Five To Watch

With Thursday marking the final scrimmage of the Longhorn offseason, and the final test before the depth chart is finalized, here are five players who have important roles to play.

1) Garrett Gilbert

If there's been any great news coming from the past week or so of practices, it's that Gilbert appears to be developing into the quarterback the staff thought he could be. With the running game starting to become effective, Gilbert has had some of the pressure taken off, and he's responded well, showing poise in the pocket, the ability to move around while keeping his eyes downfield, and has even made a few nice throws in the red zone leading to scores, a weakness in Gilbert's game a year ago. With Thursday's scrimmage marking the last game situation until the Rice game, it behooves Gilbert to continue his development and snatch the starting role.

2) Joe Bergeron

Bergeron has been one of the pleasant surprises of camp, a physical runner who has blended well with the elusiveness and darting style of incumbent starter Fozzy Whittaker. With Malcolm Brown healthy and performing better by the day, a strong scrimmage would do well to set Bergeron up for carries this season. Co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Major Applewhite has said that he wants to have three running backs to employ on normal downs, a short-yardage back and a third-down/"loose-plays" back. Bergeron already has a chance at the short-yardage back spot, and his performance in the scrimmage could dictate whether he's one of the three backs to receive carries as an every-down back.

3) Calvin Howell

The Longhorn defense has struggled to stop the run at times this fall, and while defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has said that's largely a product of the second-team defense, the reality is that the first team could also get better in that area. That's where Howell comes in. As the most likely candidate to start next to All-America candidate Kheeston Randall, Howell has a key role to play. Every other projected starter on the defensive line is considered at least an All-Big 12 candidate, meaning that Howell is the one who will decide just how dominant this line can be. He doesn't need to be able to get to the quarterback. He just needs to be somebody who's stout against the run, and who helps to keep offensive linemen off a group of linebackers who excel in pursuit, but not as much at sifting through the trash on run plays.

4) D.J. Grant

Tight end is such a huge position in Bryan Harsin's offense because of the way they move around, supply blocking at the point of attack and are utilized to attack the defense down the seams in the passing game. And so it stands to reason that Grant, arguably the front-runner in the tight end race (though the Longhorns will play as many as three at a time and would like to find at least four capable ones), is one of the most important players on roster. When he's right, he's basically a big receiver with the ability to test a secondary, a valuable skill in this offense. And his blocking has also improved. A strong scrimmage would give the staff confidence that they have at least one tight end capable of filling the multiple roles needed from the position.

5) Tray Allen

Allen has been a revelation this fall camp, showing his versatility by moving out to left tackle. He could still use some work on his pass protection, though he's about as good as it gets as a run blocker from that spot. Allen has done a great job of mauling in the running game — as Jackson Jeffcoat said a few days ago, when he locks onto you, you're done. But he needs to show that he can protect the quarterback at a high level with a schedule that has the Longhorns facing several good defensive ends. If Allen can ensure that Gilbert's jersey stays clean this year, it will go a long way toward building his confidence and, in-turn, the offense's effectiveness.

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