A team is only as good as its front line, a wave of experienced starters ready to supply leadership in the offseason and in the locker room, while providing the difference between winning and losing close games. But a program is only as strong as the next men up, the players who will be called upon after those front-line the year that those experienced players leave.
One-by-one, we'll take a look at each position on the Texas team, looking only at the sophomores, freshmen and committed recruits for the future. Up next, the wide receivers.
Wideout is a position that we'll know a lot more about after this season. Texas brings back Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley, but will lean heavily on sophomores like Cayleb Jones, Kendall Sanders and Daje Johnson, and potentially even on converted cornerback Duke Thomas.
Johnson is the most experienced of this group right now, getting a combined 46 rushing and receiving touches. And he knew what to do with them, rushing for 7.5 yards per attempt and averaging 15.1 yards per catch, while producing two plays of over 70 yards. He'll continue to get the ball in a variety of ways, though he could help his cause if he became a more polished receiver.
One of Jones and Sanders should assume the starting spot opposite Davis on the outside. Both have had their strong moments. Jones is a prototypical 6-foot-3 outside receiver who uses his body well and is tough on jump balls. Sanders is more of a speed threat. But it's unclear just how much time, if any, Jones will miss for an alleged assault committed against tennis player Joey Swaysland. Jones's charge was reduced this week from a felony to a misdemeanor. Additionally, Sanders was arrested for a DUI earlier this month, and it's unsure whether he'll miss any time.
Thomas is an interesting option in the slot because of his quickness and raw speed. He only spent a couple days at receiver in the spring, but showed enough ability to merit a longer look in the fall. Given that Texas is deeper at cornerback, don't be surprised if Thomas sticks with his new role on offense. He played quarterback in high school and rushed for 1,138 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior. Also, keep an eye on Marcus Johnson, a hard-working sophomore who was working just behind Jones and Sanders in the spring.
After that, there's Texas's excellent crop of incoming freshmen, led by one of the state's most prolific receivers in Jake Oliver. Oliver is an ideal possession receiver, 6-4 with a big body and polished route-running. And he used that combination to rack up 308 catches, 4,567 yards and 56 touchdowns, including at least 85 catches, 1,302 yards and 13 touchdowns in each of the past three years.
Montrel Meander was a bit of an under-the-radar guy because he didn't get a ton of touches for Amarillo Palo Duro, but in terms of size/speed, he's elite. Meander is a long 6-3, and he has clocked sub-10.8 seconds in the 100-meter dash this spring. Jacorey Warrick is also somewhat overlooked, if only because he missed his senior year with injury. But when healthy, Warrick is the kind of space player that defenses hate to face, somebody who can turn a short pass into a big gain.
And the Longhorns are already off to a strong start in 2014, landing Abilene Cooper's Lorenzo Joe and Sharpstown's Roderick Bernard. Joe measured at almost 6-3 at a recent Nike camp, then went out and earned the wide receiver MVP award. Bernard isn't as shifty as Warrick is, but is faster in a straight line and could provide serious competition in the slot. The Longhorns are still looking to add another outside receiver to the mix, somebody who would work well opposite Joe.
Grade — B+
Like quarterback, receiver is short on proven talent. But also like quarterback, there's a heap of talented young depth. Receivers coach Darrell Wyatt has done a great job of building this group. There are some potential stars among the talented sophomore quintet, while guys like Meander, Warrick and Bernard will seriously upgrade the unit's overall speed, with Oliver and Joe providing polished outside receivers with soft hands and nice size. Is there an elite player in the group? That remains to be seen, though this grade could be helped even more if Texas could somehow lure somebody like Mount Pleasant's Kd Cannon.