The quarterback is unquestionably the most important piece on offense in football.
But like anything with a whole bunch of moving parts that require precision and consistency, a football team is not without its skill positions.
The Texas Longhorns return all of their starters on the offensive side of the ball, none more critical than quarterback David Ash. But surrounding the junior signal-caller is a warehouse of talent, filled with players who will equip the Texas offense with some of the spark seen during the Colt McCoy Era, a four-year slot best described by the spread offense.
It just so happens that the Longhorns have reinstalled a spread offense under Major Applewhite and Darrell Wyatt, henceforth known as the Applewyatt offense. And it is a scheme that will play a huge part in Texas' conference title hopes.
But just as it was during McCoy's years, the receivers hold the biggest key in the offense.
Tale of 2s
Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby were the moneymakers for Texas during the years they played with McCoy.
In the 2008-09 season, Cosby's final year and the season that had the Longhorns fall just shy of a BCS Championship Game appearance, Shipley and Cosby combined for 2,183 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns on 181 receptions, accounting for anywhere between 53 and 58 percent of the offense.
In the 2012-13 season, Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis together posted 1,676 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns on 116 receptions, translating to a 43-52 percent range. Expect all of these numbers to get a bump this year.
In both scenarios, the lack of depth is glaring.
Additionally, the younger Shipley's production is nowhere close to what his older brother accomplished while in Austin, but the similarities are striking. Shipley has an opportunity to put in two more full seasons with the Longhorns, and he could be that kind of difference-maker in the spread.
Davis, on the other hand, is a completely different kind of card in this game.
Unlike Cosby, who was slippery quick with solid hands, Davis is the deep threat that Texas has been needing to upgrade its offense. Now with Davis entering his senior season and on an encouraging path developmentally and statistically, he can be a complement to Shipley's underneath stuff, similar to the ways that Cosby and Shipley opened up space for each other.
A Numbers Game
When the Longhorns get into their four- and five-wide sets, and they will, route running and space will be the foundation of what will get them easy chunks of yards, as long as Ash can deliver.
Davis and Shipley have proven to be reliable. But elsewhere, the emergence of other options has been slow.
Aside from Mike Davis, Jaxon Shipley and Daje Johnson, which receiver will have the best statistical season?
Kendall Sanders and Cayleb Jones both will miss the season opener against New Mexico State after receiving some sparkling reviews during the offseason.
Bryant Jackson, Miles Onyegbule and John Harris have battled injuries in the past, and it has kept them from consistently performing at a high level. They have shown it; now it is time to stay healthy.
Daje Johnson is the X-factor, followed by a slew of newcomers in Jake Oliver, Jacorey Warrick and Montrel Meander.
The numbers at receiver are there, but the door is pretty wide open once Davis and Shipley are chiseled into the depth chart. Getting a solid group of go-to hands behind them will be crucial for Ash's development as a spread quarterback.
Five different receivers caught at least 17 passes from McCoy in 2008. Four caught more than 19 from Ash in 2012, two of them being speed anomalies in Marquise Goodwin and Daje Johnson.
In 2008, Texas' 4,008 passing yards represented 65 percent of its total offense. In 2012, the Longhorns threw for 3,421 yards, about 61 percent of their total production.
So not only will there be room for new names to emerge this season, but someone will have to step up. Otherwise, this Applewyatt look will get really sour by midseason.
The Bottom Line
If Ash is able to take some steps in the new offense and within the program as a leader, he will then need the help in a spread attack that will lengthen the box scores. Texas will have an offense led by the pass, and for that, the receivers will have to do their part with the biggest key to the season.
Statistics from mackbrown-texasfootball.com