Coming off a championship season the obvious question in Austin this spring was who will replace Vince Young as quarterback at Texas. Young meant more to his team than any other player in college football last season. Beyond his 4,086 total yards and 38 touchdowns, Young provided the leadership and confidence in his teammates which inspired the Horns to believe they would win every week.
Two candidates, who have never taken a snap in a college game, emerged this spring as the heirs to Young. True freshman Jevan Snead enrolled in school early in order to participate in spring practice. He split snaps with redshirt freshman Colt McCoy. Horns coach, Mack Brown, has indicated that McCoy and Snead will continue to compete for the job into fall camp and that he may rotate his quarterbacks at the beginning of the season a la Major Applewhite and Chris Simms.
Fortunately whoever winds up under center will have plenty of talent around him. The Horns return running backs Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young. While the strong play of Young following two injury filled seasons has Horn fans smiling, Ramonce Taylor was absent from the spring game due to academic concerns.
When Snead or McCoy dropped back to pass, they found an experienced, talented receiving corps including emerging junior Jordan Shipley, who looks poised to fulfill his promise as a top recruit following two years of injuries. At tight end, Jermichael Finley took over for David Thomas and adds more speed to the position. The offensive line returns All-American, Justin Blalock, as well as two other starters and looks formidable again this year. Tony Hillis earned the left tackle spot but there are still questions at right guard.
On the defensive side, the Horns have plenty of talent but must replace experienced players at key positions. Gone are defensive linemen Rod Wright, Larry Dibbles, middle linebacker, Aaron Harris, and defensive backs, Michael Huff and Cedric Griffin. Leading tackler Michael Griffin returns to the secondary, along with twin brother Marcus, who emerged as the leading candidate to start at strong safety this Spring. Aaron Ross and Tarell Brown return at the corner spots. At linebacker, not only did the move of Rashad Babino to the middle put Babino in his natural position, but it created an opportunity for Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik to get super freshman Sergio Kindle on the field. Longhorn fans expect Kindle to have the same impact that Derrick Johnson had as a freshman.
The Horns have the depth to overcome the loss of both starting defensive tackles. Frank Okam mans one spot, and former U.S. Army All-American Roy Miller and Derek Lokey also impressed this spring. At defensive end, the Horns return leading sack man, Brian Robison, Tim Crowder, and Brian Orakpo, who had Longhorn fans raving this spring. With the logjam of talent at running back, Coach Brown tried 6-foot-3, 270-pound sophomore running back Henry Melton at defensive end. He impressed the Horns coaches with his quickness and will compete with star freshman Eddie Jones for time as a pass rusher this fall.
Despite the questions on the field, there is no doubt what the top recruiting story of the spring has been. No coach is off to a hotter start than Mack Brown. The Horns have virtually hand picked the top players from talent rich Texas. Among the 19 early commitments are Scout.com five-star defensive tackle Andre Jones, athlete John Chiles, quarterback John Brantley, and offensive tackle Tray Allen, who could be the top blocker in the nation. The Horns have also extended offers to Scout.com five-star OLB Richetti Jones and RB Lennon Creer, and are expecting word from each by early June. With much of their class in place, Brown and company will have the rest of the year to focus on a small number of elite out of state prospects to round out their class and continue there recruiting of the top junior and sophomore talent.
There is plenty of talent in Austin, but if history is any indicator, Texas has experienced problems when Coach Brown employed a dual quarterback system. Whoever is under center will be tested early when Ohio State comes to Austin on September 9. The schedule does not get any easier with traditional rivals Oklahoma and Texas A&M, and dangerous road games at Texas Tech and Nebraska. The Horns will certainly have their work cut out for them if they are to repeat in 2006.