Texas Football: Projecting Who Will Replace the Departed Starters in 2014
A year after returning 19 starters, the Texas Longhorns are being hit with one of college football's inevitable realities—losing starters to graduation.
There are the obvious ones like Jackson Jeffcoat, Mike Davis and Anthony Fera. Having attended the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week, each is fulfilling the expectation of moving on to the professional level.
But not every impact player gets to go to the NFL, starting safety Adrian Phillips being a prime example. Nonetheless, he will have to be replaced just as well as Jeffcoat.
From familiars Tyrone Swoopes and Desmond Jackson to relative unknowns like Adrian Colbert, filling those voids is a total team effort.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of TexasSports.com.
Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
Who's Out: Case McCoy
Who's In: Tyrone Swoopes
Due to David Ash's season-ending injury, Case McCoy was elevated from backup to starter for 10 games last year. And unless Ash pulls off a strong recovery, he could be watching yet another season from the sideline.
The quarterback topic will be debated every which way until the first snap of the season—and probably beyond. On the one hand, Tyrone Swoopes is bigger and more athletic than anybody else on Texas' roster this spring. He has also made significant strides as a passer since arriving in Austin, which is why he saw action in six games last season.
On the other hand, Ash has offset moments of solid play with seven multi-interception games. Now, he has a history of severe concussions, a formidable hurdle for any football career. Unfortunately, Ash just can't be counted on to endure the entire offseason and subsequent 13 regular season games, while Swoopes has both the higher ceiling and the superior physical prowess to do just that.
Who's Out: Mike Davis
Who's In: Marcus Johnson
Which Texas wideout led the position in yards per reception last year? The answer to that trivia question is not starters Mike Davis or Jaxon Shipley. Nor is it occasional starter and deep-threat Kendall Sanders.
In fact, it was Marcus Johnson who led this group with 15.9 yards per grab, and all Longhorns with 10 or more catches (John Harris averaged 28.5 on just five receptions). While over 70 percent of his yardage came in three games, Johnson showed off reliable hands and the ability to break away in the open field.
With Mike Davis headed to the NFL, Johnson has a great opportunity to build on his success as a junior. He will take one of the open spots on the outside opposite Sanders, and Jaxon Shipley will continue manning the slot.
Consider Johnson a dark horse to lead the Longhorns in receiving yardage this season.
Who's Out: Donald Hawkins
Who's In: Kent Perkins
A year after being a top-5 recruit at the position, Kent Perkins is the odds-on favorite to take over for All-Big 12 OT Donald Hawkins.
The battle for Hawkins' vacated spot on the left side will be one of the best of the offseason. Kennedy Estelle is a lock to continue on at either right tackle, where he started eight games in 2013, or take his 6'7" frame to the other side. However, Perkins filled in admirably for Estelle in the Alamo Bowl, and will make a major push in his first spring with the program.
Both players have the talent and size to be considered professional prospects. It will be interesting to see how much they progress under guru Joe Wickline.
Who's Out: Trey Hopkins; Mason Walters
Who's In: Darius James; Sedrick Flowers
Just as interesting as the battle for left tackle will be the ones for the vacant offensive guard positions, where as many as four players will make a strong case.
This spot is a mess, but in a good way. Sedrick Flowers and Curtis Riser both bring some experience to the group, albeit somewhat limited in the latter's case. Meanwhile, redshirt freshmen Darius James and Rami Hammad are highly-regarded redshirt freshmen.
For Flowers, the left guard position is his to lose. He played in all 13 games last season as a reserve, earning praise from the departing seniors. Only injury can keep him from ascending into Trey Hopkins' open spot.
The safe bet would be Riser, but James has limitless potential with Wickline as his position coach. The former Oklahoma State assistant has turned 3-star recruits like Russell Okung into All-Americans. Imagine what he can do with a guy like James.
Who's Out: Chris Whaley
Who's In: Desmond Jackson
In his final year with the program, defensive tackle Desmond Jackson will pick up right where he left off as a junior—as long as he can hold off Hassan Ridgeway, that is.
Jackson has started 13 games over the past two seasons, playing well in spurts and disappearing in others. Jackson performed well in taking over for Chris Whaley last season, but does not bring the same quickness that made the former running back so difficult to handle. For Jackson to retain his starting spot, he must find some consistency next to mauler Malcom Brown.
The only player projected to push Jackson is third-year sophomore Ridgeway, who is all potential. He abused his blockers against New Mexico State and BYU, then was hardly a factor with Greg Robinson calling the defense.
Who's Out: Jackson Jeffcoat
Who's In: Shiro Davis
The 'Horns dodged a major bullet when Cedric Reed decided to return for his senior season. But who will start opposite the All-Big 12 defensive end?
Reed broke out in a big way as a junior, setting career-highs in every statistical category. However, he projects to see a lot more double-teams now that Jackson Jeffcoat is off to the league. Unless he gets a reliable pass-rushing partner, his production could take a major dip this season.
Enter Shiro Davis, who is looking to make a junior jump similar to Reed's in 2013. At 6'3" and 250 pounds, Davis brings the requisite quickness to fill Jeffcoat's spot on the weak side. After seeing action in all 13 games as a sophomore, there is no better time for the former 4-star recruit to live up to his potential.
Who's Out: Carrington Byndom
Who's In: Antwuan Davis
Quandre Diggs and Duke Thomas each return in 2014, which will help Texas adjust to losing solid cover corner Carrington Byndom. But new defensive coordinator Vance Bedford has shown a proclivity toward a 3-3-5 defense, meaning a slot corner should see starters' snaps.
The top two candidates for that spot are speedsters Sheroid Evans and redshirt freshman Antwuan Davis. Both are about 6'0" and 190 pounds, boasting ridiculous 4.35 speed that is considered a requirement for elite corners.
Despite his lack of experience, Davis gets the edge because of Evans' health. The rising senior has missed 12 games in his career, and is currently recovering from a torn ACL.
Who's Out: Adrian Phillips
Who's In: Adrian Colbert
No position has more potential for disaster than safety, which lost its lone reliable starter after the 2013 season.
Adrian Phillips' graduation leaves inconsistent trio Mykkele Thompson, Josh Turner and Leroy Scott as Texas' only experienced safeties. All three are undersized—Thompson and Turner weigh less than 190 pounds and Scott just 193—which has led to a bevy of missed tackles. Discipline in coverage has also been an issue for this group.
Defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Vance Bedford has his work cut out for him in coverage, but he could get a big-hitter by adding Adrian Colbert to the rotation. The redshirt sophomore weighs 205 pounds and has a violent streak the position has lacked of late.
Unless Quandre Diggs can make the move, Colbert gives the safety spot a physical presence that nobody else brings to the position.
Who's Out: Anthony Fera
Who's In: Nick Jordan; Nick Rose
Replacing All-American Anthony Fera is a tall task, especially since he was the team's kicker and punter in 2013.
In addition to making over 90 percent of his field goals, Fera averaged better than 40 yards on his 75 punts, pinning the opposition inside its 20-yard line on 32 of them. Both of those statistics will be difficult for his replacements to repeat.
For better or worse, Nick Jordan will assume kicking duties two years after connecting on just 60 percent of his attempts. Punting duties are a bit more of a mystery, but kickoff specialist Nick Rose's leg strength gives him the best chance of anyone.