Texas Football: 5 Stars Who Will Break out in 2014
Fall camp is just about in the books, and the season starts Saturday for the Texas Longhorns, who are counting on big breakouts from their offseason stars.
With David Ash back at quarterback and both running backs healthy, all three are set to have their biggest seasons yet. On the other side of the ball, defensive end Cedric Reed and cornerback Quandre Diggs should thrive under the new system.
These players have done it before at this level, so calling them breakout candidates just undersells what they have done in the past. They have proven they are stars.
What the Horns need is some members of their supporting cast to come out and prove themselves as well. Based on opportunity and talent, these five Longhorns are the favorites to do just that.
WR Marcus Johnson
After emerging as a big-play threat as a sophomore, receiver Marcus Johnson is a no-brainer breakout candidate for 2014.
Johnson had a thrilling mini-breakout last season, catching 12 balls for 293 yards and two long touchdowns between the Kansas State and Kansas games. The five-game tear showed off Johnson's deadly straight-line speed, as well as the sticky fingers to finish those plays.
Now that Mike Davis has graduated and Ash is back running the offense, Johnson's ready to become more of an every-down threat. More than just a burner, he has the footwork to get open anywhere on the field and has impressed the coaches with his overall understanding of the position, as offensive coordinator Shawn Watson stated on Tuesday.
Marcus knows all of our positions. He's such a brilliant football mind. He gets football easy. He has an explosive speed that you can't coach and he's got the hands to go along with it. He's an easy guy for me. I gravitate to him and I want to target to him all over the place. He's had an outstanding camp. He hasn't missed a beat and we've asked him to know everything. We always try to cross-train one of our guys to know all the positions because we're a conceptually based offense. We plug in a lot and he's been able to do it. Not only does he have a great skillset, but he's got a brilliant football mind.
Now that the offense is focused on getting him the ball, he will cruise past the 750-yard mark as a junior.
DT Malcom Brown
Coming off of a 68-tackle season, one could argue that Malcom Brown has already arrived as a star at defensive tackle. He's just waiting for everybody else to catch on.
Brown's reputation, or lack thereof, is another casualty of Texas' talent at defensive end. Sack mavens Alex Okafor, Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed have all grabbed headlines with their volume of quarterback takedowns, leaving little space to talk about the gifted tackle playing next to them.
Even at his own position, the junior was overlooked in 2013 because of Chris Whaley's touchdowns against Oklahoma and Kansas. Plays like that, especially from a guy playing tackle, tend to generate more hype than every-down steadiness.
And the fact is that while Brown never put points on the board, he was one of Texas' best players in every other facet of his game. In his first season as a starter, he led all Texas linemen with five pass deflections, finished third on the team with six quarterback hurries and was also third-best with 12 tackles for loss.
The consensus 5-star recruit deserves way more respect than he's gotten, and he will earn it with a dominant 2014 campaign.
OL Kent Perkins
He was a big-time recruit, the coaches have raved about him all camp, and he's even established himself as the strongest guy on the team. In short, Kent Perkins is about to become the face of Texas' new-look offensive line.
Recruited as a 4-star tackle, Perkins is locked in as the first-team guard after bulking up to 330 pounds. Joe Wickline stated earlier this month that he sees Perkins as a "guard by body" at that size, but added that he believes in the sophomore's ability to play anywhere up front:
He can play both. He's interchangeable and he has flexibility. I believe he can play on the left and guard, right tackle, left tackle. I really believe this. I think his key is he just needs to learn the offense and learn the fundamentals.
Perkins' ability to maul his opponents will make everyone forget the fact that this line is replacing three starters from last year's group.
DT Hassan Ridgeway
He's still waiting on a starting gig, but Hassan Ridgeway's physical talent and improvement throughout camp keep him squarely on the list of potential breakout stars.
Ridgeway is so close to stardom, it's almost hard to watch. At 307 pounds of muscle, he's an unwieldy bazooka of disruptive talent that the coaches still don't quite know how to aim. Once they figure it out, they're going to have a field day with him.
Fortunately, the Horns don't need Ridgeway to start quite yet with Brown and Desmond Jackson in place. That gives time for the "light to come on," as Vance Bedford told HornsDigest's William Wilkerson. That day is coming, and it will be something to behold when it does.
WR Jacorey Warrick
Though Marcus Johnson and Jaxon Shipley project to dominate the targets, there are still a lot of passes to go around in Watson's offense. Out of the slot, Jacorey Warrick should be the third option because of his speed and lateral agility.
A lot of receivers have played well in camp, so expect a logjam behind the lead dogs Johnson and Shipley. Senior John Harris has been the "biggest performer of our whole entire training camp," according to Watson, while freshmen Lorenzo Joe and Armanti Foreman have made their case for early playing time. It's also too early to write off Daje Johnson.
Still, Warrick fits the mold for what the coaches want from this offense, which is a guy who can turn a short screen or hitch into a big play. Though he struggled early in camp with a case of the dropsies, Watson has liked what Warrick has shown in that department of late:
[Warrick]'s got great speed. He's one of those slashers who can find open seams, places in defenses both in zone coverage and he can separate and win in man coverage. His hands have been really good. He's been really good. He started off a little shaky in training camp. A lot of that, I think he was thrust into the starting job. It was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is a new territory for me. Now I've got to know all of this right now.' Once he got comfortable a little, he's been stellar for us.
If that's any indication for where he is as we close camp, Warrick has the slot locked up. At 6'3", Harris is better suited for the outside, making Foreman and Daje Johnson the top competition here. The latter will be suspended for at least one game, though Foreman will push all season.
All told, Warrick should be the third guy on Saturday. As long as that holds true, he's going to make a big impact by both moving the chains and breaking off big plays.
Others to Watch
OT Desmond Harrison: Has a home at right tackle once he comes back from his suspension. He has professional-level physicality as long as he keeps his head on straight. Whether that happens is up to him.
S Jason Hall: Still locked in a battle with Dylan Haines to be the other starting safety. He's the safe bet to win that competition, but his aggression will lead to some errors just as it will allow him to make big plays. A year from now, he will be the leader of this secondary.
DE Shiro Davis: Will see one-on-one matchups almost exclusively as the starter opposite Cedric Reed. Remember that Reed's dominant 2013 campaign came almost out of nowhere too.
TE Geoff Swaim/M.J. McFarland: These are the two tight ends on the roster, and we know Watson wants them involved. A committee approach is in the works, but the better receiver will lead the snaps. Watson praised both in this week's presser, making this a developing storyline.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats and information courtesy of TexasSports.com.