Texas Football: Winners and Losers from Longhorns' Spring Practice so Far
Seven spring practices in, and the cream is beginning to rise to the top for the Texas Longhorns under Charlie Strong.
As expected, Texas' more physical players have stood out among the rest. During Tuesday's press conference, Strong cited defensive studs Cedric Reed, Quandre Diggs and Malcom Brown as some of most impressive players of the spring. And to give the offense some praise, he also expressed his admiration for running back Malcolm Brown and his physical running style.
Less predictable is Strong's endorsement of his skill players. Marcus Johnson continues to grow into a top-flight receiving option, while the new head coach continues to harp on Daje Johnson's potential to be a great player.
These guys are emerging as winners of the coaching and culture change. Unfortunately, a fan favorite is not having the same luck.
Winner: LB Steve Edmond
Looking to build on his breakout 2013 season, linebacker Steve Edmond has picked up right where he left off this spring.
An honorable mention for All-Big 12 honors, Edmond came into his own as a junior after a middling sophomore campaign. Though his season was cut short by a lacerated liver, Edmond emerged as the starting weakside linebacker thanks to improved tackling and refined coverage skills, according to The Daily Texan.
Proving that he was more than just a product of Greg Robinson's simplified system, Edmond has recovered to build upon that success this spring. Strong said his senior linebacker is "doing an outstanding job for us," indicating the 5-star recruit is living up to his potential.
Squash any misgivings you have about Edmond in 2014. He will be among the team's defensive leaders in his final season on campus.
Loser: QB Tyrone Swoopes
The good news for Texas is that, by all accounts, David Ash is healthy and grasping the new offense. On the flip side of that coin, Tyrone Swoopes' future gets cloudier the more the senior stands out.
"Both quarterbacks, they're getting better and the thing about David is, he's studying it. He's working at it and each practice he's gotten better and better," Strong said Tuesday.
The takeaway here is both passers are playing well, but it's clear Ash is the favorite to start this fall.
If that's the scenario that plays out, and Ash's concussion symptoms do not resurface, both Texas and Swoopes have major decisions to make. Top recruit Jerrod Heard arrives this summer, and former USC quarterback Max Wittek is still considered a Texas lean. Either way, Swoopes faces up to four years of backup duty if he can't overtake Ash or hold off Heard.
For a player as athletically gifted as Swoopes, wasting his gifts on the bench would be a mistake. Could a redshirt, position change or even a transfer be in his future? Those are all valid possibilities if he doesn't take over in 2014.
Winners: The Skill Players
For a defensive-minded coach, Strong has been surprisingly complimentary of his running backs, receivers and tight ends this spring.
In last week's press conference, Strong took note of receivers Kendall Sanders, Daje Johnson and Jacorey Warrick. He stayed on Johnson this go-round, hailing his talents despite the junior's struggles with drops and ball security.
"He is a guy where we need to get the ball in his hands because he's an exciting player," Strong said about his explosive offensive weapon.
Strong added similar comments about Marcus Johnson, who is a favorite to start on the outside. Not only did the junior wideout do this in Saturday's scrimmage, but he led the team with 15.9 yards per catch last season.
Not to be outdone after posting five 100-yard rushing games in 2013, Malcolm Brown has also won over his new head coach.
"I told our defense, at times they didn't want to tackle [Brown] because of the way he runs," said Strong about his senior tailback's punishing style. "When he hits, he's always falling forward."
The most interesting nod Strong made about the offense was the development of M.J. McFarland and Geoff Swaim, relaying the tight ends have each been making catches after combining for just three last season. Both are big targets that come in at over 6'5", 240 pounds, and any progress from them is a positive development for the offense.
Loser: OT Kent Perkins
Kent Perkins played in six games as a true freshman and was the odds-on favorite to be Texas' starting left tackle in 2014. That is, until he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery that will keep him out until fall camp.
A high-end 4-star recruit, the 6'5" Perkins entered spring weighing 325 pounds and ready to take command of the left tackle spot opposite Kennedy Estelle. Now, Estelle, a junior, and Desmond Harrison are the lone experienced tackles on the team.
On the bright side, Perkins' injury has given offensive coordinator Joe Wickline a chance to try 5-star lineman Darius James out at tackle. The redshirt freshman has experience playing the position, and has adjusted well thus far.
Ideally, Perkins can return to form by midseason. Until then, the platoon of Estelle, Harrison and James should be able to anchor the tackle positions.
Winners: The Redshirt Freshmen
The efforts of Rami Hammad, who has been getting first-team reps according to SB Nation's Wescott Eberts, and now James have been strong endorsements for this year's crop of second-year freshmen. But they are just two of several redshirts who are standing out.
Chief among this group is Antwuan Davis, whose name continues to come up at cornerback. Barring injury, he will be the team's third cornerback thanks to his quick-twitch athleticism.
New to the discussion are defensive back Chevoski Collins and linebacker Naashon Hughes. Collins is a 200-pound former quarterback with 4.5 speed, according to Rivals.com, making him an interesting prospect on the back end. Hughes, whose brother is offensive tackle Camrhon Hughes, is a long-armed linebacker with the frame to become a defensive end.
Keep an eye on all of these guys in the spring game, because a couple of them will be major contributors this season.