Texas Football: 5 Longhorns Who Must Thrive in 2012 Fall Camp or Else
We are only a week away from seeing what the 2012 Texas Longhorns look like on the field. And now that the depth chart has been released, we have a better idea of who has exceeded expectations and who needs to step up sooner rather than later if they want to have an on-field impact.
Since the defense has pretty much been locked in since the spring, I will be looking more at the guys on offense and special teams for whom the pressure is on. These are guys that need to be effective both in fall camp to see the field as well as during the season to keep a significant role in this team's game plan.
Here are the five guys on the Longhorns that are fighting for their jobs and whose success will be imperative the success of this football team.
QB David Ash
Nobody has more on the line both during fall camp and the upcoming season than sophomore signal-caller David Ash.
Not only was Ash the long-assumed favorite to win the starting quarterback job over junior Case McCoy, but he is by that same token the presumed Achilles' heel of this otherwise stacked team. He did prevail over McCoy for the starting job, though in a manner that casts a lot of doubt as head coach Mack Brown has said he will use both quarterbacks.
The inability for the team to commit to Ash full time is a little unsettling. He is bigger and faster, allows for more dynamic play-calling, has had more first-team reps and simply has more upside than McCoy. But for all of his advantages, he just has not been able to separate himself.
Fans and coaches alike will not truly know what they have in Ash until the season gets under way, but he needs to do everything he can before then to get himself ready. Otherwise, especially with freshmen Connor Brewer and Jalen Overstreet in the fold, 2012 could the last season we see Ash under center.
WR D.J. Monroe
Longhorns senior D.J. Monroe is arguably the team's most explosive player thanks to his 4.3 speed and shiftiness in the open field. However, Monroe has not quite lived up to his potential and is about to walk into the first season of his career where his skill set is not unique unto himself.
Monroe is currently listed as the backup to Marquise Goodwin in the slot position, but his hands are seriously questionable for that position. Should he not take to this role well, talented freshmen receivers Cayleb Jones or Kendall Sanders could easily slip into this role.
In the past, Monroe has been successful as a spread back that got his yards on speed sweeps and screens. But freshman speedster Daje Johnson figures to take a bulk of these touches because he is stronger with the ball.
Ideally, Monroe would be able to get touches from both positions and work in conjunction with Johnson. But if he does not improve his hands, there is not much that differentiates him from the newcomer. At least he will have the first game all to himself to prove his worth now that Johnson has been suspended for Week 1.
K Nick Jordan
With no timetable for the return of Penn State transfer Anthony Fera, freshman Nick Jordan is going to have to step up and keep things on an even keel until the All-Big Ten kicker makes his return from a groin injury.
Before Fera joined the team earlier this month, Jordan was the favorite to step in for the departed Justin Tucker at kicker. If the Longhorns' pursuit of Fera is any indication of their confidence in Jordan, he has a lot of work to do before he is a dependable kicker for this team.
Jordan needs to get used to kicking in front of the Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium crowd and fast, otherwise an offense that is already expected to struggle to score is going to have some major problems. And the last thing David Ash or Case McCoy needs is more pressure to put the ball in the end zone.
WR John Harris
Touted by some as the breakout star of the offseason, redshirt sophomore John Harris has a lot of work to do in order to separate himself from competition from both present and future.
Standing at 6'3" and weighing almost 220 lbs, Harris should not have a problem finding the field this season because he is a physical receiver and has emerged as the team's best blocker at the position. Harris also showed last season that he can be a dynamic player when he threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Jaxon Shipley in the Rice game.
The problem for Harris is that he was not able to showcase much more than that before going down with a foot injury in the UCLA game. Now, Harris is competing for playing time with three talented freshmen and could see his role on the team diminished after the possible arrival of the enormous size and talent of Ricky Seals-Jones, who decommitted from UT.
Harris needs to continue to improve as a receiver and show that he can be relied upon for a full season if he wants to become a key cog in this offense. If not, he will watch the young guns pass him in no time.
TE M.J. McFarland
Another player that is fighting for relevance on this Texas team is redshirt freshman tight end M.J. McFarland, who was left of the depth chart for the first game of the season.
We have all seen how the emergence of the tight end as a downfield threat has changed football at all levels, and McFarland is currently the only tight end on the 'Horns that is capable of stretching the field. However, McFarland's blocking is such a liability to his game that he has been entirely left off the depth chart in favor of players that are better run- and pass-blockers.
If McFarland can improve his blocking to an acceptable level, then he could prove a valuable asset for quarterbacks that struggle to move the ball through the air. Right now, he is a non-factor and that needs to change quickly if he wants to make any kind of impact on this team.