The Texas Longhorns will play their annual Orange-White Scrimmage this Saturday, giving the fans their first chance to eyeball the highly-anticipated 2013 squad. In the case of players like Tyrone Swoopes and Kendall Sanders, they would be well-advised to pay special attention.
With the exception of a couple of freshmen and injured stars like Jaxon Shipley, what we see on the field Saturday is essentially what we will get come fall in terms of personnel. Sure everything will be crisper by the time the season rolls, especially on the offensive side of the ball, but this is the talent that Texas has to work with.
So, if this team is really going to make the long overdue return to the upper echelon of college football, we should see some serious flashes on Saturday, especially from these guys.
The player that fans have been itching to see for the past year is freshman quarterback and Vince Young clone Tyrone Swoopes, who is silencing his critics with his spring performance.
After enrolling early to participate in spring practice, Swoopes is recovering nicely from his well-documented tumble down the recruiting rankings. Already, he is seeing more reps than redshirt freshmen Connor Brewer and Jalen Overstreet, leading many to believe that he is challenging for playing time in 2013.
This is a far cry from where Swoopes was even three months ago when experts were saying he was just not a quarterback. He still struggles with his accuracy, but those added reps speak volumes for someone that was supposed to be a two-year project. He has also swelled up to 250 pounds, a weight his 6'5" frame carries effortlessly.
Now we finally get to see Swoopes in real action. And since this is an offense tailor-made for athletic quarterbacking, expect at least one play from him that will deliver pure shock and awe.
With Jaxon Shipley likely out for Saturday's game, the stage is set for sophomore Kendall Sanders to have a coming out party in his stead.
Now that the 'Horns are shifting back to a more wide-open offense, the third and fourth receiver spots will be much more glamorous than they have been these last two years. Daje Johnson is all but guaranteed one of those spots because of his 4.34 speed, but the other is still open for competition.
Currently, Sanders is the safe bet. He possesses the size at 6'1" along with reach that belongs on somebody four inches taller. He also has supreme leaping ability to boot, so there are not a lot of balls that he will not be able to go up and snatch.
Given his athleticism and measurables, Sanders is actually a candidate to play outside opposite deep-threat Mike Davis. That would allow Texas to move Shipley, its best route-runner, into the slot to serve as David Ash's security blanket. And with Shipley probably on the sideline, Sanders is in line for a lot of targets.
Texas lost out on a big-time defensive tackle this past recruiting season. Starting with the spring game, redshirt freshman Hassan Ridgeway is looking to ease the sting.
Texas' disastrous 2013 recruiting class hit rock-bottom when A'Shawn Robinson flipped to Alabama just before National Signing Day. But with the way Ridgeway has shown out this offseason, fans will be saying "A'Shawn who?" in no time.
Since being moved to tackle back in February, Ridgeway has shown flashes of scary potential. He is already an imposing figure at 6'4" and 300 pounds, which should increase by 10-20 pounds in Bennie Wylie's strength program. Once he finds some consistency in his game, he is going pair very nicely with Malcom Brown in the trenches.
In spite of the depth in front of him, Ridgeway should get plenty of snaps in Saturday's scrimmage. When he does, expect him to out-man people the same way Brown did when he got his chances in 2012.
The player that should benefit most from the switch to a spread attack is blazing fast sophomore Daje Johnson. This scrimmage should provide some insight as to where his game is as he prepares to become a focal part of the offense.
Unlike a 2012 season that saw him touch the ball less than four times per game, Johnson is going to be heavily involved in Major Applewhite's offense. He has primarily been lining up as the team's third wideout, where Texas wants him as to avoid a logjam at running back, but will get touches everywhere. He is also in line for kickoff return duty, an area in which the team desperately needs a boost.
Everyone knows Johnson has the speed, and he is going to get the touches now that Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe have moved on. The only question is to whether he can develop as a reliable receiver a la De'Anthony Thomas and become a consistent threat on every possession.
If he can haul in some tough grabs or some deep balls in addition to what he does from the backfield, we are talking about the Big 12's best all-purpose player in 2013.
With the exception of Peter Jinkens, the Texas linebacking corps was downright awful last season following Jordan Hicks' season-ending hip injury. Jinkens and Hicks are both back in 2013, but the third spot is wide open with Dalton Santos leading the pack.
Santos showed up this spring 20 pounds lighter, and it has paid immediate dividends in his game. He is much quicker getting off his blocks and just looks like a faster overall player.
This is great news for the entire Texas defense. Last year, Steve Edmond was much too slow at middle linebacker and clearly had issues with the leadership requirements of the position. Santos is a natural Mike backer with strong leadership skills, so he fits the mold.
The key to Texas winning the Big 12 is being able to stop the run, which falls primarily on the linebackers. Santos moving into the starting lineup is an upgrade here if he can handle it, so keep an eye on him and the first-team defense.
When healthy, Brown is lethal once he breaks contain.
Following a promising freshman campaign, Johnathan Gray has emerged as Texas' top tailback. But the coaches are still committed to giving junior Malcolm Brown, the team's leading rusher in 2011, a fair share of the load. The spring game will give some strong indication as to how they plan to do it.
At 6'0" and 225 pounds, Brown is a nice marriage between speed and power at the running back position. He is not as shifty as Gray in the open field, but does a great job getting to the edge where he can dole out some punishment to opposing defensive backs.
It will be interesting to see how the coaches balance out Brown and Gray, especially since there is a chance that they both appear in Texas' base package. They struggled doing so last year, giving him the ball only 21 times through four games as Gray's backup.
Texas cannot afford to waste Brown's talent as they did Marquise Goodwin's. There needs to be a 60/40 split with these two backs, and Saturday's game will tell us a lot about how the coaches plan to do so.
Getting guys on the ground was a major issue for the Texas secondary in 2012, spear-headed by the struggles of safety Adrian Phillips. He is going to have a much better senior season, and it will start with the spring game.
Yes, Phillips was bad for much of last season, but much of it was the result of being put in a bad position. He missed last spring with a shoulder injury and really had not tackled anybody prior to the start of the season. With that shoulder now fully healed and no tackling issues prior to 2012, fans can rest assured that Phillips has put this issue behind him.
With his health and confidence back, Phillips should look more like the player that picked off two passes and forced three fumbles in 2011 as a backup. His improvement should be obvious on Saturday, and that will do wonders for the rest of the Longhorn defense.