Texas Football: Biggest Obstacles Each New Position Coach Faces in 2014

Taylor Gaspar@Taylor_GasparFeatured ColumnistJune 20, 2014

Texas coach Charlie Strong gives the
Michael Thomas/Associated Press

The Texas Longhorns will enter the 2014 season with a brand new face of the program and a revitalized group of assistant coaches. But the obstacles each coach will face cannot be overlooked.

Head coach Charlie Strong put together a solid group of assistants who have the goal of bringing pride back to Texas football. Unfortunately for Texas fans, the challenges that lie ahead may not be the easiest to overcome.



The first obstacle on more than likely every Texas fan's mind is the quarterback. The Longhorns have lacked effective quarterback play since Colt McCoy graduated in 2009. Four years have passed since the Longhorns had a solid option to lead the offense, and those woes could very likely continue in 2014.

Dave Martin/Associated Press

Quarterback coach Shawn Watson has three scholarship options to work with: junior David Ash, sophomore Tyrone Swoopes and true freshman Jerrod Heard. The talent among the quarterback trio is there, but the development needs to follow.

One of the best-case scenarios for the Longhorns is that Ash can stay healthy, and Swoopes can learn to develop behind Ash—giving true freshman Heard a redshirt season to adjust to the college game. And the obvious worst-case scenario is Ash cannot stay healthy and either Swoopes or Heard are forced to take over the starting role when either of them may not be ready for it.

It is rare for a true freshman to take over the starting role once they arrive on campus, but it isn't unheard of. In fact, a prime example that comes to mind is former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who Watson coached for his four seasons with the Cardinals.

Does that mean Texas fans should expect Heard to develop at the rate of Bridgewater? Probably not.

All eyes will be on Watson to make something work with the options he has. And this story angle will likely not die down until results are seen from the quarterback position.

Next on the list is the offensive line.

Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Wickline is widely regarded as one of the best O-Line coaches in college football, and he will have his work cut out for him in 2014.

The Longhorns are looking to replace one of the more veteran lines in college football from 2013. But the talent to replace the line may not currently be on the roster.

Aside from center Dominic Espinosa, Texas has a large group of inexperienced linemen. And the inexperience was extremely apparent in the spring game.

Wickline may be the best-of-the-best when it comes to coaching up the big guys, but he has a very limited amount of time to find four other linemen who will be able to protect whichever quarterback Watson puts on the field. 

Michael Thomas/Associated Press

The running back position is one of the more solid positions for the Longhorns in 2014. 

Between Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Johnathan Gray, running back coach Tommie Robinson inherited a loaded roster of backs.

The obstacle Robinson will face is not who's the best option but rather how to split the carries between the trio.

Brown and Gray carried the bulk of the load in 2013, but Gray's Achilles injury has left his status of returning to the field up in the air. If Gray returns to the team in time for the start of the season, Robinson will have to come up with the right solution to effectively distribute the carries among the backs.

Texas alum Les Koenning has a decent group of receivers, but the position remains a question mark as long as the quarterback position is not situated.

Putting the quarterback position aside, one of the bigger obstacles Koenning will face does not have to do with a lack of personnel but rather finding the best options to put on the field. Senior Jaxon Shipley has been one of the more consistent options for the previous three seasons while Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson picked up valuable playing time in 2013.

But Koenning has a decent group of receivers from last season's roster—in addition to the 2014 signing class—which included 4-star prospects Armanti Foreman and Lorenzo Joe.

Koenning will need to help develop Sanders and Johnson and find a solid group of backups to throw into the mix in 2014.



Garry Jones/Associated Press

Surprisingly, the Texas defense will enter the season with less concern than the offense, which hasn't been the case in recent history.

Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford hit the nail on the head when he explained the defense's biggest issues during spring practice:

The biggest surprise for me is the confidence to go out there and make a play. In the game of football on the defensive side, those who play it safe are going to miss the bus. If you have confidence, you're going to be aggressive, and you're going to win. You don't play it safe.

You don't go to lose, but go to win. We have to get that back here, and that comes with confidence, understanding how to play the game, knowing what your job is, trusting your teammates and going out there and doing that job. When we get to that point of going to win, not just to survive, we will be headed in the right direction.

One of the biggest concerns for the Texas defense over the previous two seasons was with the linebackers. First-year linebacker coach Brian Jean-Mary inherited a distinguished group of talent that has been plagued by injuries.

The three projected starters are likely Jordan Hicks, Steve Edmond and Peter Jinkens. But Hicks is still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered in the Longhorns fourth game of the 2013 season. Hicks was also sidelined for the majority of 2012 with a lingering hip injury.

Considering his injury-prone past makes it difficult to expect a full, healthy season from Hicks, Jean-Mary's biggest obstacle will be to find a decent group of backups who can take over for Hicks if he spends another season on the sidelines.

The remaining defensive position coaches appear to have fewer obstacles to overcome in their first season in Austin, but that does not mean problems couldn't surface.

Bedford and secondary coach Chris Vaughn have a decent amount of talent to work with, led by senior Quandre Diggs. Bedford commended Diggs' attitude during spring practice and said Texas needs other defensive backs to have Diggs' attitude. Diggs plays with a will to win while some of the remaining DBs play timid.

What Bedford and Vaughn have to do is teach the defensive backs to play the game with the confidence that can be seen from Diggs.

That leaves the defensive line.

Similar to Robinson, defensive line coach Chris Rumph has a solid group of linemen to help lead the defense in 2014. Rumph inherited projected top-round 2015 NFL draft pick Cedric Reed and veteran defensive tackles Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson. 

The biggest concern for Rumph will likely be who will play opposite of Reed, but on a scale from one to 10, that concern is probably a two compared to the rest of the issues on the team.

Rumph has options to work with and will add incoming freshman and former 4-star prospect Derick Roberson to the mix.

In other words, Rumph's concerns are far less than some of his fellow position coaches on defense.

It's very obvious that year one under Strong and his staff will not be a breeze. The Longhorns have lacked an identity and consistency for the last four seasons.

But with a new leader at the helm, Texas has the chance to build a new identity and bring pride back to Texas football—which is needed now more than ever.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.


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