The unit failed to live up to its potential as the Longhorns ranked among the Big 12's worst offenses. But there are some reasons for optimism, from a more talented offensive line to added playmakers at running back, wide receiver and tight end. Here's an early look at Texas's projected starters for 2011.
QB: Garrett Gilbert
Other people may disagree with me, but I'm just not convinced that Gilbert was the problem last year. That thought was echoed by a former Big 12 assistant who saw Texas play last year. The Texas staff wanted to protect Gilbert's development by establishing more balance with the running game, a measure that failed by any metric a year ago. In fact, Gilbert became one of the Longhorns' best rushers as the year went on. Sure, he committed some turnovers, and missed some open receivers. But he was also let down by a receiver group that struggled to get open and dropped some potentially huge passes.
It's difficult to see a scenario — without injuries — where Brown, one of the country's top runners, wouldn't find his way into the Texas rotation. And once he gets there, Brown has the most apparent gifts, from vision to balance, power to deceptive speed. Still, Johnson won't give up that job without a fight. He finished the year on a strong note and should carry that into offseason conditioning.
FB: Ryan Roberson
The former linebacker emerged as the Longhorns' top fullback, and there isn't anyone on the roster necessarily capable of challenging him. Joe Bergeron should be a strong power/fullback after Roberson leaves, but for now, the job belongs to Roberson, who also showed some surprising running skills last year.
Davis had an outstanding true freshman season, setting the Texas freshman record for receptions despite missing time with an injury. Now, he'll go to being the offense's top overall target, a role his teammates feel that he'll be more than able to fill. Williams and White will rotate at the other outside spot. The staff will likely use Williams, an ace special-teamer, in a similar role in 2011, meaning that the Longhorns will need another outside receiver to step up and fill in. That guy will likely be White, an imposing figure who is outstanding on jump balls. And Shipley is the ideal slot receiver, an outstanding route-runner who can create space for himself and others. He figures to win the job over Marquise Goodwin, who will continue to spend his spring on the track and at the jump pits.
Do you want to bet against Irby? I sure don't. Irby sustained a catastrophic knee injury just three games into the 2008 season, one bad enough to keep Irby off the field for all of 2010 as well. But Irby was back to running at the end of the 2010 season and should try to strap on the pads for the first time in 2011. His presence will bolster a unit that struggled in 2010. Jones emerged toward the end of the season as a solid blocker and pass catcher. Barrett Matthews could also slide in here as a receiver, as could Ahmard Howard as a blocker.
Poehlmann was one of Texas's top tackle prospects at the beginning of the year, when he won a spot in the rotation as the Longhorns' No. 3 tackle. With his injury, Kelley emerged as the next No. 3, someone who even filled in for an injured Kyle Hix in starting a game. Kelley appears to be the most likely to fill in for the now-graduated Hix, while Poehlmann will battle Westerman — if he firms up his Texas commitment — at right tackle.
If there's a strong group on the offensive line, it's on the interior. Allen likely could have returned late in the season from a foot injury sustained before fall camp, but the coaches held him out to keep his eligibility in-tact for 2011. When healthy, he has excellent athleticism for his size. Walters and Hopkins filled in for injuries on the offensive line last year, making up a full year's stats between them.
C: David Snow
Snow was arguably Texas's top lineman last year, and he'll enter 2011 as the Longhorns' most experienced starter, bringing back 18 career starts. Snow said at the end of last year that he was excited for the 2011 offensive line group that would include Kelley, Walters and Hopkins with another year under their belts. Now, he'll get to enter the season as that group's leader.