With the Texas Longhorns having recently installed yet another new offense, many positions are very much works in progress as the 'Horns continue to prepare for the upcoming 2013 season.
Since Mack Brown began restructuring his ailing program, Texas has seen its roster get encumbered by complacency, depleting the team of hard-working athletes with proper attitudes and mindsets.
Currently in year three of the rebuild, many positions are finally starting to come together, but there still lies a healthy amount of uncertainty surrounding a number of units.
The offensive line has gone through tremendous changes in the past decade, shifting from dominant to depleted in a matter of seasons. While health has been somewhat of a lingering problem for the current group on campus, depth has consistently been an issue that has kept the Longhorns offensive line in a funky cycle of underachievement.
As we continue the position breakdowns, we move into the trenches, where the Longhorns may finally have a formidable rotation.
Depth Up Front
When fully healthy, the Longhorns could feature a strong rotation up front that goes six or seven deep, a luxury, per se, that Texas has not maintained in a very long time.
Right tackle Josh Cochran and left guard Trey Hopkins sustained some injuries early this spring and have been kept out of workouts. However, for two of the program's brightest stars, they should be ready to go by the fall and will offer quite a bit of experience for having played so early in their careers.
Right guard Mason Walters will begin his final season in Austin as he continues to be the vocal leader up front.
Center Dom Espinosa has played through the struggles of starting as a freshman. Now as a junior, Espinosa is a prized veteran that has been through the gauntlet.
Donald Hawkins, who joined the program as a JUCO transfer last season, provided solid snaps as an immediate starter at left tackle. Entering his senior season, Hawkins may end up sliding inside to left guard to make room at tackle for another incoming JUCO player in Desmond Harrison, who is expected to make an immediate impact.
Sophomore guard Sedrick Flowers has benefited most from the Cochran and Hopkins stints on the injury report, but Flowers was forced to sit out of the spring game due to recently suffered concussion. Nevertheless, Flowers has consistently drawn reviews as the next big piece to the offensive line.
If the season started today with everyone at near-full health, the Longhorns could see a left-to-right formation of Harrison, Hawkins, Espinosa, Walters and Cochran, with Flowers and Hopkins as the first two off the bench. The rotation is far from decided, but offensive line coach Stacy Searels has to be content with the capable and experienced numbers at his disposal.
Diamonds in the Rough?
Unproven and inexperienced are words that characterize the next tier of offensive linemen on campus, mostly because of youth.
With the exception of senior backup Garrett Porter, who could crack the rotation along the interior line, the remaining linemen are first- and second-year players with formidable ceilings who have yet to reach the platform to shine. There is plenty of promise, but it remains to be seen if any one of the deep dwellers will push for playing time.
Sophomore tackle Kennedy Estelle has the frame, footwork and athleticism to excel at this level, and he showed that in spurts during the spring game with looks at right tackle. Estelle, however, still lacks the strength and will have to put in a strong summer if he intends to push for a spot in the rotation.
Everyone else, which includes sophomores Marcus Hutchins, Taylor Doyle and Garrett Greenlea, redshirt freshmen Curtis Riser and Camrhon Hughes and true freshman Jake Raulerson, are pretty much in the same boat. With some depth at the top of the rotation, it gives this group plenty of time to develop physically and mentally when the program does not necessarily need their contributions.
Unlike the scenarios with Cochran and Espinosa, the Longhorns will have time on their side with the youngsters.
The Bottom Line
The Longhorns appear to be back to piecing together a strong offensive line with a good mixture of talent, depth and numbers. The top six or seven are more than formidable and have been together for the better part of two seasons, offering good chemistry for an offense that needs to establish itself quickly.
Beyond that, however, plenty of questions still remain. The ingredients are there—size, athleticism, attitude—but can the coaching staff steer the developmental side appropriately? Fortunately, it has harbored the present and the future under the same roof, a situation that should generate success moving forward.