Offensive coordinator Major Applewhite
There are less than 10 days left of spring practice for the Texas Longhorns, and already we are seeing some very intriguing developments with major implications for the 2013 season.
Due to some injuries to key players and the change to a more up-tempo scheme, this spring has opened the window for a plethora of players to make an impression on the coaching staff. The result has been very fast and physical practices with impressive effort coming from players that know they are fighting for their spot on the depth chart.
These circumstances have contributed to one of the more interesting springs in recent memory, highlighted by a star emerging before our eyes and a group that has come together in the absence of its key leader.
The most surprising, and smile-inducing, storyline of the spring has to be the development of freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, who is leaps and bounds ahead of where most expected he would be.
Swoopes is clearly enjoying the benefits of both enrolling early and simply having the resources to develop as a quarterback. He is getting both a lot of reps as well as getting them with the first and second team, putting himself in great position to challenge Case McCoy for status as the team's primary backup.
This is an amazing development from Swoopes, who many scouts believed would never develop into a viable BCS quarterback. Not only is he proving those naysayers wrong, but he is also way ahead of the learning curve considering most BCS quarterbacks require a redshirt season before getting any consideration for major playing time.
Credit Swoopes' poise and self-confidence for turning all of the criticism he has taken over the past year into motivation for this impressive spring campaign. Also give a nod to the coaches for never giving up on their raw young talent, because he is going to make them look very good in the coming years, even if they do end up deciding to redshirt him.
All spring the Longhorns have had to deal with numerous injuries to key players, especially on defense. While unfortunate, it has allowed the team's redshirt sophomores to prove themselves and carve out a role on this team.
Chief among the surging redshirts is defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, whose imposing size makes him a first-off-the-bus candidate. At 6'4" and 300 pounds, Ridgeway can outright bully his man in the trenches with a lower body that would make even Malcolm Brown a little jealous. His effort needs to be more consistent, but Ridgeway should certainly get meaningful snaps next season. Also give him brownie points for having a truly great football name.
Another redshirt that is turning heads is safety Adrian Colbert, who is the most physically imposing defensive back on the roster. He is an athletic big-hitter with the speed, proven by his chase-down of Daje Johnson earlier this spring. There is a lot of depth ahead of him, but Colbert has made an impression.
Defensive end Bryce Cottrell has also caught some attention this season because of his speed off the edge, but there is a lot of depth for him to fight through. If there is an injury at the position, he could see situational snaps like Shiro Davis did in 2012.
Ready to put a tough 2012 season behind him, safety Adrian Phillips is turning in a stellar spring for the 'Horns.
For stretches of last season, all that was holding the Texas secondary together was safety Kenny Vaccaro, and his departure had many believing that this group would fall apart in 2013. If the spring is any indication, these guys are going to be just fine.
The prime reason Texas fans can rest easy about the back end of their defense is that Adrian Phillips is back to normal. All through his miserable junior season, the coaches pointed to Phillips' struggles as being the result of a shoulder injury that prevented him from participating in spring practice. He is proving them exactly right, turning in one of the most impressive efforts on the team as a senior leader of the defense.
The rest of the secondary has followed suit. Head coach Mack Brown has lauded senior Carrington Byndom for playing with much more physicality on the outside. Corners Leroy Scott and Sheroid Evans have also vaulted up the depth chart, allowing Quandre Diggs to move into the safety/nickel corner role that Vaccaro occupied last season. And as of now, Mykkele Thompson is comfortably settled in the starting spot opposite Phillips as the deep safety.
Vaccaro will certainly be missed from a leadership standpoint, but coach Duane Akina will have these guys ready to go come fall.
Everyone in the conference already knows about returning starters Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley. What they are going to find out next season is that Texas has four other receivers that are pretty good as well.
Spearheaded by rangy sophomore Kendall Sanders and hybrid speedster Daje Johnson, Texas' third and fourth receiver spots are going to give defenses fits in 2013. Sanders, a converted defensive back, is the leading candidate to replace Marquise Goodwin in the slot thanks to his long arms and uncanny ball skills. Johnson will also see time here after focusing this spring on improving his hands and route running, but he will be moved around a lot due to his ability to score from anywhere on the field.
But Sanders and Johnson are not the only Texas receivers that can take the top off of a defense. Junior Bryant Jackson, who averaged 17.5 yards per catch in 2012, is emerging as one of David Ash's favorite targets because of his ability to make the toughest of catches. Fellow junior John Harris is also in the mix due to his athleticism, though Texas seems to be leaning toward trying him at tight end due to his size.
What is unfortunate about this group is that it could have been even better with sophomore Cayleb Jones, who has been indefinitely suspended after fracturing the jaw of a Longhorns tennis player. Still, this wealth of talent is going to pay serious dividends on the offensive end by creating more space for Davis and Shipley. These guys are also going to force opposing defenses to use more nickel and dime, which will allow running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown to exploit some mismatches.
Will M.J. McFarland ever emerge as Texas' go-to tight end?
Not everything we have seen this spring has been impressive, and the lack of an emerging tight end certainly falls into that category.
With Texas moving back to the spread, the most obvious candidate to take over at tight end was M.J. McFarland, far and away the team's best receiver at the position. But the redshirt sophomore still has not taken command of the position due primarily to his deficiencies in the blocking department.
McFarland's struggles to grab hold of the position have now left the door open for junior Greg Daniels and transfer Geoff Swaim, both of whom are good blockers but limited as receivers. Out of these two, Swaim has the best chance to make noise but has yet to surprise anyone catching the ball.
Miles Onyegbule and John Harris are also in the fold here, but both are converted wideouts with little to no experience blocking in the trenches. So if Texas wants the every-down tight end it has severely lacked since Jermichael Finley went pro, someone needs to get McFarland blocking with an attitude.