The Texas Longhorns came out of fall camp about as lucky on the injury front as could be expected. Only one projected player on the entire two-deep — kicker Anthony Fera, a Penn State transfer — suffered a significant injury. That luck also held up over the next two games, with the Longhorns entering Ole Miss with most of their strength intact.
And now, even after a bye week, all three are questionable for the Longhorns' conference opener at Oklahoma State.
"Basically, none of the three have really practiced," Texas coach Mack Brown said Monday.
Brown said that each player would be evaluated through Tuesday and Wednesday before making a decision. But here, we'll break down each player's situation.
Out of the three players, Bergeron might have the best chance to go. That isn't a statement about his health as much as it was the comments surrounding Hicks, and the travel squad situation with Fera (more on this in a bit).
At the same time, Bergeron's injury would be the most easily absorbed if he can't go. Malcolm Brown is a proven top-of-the-line running back, and Bergeron's absence would theoretically push him into the 25-30 carry range, as opposed to splitting 30-35 carries with Bergeron. And Johnathan Gray might be ready for a couple more non-fourth-quarter touches, or if not, maybe a couple extra carries for Daje Johnson or D.J. Monroe. The point is that the Longhorns can get by without Bergeron. They have the depth to do so.
Because of that depth, if you aren't sure, there isn't really a need to push him along. If he's healthy and ready to go, great. If not, save him a week or two.
Almost to a man, players talked Monday about Hicks like he was already gone and out for the week.
If he is out, what does that mean for the linebacking corps? Right now, Brown said there were the three proven starting linebackers … and then a group. Within that group, the players are somewhat interchangeable, and Texas could wind up playing all three primary backups: Kendall Thompson, Tevin Jackson and Dalton Santos.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said several of those players can play multiple positions, which helps. Thompson can play any one of the three spots, while starter Demarco Cobbs shifted over to WILL (Hicks's spot) some against Ole Miss and played well. And with Texas likely to face a high number of snaps against Oklahoma State's high-pace, high-octane attack, Diaz said the second tier of players would have played anyway, in that Texas didn't have a single defensive player it wanted to play for 85-95 snaps.
Brown quipped Monday that he only saw Fera kick once, a one-time swing of the leg at practice that resulted in Fera's pulled groin. Since then, it's largely been a guessing game with the kicker, and that game continues on, according to Brown.
"We were told Fera would be four-to-six weeks," Brown said. "I think we're at six weeks here. And there's still some question marks."
The interesting thing is that, because the swinging of the leg is different, Fera can punt, but hasn't been able to kick. Of course, the former duty isn't needed, thanks to the boffo performance from Alex King. And the one time Fera went out to kick, he was sore the next day. So this one's simple: Fera will try to kick on Tuesday. If he's sort on Wednesday, he's out.
OK, so it's not that simple, and here's why: even if Fera isn't sore, or has a level of soreness that's tolerable, Texas has to decide whether it would take Fera on the road. And with a 70-man travel limit, could the Longhorns really afford to tie up four spots on kickers and punters — Fera, King, kicker Nick Jordan and kickoff man Nick Rose? That's where the complexity lies. And Brown said that even if Fera is good-to-go, he hadn't decided how he would like the Jordan-Fera competition play out, whether the two would have a kickoff or how the position would be decided.
In other words, stay tuned.