Five 'Horns Playing Better Than Expected

These five players weren't starters coming out of last season, but after a strong start to fall practice, all five should figure prominently into the Longhorns' plans this season, and, for four of the five players listed below, beyond.

1) Geoff Swaim

Read any scouting report on Swaim coming out of JUCO, and he sounds like a one-trick pony. 'Will Block For Food' was probably a sign taped around his neck at that level. Even his own coach, when I asked him about whether Swaim would factor in in the passing game, kind of gave an "I guess, but that's not his real talent" kind of answer. But not only has Swaim blocked as expected in early fall camp, but he's also shown some skills as a guy who can flex out away from the line. And so far, that has put him a bit ahead of M.J. McFarland in the tight end pecking order. Here's what Texas coach Mack Brown had to say about Swaim:

"Geoff Swaim is athletic. He weighs about 256, he's about 6-foot-4 and a half, 6-foot-5," Brown said. "He can run and catch. We're excited about what we've seen from Geoff and feel like he can be a good player for us moving forward."

2) Reggie Wilson

The former five-star talent at defensive end has seemingly had a lightbulb come on over the course of fall camp. If there was one play from the open practices that serves as an indicator of how far he's come, it's this one: in one-on-one pass-rush drills, Wilson gave offensive tackle Kennedy Estelle an outside feint, then came inside hard, actually lifting Estelle off his feet and dropping him on his backside. Not only have his teammates raved about his newfound work ethic and his play so far, but he's placed himself firmly in the rotation at end, ahead of some pretty talented athletes in a loaded group. He might not ever get the chance to prove that he was a worthy five-star prospect — for his first three years, he sat behind two other former five-stars — but at least now, he's starting to play like one.

3) Duke Thomas

OK, we all knew Duke had ability. But how many of us knew that he would be fighting for a starting spot in a secondary that returned so much experience? Especially when it looked, at least for awhile, like he might get a long-term look at wide receiver. But the Longhorns increased their depth at that position, and needed Thomas to provide depth back at his original position at cornerback. And so far, Thomas has done more than that, emerging as the No. 3 cornerback behind Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs and a potential starter when the Longhorns utilize their nickel package. Thomas is quick, smart and has the ball skills you'd expect from a former star quarterback at Copperas Cove, and if this fall is any indication, the Longhorns have some help at cornerback even after Byndom (and possibly Diggs) leaves after this season.

4) Kendall Sanders

Heading into the spring, it was unclear who the No. 3 receiver would be after Marquise Goodwin graduated. Sure, Sanders was in the mix, but so was former blue-chip recruit Cayleb Jones. Now, Jones is gone, but even if he returned, it's difficult to say he would have beaten out Sanders for the job. All Sanders has done is looked like a future All-Big 12 receiver after mainstays Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley leave the roost. Sanders is a long 6-1 and has the leaping ability to pose a matchup problem on the outside, and that's before factoring in his game-breaking speed. Sanders missed the second scrimmage with an ankle injury, and he'll miss the first game for his suspension. But after that, expect to see plenty of targets his way. The development of both he, and Marcus Johnson, has been one of the better stories from camp.

5) Jalen Overstreet

Sometimes when players switch positions, it seems like a death knell. Marcus Hutchins hasn't been a factor on the offensive line, and doesn't figure to be one at defensive tackle, either. But in the case of a guy like Overstreet, you're excited to see what a guy with his size (215 pounds) and speed (sub-4.5) can do. Overstreet wasn't a polished thrower when he came in, and the general thought line was that if he didn't make giant strides, he might find himself at another position. And sure enough, he's now at running back. While it will be tough to break into a crowded rotation that includes Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, Coach Brown had glowing reviews on Overstreet:

"Jalen has done a good job for us," Brown said. "He is transitioning by running behind his pads inside. He's still not there yet. He has the speed we knew he had outside. He's also had better vision than we anticipated coming from the quarterback position. So I think he's happy. He's getting a lot of work. We see some hope for him down the road."

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