Texas Football: WR Health a Concern, but Longhorns' Success Lies in Ground Game
When it comes to its chances of reclaiming a Big 12 title in 2013, Texas' strength is one that lies in numbers. The Longhorns return a seasoned group of 19 starters who are expected to lead the way as UT tries to break out of the middle of the conference pack.
But if there's one area where numbers aren't on UT's side, it's at the wide receiver spot. Mack Brown confirmed Monday during his turn in the Big 12 coaches teleconference that junior Jaxon Shipley is still nursing his hip from offseason surgery and is not yet 100 percent. Mike Davis, listed as the starter at the X position per UT's most recent depth chart, is coming off hernia surgery.
Additionally, Marcus Johnson, Davis' backup, has been dealing with a knee sprain and Kendall Sanders is recovering from an ankle injury. Sanders is also facing a one-game suspension after an offseason DUI. Remember that Cayleb Jones is also gone after announcing over the summer that he would transfer.
The attrition, no matter the time frame, has slowly added up over the months.
The Longhorns open the season against New Mexico State, so the availability of Shipley or anyone else shouldn't be a pressing issue. If anything, it'll give them another week to heal.
Where health and depth could start becoming a concern is the following week against BYU. Things don't let up schedule-wise for the rest of the season as Texas gets Ole Miss in the third week of the year before diving right into Big 12 play.
When asked on Monday during the teleconference if there was one area he was concerned about, Brown didn't hesitate before singling out the receiving group. That may change with time, but there is an answer for the Longhorns offense—one that solves immediate and potentially longer-term question marks in the passing game.
Texas has the deepest, most talented backfield in the Big 12 with Johnathan Gray, Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown. The three combined for just under 1,600 yards a year ago with 23 touchdowns (Bergeron received a bulk of those with 16)—a good but not great statistic considering Brown was slowed with an ankle injury and UT was held to under 100 yards on the ground in three of its four losses in 2012.
That should improve this time around with an even more experienced offensive line. Quarterback David Ash has unquestionably demonstrated he can run as well, though with such a solid group of players in the backfield, that responsibility shouldn't rest entirely on him.
Who is Texas' most valuable offensive player?
A good rushing attack can open up a lot of other options on offense. If there's a point where the receiving group is back up to full strength, a solid run game is only going to make them more dangerous.
There could be a lot of ways for Texas to hurt opponents with the number of offensive weapons it possesses. The Longhorns will be able to utilize them to their fullest extent—or, at the very least, effectively—if the ground game can get going.
Ben Kercheval is the Big 12 Lead Writer. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval.
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