With the Texas Longhorns now firmly headed into the offseason, what better time to begin looking at what might lie ahead for the 2013 Horns.
Following a thrilling, come-from-behind win in the Alamo Bowl, there is no question that the Horns established some positive momentum heading into the next campaign. But now the task of addressing who is and who is not returning is upon the program.
While the offense will return a large majority of its starters, the defense will lose a couple of key playmakers in DE Alex Okafor and S Kenny Vaccaro, once again challenging Texas to find creative ways to replace that lost experience and production.
And with the type of effort that Okafor offered up in his final game as a Longhorn, one can only hope that someone in the ranks will step up to fill that leadership role.
The results following the departures of Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho, Blake Gideon and Kheeston Randall were marginally praiseworthy, and the same tall task stands in front a defense with much to prove in the 2013 season.
The offensive depth chart projection was unveiled last week, but now it is time to look at what kind of two-deep roster the Longhorns could field next August.
DE—Jackson Jeffcoat, Cedric Reed, Reggie Wilson, Shiro Davis; DT—Brandon Moore, Desmond Jackson, Malcom Brown, Chris Whaley, Ashton Dorsey
A significant chunk of the experience that will return along the defensive line will come with senior-to-be Jeffcoat, who will be recovering from a torn pectoral for the second time in as many seasons.
Reed, Wilson and Davis are all likely to be fitted into a rotation of sorts, as none have produced on a consistent enough basis to warrant an outright edge over the others. This is a battle that will be openly settled during the spring. The talent is all there, and we saw flashes of it against Oregon State.
On the interior, Texas looks to return every contributor from the 2012 season, headlined by senior Brandon Moore and junior Desmond Jackson. And for a position that has faced quite a bit of uncertainty in recent seasons, the Longhorns appear to be loaded with rotation of talent.
Whaley and Dorsey saw time last season as starters, but a huge X-factor may be Brown. The youngster saw limited snaps as a freshman in 2012, but his role could easily increase if his progression takes its due course.
One name to keep an eye on amidst a stack of defensive tackles is newcomer A'Shawn Robinson, a consensus top-25 recruit in the 2013 class.
SLB—Peter Jinkens, Tevin Jackson; MLB—Steve Edmond, Dalton Santos; WLB—Jordan Hicks, Kendall Thompson
In what seems like a repeat challenge in 2013, the linebackers have something to prove going into next season.
The expected goods from the 2012 crew went mostly undelivered. Jordan Hicks missed a generous chunk of the season with a hip injury, while a host of young linebackers were forced to grow up a little too quickly.
We caught a glimpse of some future producers in Jinkens, Jackson and Thompson against Oregon State. And with the full dose of experience taken in by that trio as well as by Edmond, one would have to expect the linebackers to be leaps and bounds ahead of where they were only six months ago.
But until the efforts come full circle, it looks to be the same song, second verse in 2013.
CB—Carrington Byndom, Duke Thomas, Leroy Scott, Bryson Echols; S—Quandre Diggs, Adrian Phillips, Josh Turner, Mykkele Thompson
Texas might be missing a consensus Thorpe Award finalist for the best defensive back in the country, but there are few who doubt the consistent talent that the Longhorns have been able to recruit at the position.
The biggest projected change will be at safety, where Diggs will look to assume a more physical role as Vaccaro did so enthusiastically. The Longhorns secondary had its fair share of troubles last season, but with some delicate changes combined with the added experience, the unit should develop into a much more seasoned group.
Byndom is expected to return as the top option to defend the opposition's best receiver, but apart from Diggs, there is a reasonable dose of uncertainty over the rest of the two-deep.
Phillips, Turner and Thompson all showed flashes of brilliance last year, but there are plenty of unknowns between them and the remaining underclassmen.
Punter / Placekicker
Anthony Fera, William Russ
The punting game has seldom been a problem for Texas, but replacing the productivity of Alex King will be a challenge.
Fera handled both kicking and punting duties while at Penn State, and although his results as a kicker at Texas have been extremely disappointing, perhaps he will be far more productive as a punter.
Backing him up looks to be junior Will Russ, who has done some spot duty in the past but did not impress enough to earn the starting job.