Most Texas Longhorns fans will tell you that the beginning of the end for former head coach Mack Brown was when he decided to step away from the spread offense his teams had been running and instead move to a hard-nosed pro-style offense. In short, the transition didn’t work out. With inexperience at the quarterback position and a less than stellar offensive line, defenses were able to focus on shutting down the run.

So when the time came for the Longhorns to find a new coach, many fans were clamoring for someone to come in and return to the high-powered, high-scoring spread offense; however, that isn’t what happened.

Instead, Charlie Strong, Shawn Watson, and Joe Wickline have made it clear that they intend to field a pro-style offense that relies predominantly on the run, despite playing in a spread conference. Before fans get too disappointed, under the new staff this type of offense has the potential to be quite efficient.

With a power running game (and a strong defense), instead of outscoring their opponent, Texas will play ball control. If you can run effectively, you control the clock. If you control the clock, you limit the opponents’ opportunities to score.

A solid running game, combined with a stout defense and a solid passing game may not be as exciting to watch as the high-scoring offenses in the Big 12 teams typically field; however, it absolutely can be equally effective. While we know that this year’s Texas offense hinges on the health of David Ash, here’s a look at the running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends; as well as the roles they are expected to play in the new Texas offense.

The Longhorns have two of the most talented running backs in the country in senior Malcolm Brown and junior Johnathan Gray. If these two can stay healthy, then Texas could have one of the most efficient running games in college football. Strong has stated that both players will start and rotate carries.

Word out of Fall camp is that Brown has even managed to turn it up a notch. If he plays at the level at which he’s capable, he can be one of the top backs in the country.

Though Gray is coming off an achilles injury, he stated that he’s back at full speed. With these two healthy, the Texas offense would be difficult to stop – exactly what the Horns need to control the game.

Alongside Brown and Gray is Daje Johnson (RB/WR). No one is quite sure what to expect from him this season. From watching the last few seasons, it’s obvious that Johnson is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. However, during his time on the Forty Acres, he’s had his share of off-the-field concerns, one of which forced Strong to suspend him for the season opener.

After not hearing much from Johnson in the spring and summer, it appears that he’s been seeing the field more in practice of late. Hopefully Johnson can find a way to stay out of the doghouse because this offense could really use his dynamic skillset. As a runner, his break-away speed gives him the potential to make explosive plays with every carry.

While the starting talent at the running back position is elite, the depth at the position is a major concern. Joe Bergeron and Jalen Overstreet were slotted as the third and fourth options at running back, but both are no longer on the roster.

With that void in mind, the Longhorns find themselves having to rely on some young talent. Though he is currently sidelined with what is believed to be a minor injury, Donald Catalon, a freshman out of Houston (Eisenhower), is expected to see the field this season. Catalon is quick, shifty, and has great hands. If the coaches can find a way to use him creatively, he projects as a big-time playmaker.

Another freshman who could earn some playing time this season is D’Onta Foreman. Needing to take a summer class to qualify, Foreman was recently given the green light by the NCAA. As a result, however, he is a bit behind in learning the offense. Yet, at 6’1” and 225lbs, Foreman could step into Bergeron’s vacated role as a third-down and short-yardage back that provides a valued change of pace from players ahead of him on the depth chart.

Much like running back, the position of wide receiver took a huge hit this summer when dismissals ravaged the depth chart. The departure of Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander left senior Jaxon Shipley and junior Marcus Johnson as the team’s only receivers to total more than 200 receiving yards last season.

Though Shipley is no doubt the most consistent receiver on the team, he is wrestling with a hamstring injury. He is not expected to miss significant time, but no one outside the locker room truly knows the extent of the injury or when to expect him back.

Marcus Johnson is expected to have a break-out year. Johnson has shown flashes of greatness the last couple of seasons, making big plays downfield. Reports from Fall camp say Johnson has been just as impressive as fans expect.

In addition to his role in the running game, Daje Johnson will also play a big role in the passing game (assuming he makes the most out of what appears to be his final shot). What makes Daje such a threat at receiver is his ability to get into open space and then accelerate to the endzone.

Senior John Harris, is an upper classman that has bounced between wideout and tight end throughout his career. As HornSports reported on Wednesday, Harris is practicing exclusively at receiver and has lost around 15 pounds in an effort to improve his quickness. Focusing on a single position and being assessed by a new coaching staff might combine to be the key that unlocks Harris’ potential.
Sophomore Jacorey Warrick has reportedly been one of the young players to stand out this summer. Warrick is a player that has taken advantage of depth chart vacancies and is expected to play a big role this season.

One surprising name that keeps popping up as someone that has impressed throughout summer practices is Ty Templin, a sophomore walk-on who has been running some with the first team. Though it’s uncertain as to how much he will play, it appears as though he’s earned some time this year.

As far as freshmen go, there is certainly no shortage of talented youth at receiver. While that will be a boon in future years, especially considering the lack of experience at the position, what the freshmen deliver in 2014 is less clear.

Armanti Foreman, Lorenzo Joe, Dorian Leonard, Roderick Bernard, Jake Oliver (RS), and Garrett Gray have all been heralded this summer for their play. Of the freshmen, Foreman seems to be the most likely to make an early impact on the position this season.

Anyone who follows the Longhorns will tell you that it has been far too long since the tight end position has played an important role in the passing game. Over the last several years, the tight ends have been used more as blockers rather than receivers. Last season, the top three tight ends, John Harris, (WR/TE), Greg Daniels, and Geoff Swaim combined for a total of just eleven receptions. To better understand how the tight ends’ role could change in this new offense, simply contrast that lack of production against that of Watson’s top two tight ends at Louisville last season, who racked up a combined 42 receptions.

Tight ends coach Bruce Chambers told the media that there are plans for the tight ends to play a big role this season. The question is which ones will make the most impact?

With Daniels recovering from a knee injury and likely out for at least the first few weeks, Swaim (an honorable mention All-Big 2013 selection) is expected to be the team’s first option. For the offense to be successful, fellow senior M.J. McFarland needs to take advantage of his opportunities in the passing game this year.

JUCO transfer Blake Whiteley, who caught eight passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns last season at Arizona Western Community College is the wild card at tight end. Whiteley was a non-factor to start camp, but is starting to make big plays in practice.

Regardless of who is on the field, tight end must be a reliable outlet for David Ash in the passing game. Whether they provide a blitz pickup, a safety valve reception in the flat, or stretch the defense vertically, Texas tight ends need to be very involved in the offense for it to reach it’s potential.

In order for any offense to be effective, every position needs to be playing at a high level: quarterbacks, offensive line, running backs, wide receivers tight ends – football is the ultimate team sport in the way that all 11 players affect each other.

If the running backs are playing well, it opens up the passing game. If the receivers and tight ends are playing well, it opens up the running game.

With the knowledge that Charlie Strong and the offensive staff are trying to control the ball, and manage the clock, the way these three positions (RB, WR, TE) intertwine is critical. While each position has first tier talent at the top of the two-deep, the Texas offense must get contributions beyond the first stringers.

There is no doubt that the Longhorns have the talent to put points on the board; the main question heading into this season is whether or not that talent will be able to effectively adjust to a new offensive system. Though it may not look like the offense many fans wanted, if veterans at these positions stay healthy and some of the younger, inexperienced players live up to their potential, then this year’s offense may end up being a pleasant surprise to Texas fans….even those who were hoping to run a spread offense.
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