Receiver Mike Davis, defensive tackle Kheeston Randall, linebacker Keenan Robinson and kicker Justin Tucker all earned mention this week for positional awards, while Randall and Robinson are also on the preseason watch lists for the Nagurski Trophy, which goes to college football's best defensive player.
What does any of that mean? Well, for one thing, it means that the general perception is that the talent well hasn't gone dry in Austin. For another, it indicates that Texas is considered to have playmakers at several key positions, ones that could help to decide the fate of this season's team.
A coach once told me that football defenses were the same as baseball defenses: if you're strong up the middle, generally, you're going to have a top defensive unit. And with Randall serving as the league's top playmaking tackle — he was among the league's leaders in tackles for loss for most of the 2010 season — and players like Robinson and the somehow not named Emmanuel Acho at linebacker, it's not unreasonable to expect Texas to close up gaps that tortured the Longhorns with long running plays a year ago.
And certainly, Davis emerging as one of the country's top wide receivers would benefit a young receiving group that hopes to make gains from last year's struggles. Tucker could also add stability to a special teams unit that had a rough season as a group a year ago.
But perhaps it's more telling what's left unsaid: that Texas, the school of Earl Campbell, Ricky Williams and Jamaal Charles, lacks a running back worthy of mention. Or that the Longhorns, which had award-winners in each of its last two starting quarterbacks in Vince Young and Colt McCoy, are still fighting to find a signal caller worthy of a place at the gifted table. And finally, Texas doesn't have a single player mentioned in line for the Thorpe Award, one that seems to pick a token Texas defensive back every year.
In fact, the last of those position groups could be the toughest to fill. Gone are the top three cornerbacks from a year ago, and into their place step talented, but unproven, young players like Adrian Phillips and Carrington Byndom. Those cornerbacks struggled at times to contain Case McCoy and the second-team offense in the spring game, and while their future remains bright, this year could signify some growing pains.
At both running back and quarterback, the situation figures to improve. Both positions bring back veterans who started a year ago, while adding a boost of young talent that could see the field as early as this year. At quarterback, Garrett Gilbert returns as the starter, but his hold on the position, if he still has one, is tenuous at best. And breathing down his neck will be true freshman David Ash, who caught the coaches' attention with a strong spring.
Running back is stronger. Back is Cody Johnson, who ran for over 100 yards in each of the last two games, and who figures to play a dual single back/fullback role this fall. Fozzy Whittaker, the lightning to Johnson's thunder, also returns. And sprinkled in is Malcolm Brown, arguably the country's top incoming running back, a player who has drawn comparisons to former Longhorn great Cedric Benson. And that doesn't count Joe Bergeron, a physical and versatile back who could also factor in early.
Don't expect any of the young trio of Ash, Brown and Bergeron to compete for national awards this season. It's often too difficult for a player to come from off the radar to make a play for postseason awards. But the presence and talent of each indicates that Texas could be in-line for more award mention in the future.