Spring football is underway, and for the Texas Longhorns, it will be a time to see just where they could be headed in the 2013 season. The foundation for the entire campaign will be grounded in the next few weeks, and there are plenty of questions to be answered before the summer even rolls around.
With some key losses, including defensive end Alex Okafor and safety Kenny Vaccaro, the 'Horns will have a series of key position battles unfolding this spring.
The linebackers still need answers after a forgettable 2012 performance, a number of young receivers will need to step up, the secondary requires some re-organizing and the backup quarterback battle will need to be addressed.
These are some of Texas' top priorities this spring, along with installing a new offense...but which top the list?
Contenders: Jordan Hicks, Steve Edmond, Peter Jinkens, Tevin Jackson, Demarco Cobbs, Kendall Thompson, Tim Cole
It should come as no surprise that the linebacker position is under the heaviest of scrutiny, and for good reason.
Texas returns every linebacker to its roster this year, but given the shortcomings at the position last year, the expectations for 2013 are definitely mixed.
Jordan Hicks figures to be an anchor for the defense, and his return from a hip injury will be closely monitored throughout the spring, summer and fall. His veteran presence was sorely missed last season among a litter of underclassmen, and he will be expected to bring confidence, leadership and, most importantly, results. Hicks may be the only linebacker entering the spring with a solidified role going into the season.
Steve Edmond and Dalton Santos will be duking it out for the starting gig at middle linebacker. Edmond received the majority of the work last season, but he hardly scratched the surface of what was expected of him. Santos, meanwhile, made his presence felt mostly on special teams. But a noted 21-pound weight loss could mean the sophomore is getting serious about getting his foot in the door.
At strong-side linebacker, the trio of Peter Jinkens, Tevin Jackson and Demarco Cobbs will be ribbing at one another for the starting nod. Cobbs will be out for the spring, leaving Jinkens and Jackson, both of whom demonstrated some inspired football last year, with the upper hands.
Early Favorite: Hicks, Edmond, Jinkens
Hicks has all but locked down his weak-side position, but the other two spots are very much unsettled.
Edmond appears to have history on his side, maintaining a decisive advantage in experience, but Santos has demonstrated a commitment to improving his mobility, a change that could catch the staff's attention.
Jinkens impressed the most of the three strong-side candidates, but Jackson had his share of brilliance in limited time.
Contenders: Adrian Phillips, Quandre Diggs, Mykkele Thompson, Josh Turner, Kevin Vaccaro
The presence of Kenny Vaccaro at safety will be sorely missed, as he leaves behind a physical and violent demeanor that Texas will have to replace on many fronts this season.
Frankly, the 'Horns struggled on the back end even with Vaccaro on the field, and Adrian Phillips, Texas' most senior safety, doesn't exactly breed a ton of confidence after a very up-and-down 2012 campaign.
Other contenders include Josh Turner, Mykkele Thompson, and possibly even Kevin Vaccaro, Kenny's younger brother who has demonstrated a similar disposition for contact.
The most intriguing name of the bunch has to be Quandre Diggs, who could transition from corner to safety to help re-organize the secondary into a more dynamic unit. While Diggs brings physicality and experience, he lacks the big body that most defenses would want in center field. Look for Diggs to slide into the nickel role, as well.
Overall, Texas has to see some progress from its young safeties. The 'Horns are bottom-loaded with numbers, but someone will have to impress early to solidify the defensive backfield.
Early Favorites: Phillips, Diggs
Unless a younger candidate takes the spring by storm, Diggs and Phillips will probably split the field. Turner and Thompson should get a generous look if Phillips struggles again or when Diggs drops into the nickel.
Contenders: Mike Davis, Jaxon Shipley, Cayleb Jones, Kendall Sanders, Marcus Johnson, Bryant Jackson, John Harris
After losing Marquise Goodwin, Texas appears rather thin with playmakers at the receiver position.
Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley are the unquestioned top two at the position, but everyone behind them is inexperienced and unproven.
Kendall Sanders, Marcus Johnson and Cayleb Jones appear to be fighting for the vacated Goodwin position, and all three can bring different skill sets to the table. Sanders operates well in space, Johnson is a burner and Jones has the size, hands and route-running to be a legitimate factor down the road.
Elsewhere, Bryant Jackson and John Harris have made splashes during previous springs, but neither has much to show for as far as results are concerned. Injury trouble has bit hard, and the juniors are in jeopardy of getting leaped by a host of young, talented pass-catchers.
Early Favorite: Davis, Shipley, Sanders
Davis and Shipley occupy the first two receiver slots, and virtual unknown Sanders has the kind of giddy-up that could complement the two upperclassmen very well.
Contenders: Anthony Fera, Nick Jordan
Aside from the linebacker struggles, Texas may not have had a position with more uncertainty than at kicker.
Anthony Fera, who transferred from Penn State, was supposed to be a savior of sorts the continue a long line of clutch performers that included Dusty Mangum, Hunter Lawrence and Justin Tucker. But when Fera arrived with a pre-existing groin injury, Texas was forced to try its luck with a true freshman in Nick Jordan.
Long story short, neither served as a reliable option on special teams.
Early Favorites: Fera
Entering the 2013 season, the 'Horns faced a very similar predicament at kicker. Fera could return with a clean bill of health and an entire spring to get comfortable, but there may not be a ton of confidence following a less-than-impressive 2012 campaign.
Jordan is still very much in the picture, but if last season was any indication of depth, it is Fera's opportunity first with Jordan mopping up if the senior can't pull it together.
Contenders: David Ash, Case McCoy, Jalen Overstreet, Connor Brewer, Tyrone Swoopes
Any casual college football follower should know that David Ash is "the guy" for at least the 2013 season, but it's his backup that requires bigger discussion.
Case McCoy is a senior, but one has to wonder just how much he will be involved this season with a trio of young quarterbacks just waiting to be developed. With Texas trying to groom someone for the future, McCoy enters his final year in Austin without much light at the end of the tunnel.
Redshirt freshmen Connor Brewer and Jalen Overstreet are next in line, closely followed by 2013 recruit Tyrone Swoopes. While not much has been said about the three, there is little doubt that one of them will emerge as the next starting option for the Longhorns once Ash finishes his career at Texas.
So with the starting job already lined up, much of spotlight and interest could shine on the backups.
Early Favorite: Ash
Ash has taken the necessary steps up to this point, and his comfort within the schemes of a new, up-tempo offense can take this Texas team a long way if the weapons are used correctly.