Texas Football: 7 Longhorns Who Should See Their Roles Expanded in 2014
Charlie Strong's task list for his debut season is more extensive than just changing the culture of a slumping program. More immediately, he has to find guys that are ready to excel and grow within new roles before the beginning of the season.
Forced to replace nine starters, Texas' new coach has his work cut out for him in this department. All-American Jackson Jeffcoat stands out from the crowd, but three offensive linemen and two key defensive backs have quietly left glaring holes in key spots.
By the time spring is over, Strong has to have a general idea of who is ready for an expanded role and get them ready to take over by the fall.
This group of guys should be atop his list.
DE Shiro Davis
Beyond a doubt, defensive end Shiro Davis will see starter's snaps in 2014. What he does with those snaps will determine much of Texas' success up front.
Getting after the quarterback will be the highest priority for the Longhorn defense this season. The secondary lacks experienced playmakers, meaning any Big 12 passer that gets time will gash the 'Horns for big numbers.
Preventing that starts with stalwart Cedric Reed, who returns from his 10-sack junior season as a 271-pound force off the edge. But he can't do it by himself, needing the assistance of a fellow pass-rusher to prevent teams from group-hugging him on every snap.
Drawing attention from Reed will fall to the junior Davis, who has already caught Charlie Strong's eye. Much like Reed benefitted from playing opposite Jackson Jeffcoat in 2013, Davis stands to see a ton of one-on-one matchups next season. If he can capitalize, this tandem will pick up right where last year's left off.
WR Marcus Johnson
Mike Davis is off to the NFL, leaving a hole at Texas' outside receiver spot. After a breakout sophomore season, Marcus Johnson projects to fill that void.
Johnson failed to reel in a pass in eight games as a freshman, entering last season as an afterthought. Then he began to break loose against Kansas State and became one of the team's top big-play threats, finishing with a position-best 15.9 yards per reception.
The 6'1" wideout has reliable hands, runs precise routes and has big-play speed. With some consistency under center, he and fellow junior Kendall Sanders will both produce at a much more consistent level, and Johnson should be a favorite to lead the team in receiving yardage.
OG Rami Hammad
Every Longhorn offensive lineman not named Dom Espinosa will see his role expanded in 2014. Rami Hammad's increase in playing time will just be the most drastic.
Battle-tested tackles Kennedy Estelle and Kent Perkins, who is dealing with a knee injury, will man the outside positions. After seeing action in all 13 games, Sedrick Flowers is a lock to man the left guard position vacated by Trey Hopkins.
That leaves the other guard spot that Mason Walters filled for four years, and a favorite has already emerged. Hammad, the lowest-rated high school commit of Texas' 2013 offensive line haul, has been working as the first-team right guard.
At 6'5" and 320 pounds, Hammad has the size and the work ethic to not only start as a redshirt freshman, but to man an interior position for the next four years.
CB Antwuan Davis
After failing to land an impact corner in their 2014 recruiting class, the Longhorns are dangerously thin on the outside. That translates to a significant role for redshirt freshman Antwuan Davis.
The fact that Davis, along with sophomore Bryson Echols, has made an early impression on the new coaching staff should be of little surprise. The Bastrop product is fast, strong and plays with a physicality that is right up Strong's alley.
Given those traits, Davis has the edge over Echols to be the third corner. If his physicality has carried over to the collegiate level, you're looking at the team's nickel corner for 2014.
LB Deoundrei Davis
Big 12 linebackers have to possess the speed to cover in space while maintaining the typical size and ability to make tackles in space. Redshirt freshman Deoundrei Davis is a solid example of this blueprint.
Despite being connected to the Leroy Scott and Chet Moss dismissals, Davis has been able to rebound and impress thus far in spring ball. A 6'3", 228-pound outside linebacker, he has the ability to play in space and is the type of hitter Texas needs in its back seven.
Because of injury, the 'Horns have plenty of experienced depth at linebacker. That will limit how much Davis can contribute, but he is too talented to be held out of the two-deep. As the season progresses, so will his role on the team.
SS Adrian Colbert
The Longhorns have a dearth of versatility at safety. Most are too light to even play cornerback and experience is an issue for the guys that bring any size.
Someone from the latter variety is going to have to play strong safety, and Adrian Colbert is the most likely candidate. On his third year in the program, the redshirt sophomore boasts the best size-speed combination of any Texas safety, propelling 202 pounds around the field with track speed.
If he doesn't pan out, this position is in danger of becoming a revolving door of inexperience and guys too small to finish tackles in the box.
TE Geoff Swaim/Greg Daniels/M.J. McFarland
Pick a number between one and three. That's the amount of clarity we have regarding Texas' tight ends.
Inconsistency and indecision are hardly novel concepts at this position. But Strong told reporters on Tuesday, "[The tight ends] need to get better because they're going to catch a lot of balls, and they are going to be really heavily involved."
Those are big expectations for a position that caught just six passes for 42 yards last season. That said, Strong means business after his top two tight ends combined for 662 yards on 42 receptions last season, and it's just a matter of who emerges.
Geoff Swaim started nine games last season because of his blocking prowess, but caught a case of the drops in the Alamo Bowl. Greg Daniels is another option, but has just eight catches for his career. That leaves an unknown in JUCO transfer Blake Whiteley and junior M.J. McFarland, who has never been able to turn talent into production.
One of these guys is going to step into a major role. Determining who will be an ongoing process.