Texas Football: 6 Longhorns with the Most to Lose This Spring

Zach Shelton@@zachisagingerFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2014

Texas Football: 6 Longhorns with the Most to Lose This Spring

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    Texas RB/WR Daje Johnson
    Texas RB/WR Daje JohnsonBrandon Wade/Associated Press

    The Texas Longhorns have officially opened spring practice, in which several young players will look to make an early impression and climb the depth chart. But for each one that rises, somebody else has to lose ground in terms of their role on the team.

    This spring is a special one for this Texas team. It's Charlie Strong's first with the program, which represents a fresh start for many of his players. By that same token, it also spells trouble for those that are in danger of falling under the scrutiny of the intense new head coach.

    For some, the window of opportunity is closing. Others have to show that they can even fit within the structure of Strong's new system. Either way, several Longhorn players have to show their worth if they want to keep their place on the team.

    That list of players with the most to lose this spring starts with Shiro Davis, ends with Tyrone Swoopes and includes some youthful surprises that must come out strong to secure their futures with the program.

DE Shiro Davis

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    Texas DE Shiro Davis
    Texas DE Shiro DavisMichael Thomas/Associated Press

    Shiro Davis is a Longhorn to keep an eye on this spring. Once a prized recruit, the Louisiana native has to prove he can be an every-down player now that Jackson Jeffcoat has moved on to the NFL.

    Since making a surprise signing day flip from LSU, Davis has largely been used in a situational role. Now he is fighting for starter's snaps opposite Cedric Reed, who had 12.5 sacks in 2013.

    Through 20 games of action, Davis has 18 tackles with five for a loss. Given that modest production, the 6'3", 258-pound junior is far from being a lock to take over for the departed Jeffcoat. Redshirt sophomores Caleb Bluiett and Bryce Cottrell made plays late in the season, whereas Davis failed to record a sack after the 'Horns pasted New Mexico State.

    Davis brings the most potential of the bunch, with a nice combination of size and speed. And since opposing blockers will expend most of their energy on Reed, the path is paved for him to put up big numbers if he can start putting it together this spring.

    Otherwise, Davis will get jumped and find himself on the outs heading into his senior season.

OW Daje Johnson

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    Texas RB/WR Daje Johnson
    Texas RB/WR Daje JohnsonEric Gay/Associated Press

    By removing two players from the program, including expected starting safety Leroy Scott, Charlie Strong has shown there will be zero adjustment period when it comes to his policies. That should put Daje Johnson, who has thrice been suspended for violating team rules, on notice.

    Johnson has all of the talent to be an offensive terror. The big-play specialist has recorded three offensive touchdowns of 60 yards or more as well as an 85-yard punt return for a score against Oklahoma. 

    The trouble with Johnson lies in his off-field actions, which will wear thin with the new coaching staff. Especially when a similar talent like Jacorey Warrick, who killed it in fall camp, is ready to step right into Johnson's role as an offensive weapon.

    For Johnson, it's get on board or get out this spring.

OG Curtis Riser

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    Texas Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach Joe Wickline
    Texas Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach Joe WicklineSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Starting guards Trey Hopkins and Mason Walters may be gone, but they left Texas with plenty of options at the position. Sophomore Curtis Riser could be one of the casualties of that depth.

    Barring a catastrophic meltdown or injury, Sedrick Flowers will be the starter at left guard. The fourth-year junior played in 12 games as a backup and started in the Alamo Bowl, putting him in position to dominate first-team reps this spring.

    With Dom Espinosa returning for one final year at center, that leaves just one spot on the interior of Texas' line. Riser is the only experienced candidate, but redshirt freshmen Darius James and Rami Hammad both have talent that guru Joe Wickline can easily put to good use.

    Even with his experience, Riser will have to put in serious work this spring to keep both of the upstart freshmen at bay.

K Nick Jordan

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    Texas K Nick Jordan
    Texas K Nick JordanSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Anthony Fera's All-American season made fans forget how bad the placekicking game was in 2012. And unless Nick Jordan has buckled down, next season could be gut-wrenching for him and the Longhorn faithful alike.

    It may not be the sexiest position battle, but Jordan and kickoff specialist Nick Rose are set to spend the whole offseason duking it out for placekicking duties. Now a junior, Jordan will try to put his dismal 9-of-15 freshman year in the rearview, while Rose will handle kickoffs no matter what.

    If Jordan fails, chances are he will never kick another field goal at any level. Turning in a strong spring will do wonders for his confidence, while a rough one basically spells the end for the high school All-American.

OT Desmond Harrison

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    Texas OT Desmond Harrison
    Texas OT Desmond HarrisonRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    After wasting a year on the Texas sideline, Desmond Harrison has one last collegiate season to prove he is an NFL-caliber talent. He has his work cut out for him.

    A JUCO transfer, Harrison arrived on the 40 Acres with eligibility issues and was never able to catch up with his teammates. Despite that, Mack Brown maintained that the 6'8", 318-pound Harrison had http://espn.go.com/blog/dallas/colleges/post/_/id/4687573/who-to-watch-in-spring-desmond-harrison (subscription required).

    Brown is gone, but Harrison certainly maintains the look of a massive NFL tackle. Though before he can even take that step, he has to figure out how to pass up either Kennedy Estelle or Kent Perkins on the depth chart. Even though Estelle has reportedly lost weight since he last played, both remain the projected starters for next season after strong finishes to 2013.

    As if Harrison needed more ground to make up, he has already missed one day of practice due to being "a little banged up." Unless he gets healthy and tears it up the rest of the way, he already has the look of a wasted big body.

QB Tyrone Swoopes

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    Texas QB Tyrone Swoopes
    Texas QB Tyrone SwoopesEric Gay/Associated Press

    Fair or unfair, Tyrone Swoopes has this one offseason to demonstrate the ability to quarterback the Longhorns. For him to have a future at the position, it is essential that he keeps pace with David Ash this spring.

    Now cleared to play, Ash returns as Texas' most polished and experienced passer. Meanwhile, Swoopes remains a model of raw upside at 6'4", 241 pounds with a howitzer for a right arm. Whether that will be enough for him to take the starting job away from Ash remains to be seen.

    Even then, this season is just the beginning of Swoopes' struggles toward the top of the depth chart. Jerrod Heard, the nation's No. 1 dual-threat, arrives on campus this summer and will attempt to take over no later than 2015. 

    That gives Swoopes this spring to get an edge on Heard and possibly earn the chance to start as a true sophomore. But if he can't make enough progress as a passer, he will be one step closer to a position change.