. The incoming 2013 class should feature Jake Raulerson, another guy who is huge, pisses fire, and can plow the road.
Don’t get me wrong, you’re not going to confuse the 2012 Texas offensive line for LSU or Alabama..yet, but you’re going to see something a lot closer to the badasses who moved the earth in the front half of last decade versus the guys who played paddy cake in the last half of said time period. With this kind of offense and the big increase in skill talent across the board, this is exactly what we need.
Get excited Horns fans…. you’re damn close to seeing a crimson smear on the floor of the Cotton Bowl, and titles in the trophy case again, just like a few years ago. Just be patient, and have faith Mack and guys are leading us back to prominence. Till next time Hook Em!
Follow Johnny on Twitter – @205Whisenant