As spring practice approaches on the Forty Acres there are an abundance of new faces, any of whom could quickly make an impact for the 2011 version of Texas Longhorns football.
Mack Brown's team will be looking to come back from one of the most disappointing season's in school history, finishing 5-7 and missing a bowl game for the first time since 2002.
Any team looking to bounce back from a poor performance in a prior season, needs a few unheralded and unexpected guys to step up and contribute beyond expectations.
These guys are usually known as the "X-Factor", the hard to predict talent that steps up their game and rises to the occasion of big-time college football competition.
X-factor guys aren't just on offense.
Sure, a wide receiver or running back who emerges from the pack can make a huge difference for a team looking to make a statement, but so can a linebacker or cornerback with a knack of being in the right place at the right time, over and over again.
Let's take a look at a few guys that could emerge as the Longhorns' x-factor for 2011:
Yes, Blaine Irby.
Some of you may or may not recognize this name, but serious Longhorn fans know just who I'm speaking of.
The 6'3", 237 pound senior tight end from Camarillo, California has barely seen the field for Texas during his time on the Forty Acres due to multiple knee injuries, but has finally been cleared medically to compete in the upcoming spring practice sessions and the 2011 season.
Irby is the pass catching tight end that Texas desperately needs to open up the offense and take pressure off of their young, but improving receivers.
Texas has become accustomed to having great pass-catching tight ends previously with NFL guys like David Thomas, Bo Scaife and Jermichael Finley playing for Mack Brown over the years.
If Blaine Irby can manage to stay healthy, and assuming he has maintained his great athleticism even after so many injuries, he could be a gigantic factor on offense and give Garrett Gilbert a dependable target to find when the pressure gets amped up by opposing defenses.
One of the most decorated high school running backs in the history of the state of Texas, Cayuga native Traylon Shead has yet to see much action for the Longhorns.
With his extreme athletic ability and elusiveness, its hard to believe that this will remain true in 2011.
I couldn't even begin to list the awards that Shead won during high school or you would be reading for the rest of the day.
Just know he was named to just about every all-star and all-state team of note throughout his time at the 1A East Texas powerhouse.
Shead came within a few yards of breaking the state's all-time high school rushing record set in the 1950s by the legendary Kenneth Hall, also known as the "Sugarland Express".
Look for Traylon Shead to be used by Mack Brown this season, somehow. Maybe as a kick returner or gunner on special teams. He's just too talented and athletic to waste away on the sideline.
Shead could easily become the Texas X-factor in 2011.
One of the top recruits in the 2010 Texas Longhorns class, Tevin Jackson ran into academic issues which prevented him from being able to compete during the 2010 campaign.
Now that Jackson is eligible, look for him to arrive at spring practice with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.
The major question about Jackson is whether he has been able to maintain Division I level conditioning while working out on his own and not under the banner of the Texas football program.
Early returns say yes, and if so, Jackson could immediately contribute on special teams (especially kick coverage) and could possibly play a little linebacker by mid-season if things really go well.
Either way, Tevin Jackson's a gamer who will make an impact if given an opportunity.
One of the nation's most highly recruited defensive players during 2010, Columbus, Ohio native Jordan Hicks has all of the tools to be a dominating defensive presence at Texas.
Last season, Hicks played sparingly. This was primarily due to his lack of ability to understand the complex Longhorns defensive scheme.
As Hicks gains a better understanding of Manny Diaz's defense he could quickly ascend among the ranks of the teams linebacking unit, right along with Tevin Jackson.
If Hicks can show the explosive tackling ability and run-stopping prowess which made him one of the country's best high school players a few years back, the Longhorns could have another star on their hands.
Who will emerge as the Texas Longhorns' X-factor for 2011?
It will depend largely on opportunity and how each of the guys mentioned fits into new schemes brought to campus by Manny Diaz and Bryan Harsin.
Either way, one of the four will make an impact during 2011.
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