Texas Football: 5 Longhorns Who Will Make Their First Starts in 2013

Zach Shelton@@zachisagingerFeatured ColumnistJuly 9, 2013

Texas Football: 5 Longhorns Who Will Make Their First Starts in 2013

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    Even though Texas football returns 19 of its starters, there is still plenty of talent that has yet to record a start in the burnt orange. Many of those players will achieve that feat in 2014, and they will put a vise-grip on that role once they do.

    Whether it be injury, underperformance or simply graduation, there is always an opportunity for a player to come out of nowhere and seize a start.

    That is especially likely for the 2013 edition of the Longhorns, which cannot afford to let talent rot on the bench in a season on the brink. 

    These five Longhorns will get their shot in the 2013 season and have the talent to remain starters for the rest of their careers. And one of them has a shot at an all-conference campaign.

DT Malcom Brown

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    Former 5-star defensive tackle Malcom Brown played a small role in the Longhorns' 9-4 season. In 2013, the sophomore will have a major one in their return to the top of the Big 12.

    Brown played in all 13 games last season, watching his role and on-field impact expand every step of the way. Easily the most explosive of Texas' tackles, there was at least one play a game where he burst off the screen, one of which was a fourth-down sack against West Virginia that was negated by a Texas timeout.

    At a spot where players usually need a redshirt season to get up to speed both physically and mentally, Brown's production was impressive. Now a sophomore, expect him to become the team's best interior lineman and an All-Big 12 player to boot.

WR Kendall Sanders

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    Though he will miss the first game due to suspension, Kendall Sanders is set to become a regular starter in 2013. Then, he will pave his way to becoming the team's top deep threat in 2014.

    Beyond incumbents Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis, the Texas receivers are having problems separating themselves from one another. They are all inexperienced, and none of them have any single trait that demands starters' snaps.

    That is, other than Sanders. The 6'1" sophomore has ideal speed for the position, while his length and leaping ability allow him to play like a much bigger target.

    Sanders will be an every-week starter and will emerge as a reliable downfield threat for David Ash to stretch the field, cementing himself as a starter for as long as he wears the burnt orange.

OT Desmond Harrison

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    A junior college transfer, Desmond Harrison is expected to step in immediately as the starting left tackle. The only question is, which of the five returning starters will be relegated to the bench?

    At 6'8" and 310 pounds, the former basketball player has both ideal size and athleticism to protect David Ash's blind side. He is also a strong run-blocker, presumably the reason Texas went after him so aggressively.

    The thought is that Harrison will shove Donald Hawkins, last year's left tackle, to guard and the rest of the line will fight for their spot. On the other end, Josh Cochran  is safe, but Trey Hopkins missed the entire spring with a stress fracture, and center Dom Espinosa always seems to be holding on for dear life.

    If Harrison can help get push up front, shuffling the five incumbents will be well worth the headache.

WR/CB Duke Thomas

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    Considering that he can play two positions of need, sophomore Duke Thomas is in a great position heading into 2013. And Texas is going to need him in a starter's role at some point in the season.

    An unheralded 2012 recruit, Thomas has twice shocked fans and coaches alike in just two years as a Longhorn. First, he cruised up the depth chart to become a reliable backup corner for the 'Horns. Then he proved he could play offense as well, hauling in three receptions in the spring game.

    Now it seems Texas is going to wait and see where it needs him. The fourth receiver spot is still wide open, while the coaches still do not know if they can trust any of their four safeties. If Quandre Diggs has to move over, Thomas should become the team's second corner or perhaps move to safety himself.

    While Thomas' position is still an unknown, his status as one of the team's best pure football players is not. He will get a start somewhere, and fans will be glad they have him.

C Darius James

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    The dark horse of the this group, and the only freshman that has the talent break into the starting lineup, is center Darius James. But he has to beat out the other linemen that will be fighting to take the same position.

    Though their 2013 class was considered weak compared to past seasons, the Longhorns recruited one of the best offensive lines in the country. James, the top center in the country, heads up that class as the most college-ready player in the group.

    James also benefits because he plays center. The guard and tackle positions each have extensive depth, but no other lineman presents any serious competition to embattled center Dom Espinosa. Though with the arrival of Desmond Harrison, guys like All-Big 12 guard Trey Hopkins could try to nudge out Espinosa to stay atop the depth chart.

    James is bigger and more talented than Espinosa and will take his spot next season, if not this one. The current obstacle is a more desperate upper-classman.

Other Candidates

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    QB Tyrone Swoopes: David Ash is the starter, but he missed a game and most of another last season. If he goes down again, Swoopes is the only backup that gives Texas a chance to win.

    DE Shiro Davis: Senior Jackson Jeffcoat is incredibly talented. He is also incredibly prone to injury, and Davis provides the most athleticism and pure pass-rushing ability in his absence.

    CB Sheroid Evans: Finally emerging as a corner, the speedy Evans becomes a starter if Quandre Diggs has to move over to safety. He is definitely a starter in 2014.

    S Adrian Colbert: Texas has three safeties with well-documented tackling problems. The physical Colbert, another 2014 starter, does not have these issues and would start if the Big 12 were not so pass-happy.

    OL Sedrick Flowers: After coming on at the end of 2012, Riser will spend 2013 as a plug-and-play guy up front. He is in if an injury takes place up front.