The Texas Longhorns' depth at wide receiver took a big hit when senior Jaxon Shipley injured his hamstring during the first day of fall camp.
The Longhorns are already thin on experience at the wide receiver position, so Shipley's injury could not have come at a worse time. It happened shortly after head coach Charlie Strong dismissed wide receivers Montrel Meander and Kendall Sanders due to a pending legal investigation of alleged sexual assault.
With Shipley on the sideline, wide receiver coach Les Koenning is left with three wideouts with game-time experience and a group of very green freshmen and sophomores. But it doesn't seem like Koenning is too concerned with the way the depth chart looks at this point.
"I think we have good players there," Koenning said. "I think it's a matter of us putting it together. If you've got younger players, you have a tendency of being a little more simple. With older players, you can be a little bit more versatile and move them around a little bit. We have a great blend there with (Jaxon) Shipley, Marcus (Johnson), John (Harris) and the young freshmen coming up.
|Potential Starting Wide Receivers|
Let's start with the experienced players besides Shipley.
Junior Marcus Johnson, junior Daje Johnson and senior John Harris all have game-time experience.
Harris has some experience playing wide receiver and some at tight end, but his overall playing time has not been what the former 4-star recruit expected as a Longhorn. The fifth-year senior holds a career total of nine receptions for 190 yards and three touchdowns.
Marcus Johnson is probably the most consistent of the group. He saw limited playing time during his true freshman season but proved to be a reliable option in 2013, bringing in 22 catches for 350 yards and two touchdowns.
Daje Johnson has shown the ability to be a difference-maker on the field but has had some off-the-field issues that have limited his talent and playing time. He will be suspended for at least the season opener against North Texas due to violating one of Strong's five core values, which are honesty, treating women with respect, no weapons, no drugs and no stealing.
But when Johnson has stayed out of trouble, he has proven to be one of the most explosive players in the Big 12.
"We're playing him at the inside receiver and the outside receiver, and he's really made a big difference," Koenning said of Johnson. "He's always been the type of guy who would move from the inside slot to tailback. Now we have the ability to play him in the outside lane as an outside receiver. We've been direct with Daje. We have told him what we want and what we expect, and if he cannot do it, we will find somebody else."
The question that follows him is whether he can get his act together and stay out of Strong's doghouse.
"We've told him, 'Daje, look, this is how it is, and if you don't like it, there's a lot of people out there who would," Koenning said. "He has (understood it) so far, but I cannot make any promises for later on.
"The thing about the receiver position is we have enough numbers there. We have kids who can step in and play because of the five we signed as freshmen. If those young kids play good enough, they will play in games. And with skill positions, you have a chance to get on the field a little bit earlier."
Some of the young players who are standing out are sophomore Jacorey Warrick and true freshmen Roderick Bernard, Armanti Foreman, Garrett Gray and Lorenzo Joe.
|Freshmen Wide Receivers|
Warrick saw playing time in four games last season but did not pick up any receptions. But he began to make a name for himself during spring practice. Strong mentioned him as a young player who started to shine this spring and has continued to speak highly of him during fall camp.
"Jacorey Warrick has done a really good job now," Strong said. "He has been working really hard at the wide receiver position."
The true freshmen only have a handful of practice minutes under their belts but have been mentioned by name as players with potential to see the field this season.
"Lorenzo Joe, Dorian Leonard, Garrett Gray, Roderick Bernard and Armanti Foreman are all of those guys who are doing really good. All of them have done a really good job," Koenning said of the young wide receivers. "Right now we are going through the learning phase with them. Some of them are picking it up a little faster than others, but it's going really good."
It is still early in fall camp, but hearing positive notes about the true freshmen should be music to Longhorns fans' ears. The wide receiver position has not been a huge part of the game plan in recent years, mainly because of the lack of consistent quarterback play.
But as long as quarterback David Ash can stay healthy, the wide receiver role will likely expand in 2014.
All quotes were obtained firsthand.
Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow her on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.