Texas wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt likes to have a deep group of wide receivers — say six deep — that he can rotate through without losing much (if anything) from substitution to substitution. And heading into 2013, it looked like he would have that group for the first time in his tenure at Texas.
Here was the likely two-deep heading into fall camp: Mike Davis and Marcus Johnson at the 'X', Kendall Sanders and Bryant Jackson at the 'Y' and Jaxon Shipley and Daje Johnson in the slot. But here's the rub: out of that group, only Shipley has played in all six games this season. Davis has logged five games, but also played hurt in multiple contests. Sanders missed the first game with a combination of a suspension and an injury, and has also played in five games. Marcus Johnson and Daje Johnson have only played in three apiece. And Bryant Jackson has yet to play this year after sustaining a foot injury in fall camp. In his stead, John Harris has played four games.
Those are a bunch of absences for one team … in fact, against Ole Miss, when Texas needed to mount a second-half comeback, neither Davis nor Daje Johnson, arguably Texas's two most explosive weapons, were available.
Shipley, who has spent much of the last few seasons fighting through his own injuries, currently leads the Longhorns in both catches and yards with 32 snags for 347 yards. While he has yet to find the end zone yet, Shipley's remarkable dependability on third downs and his ability to find holes in the middle of a defense makes him a weapon to be feared.
Davis's injuries have been arguably the most disappointing. The impact that he's been able to have while playing at significantly less than 100 percent, catching 27 passes for 325 yards an a team-best five touchdowns, has displayed just how far he's come as a receiver. Davis has always had the speed to get open deep, but his combination of route-running and craftiness has gotten him many of the same results, even when he hasn't been able to explode past defensive backs.
Sanders has been something of a revelation, hauling in 25 balls for 240 yards and a touchdown. His yards per catch were sniped a bit because of the Longhorns' game plans that involved throwing the ball on hitches and short outs to try and get him the ball in space. But as he showed with a 63-yard touchdown catch against Kansas State, he packs plenty of big play over the top. Between Davis, Shipley and Sanders, Texas has three of the Big 12's top eight (Sanders is tied for eighth) in catches per game.
Daje Johnson remains one of the most terrifying bullets in the Longhorn holster, by virtue of his raw speed. And because he has developed so well as a receiver, Texas can put him out on the field on most downs, as opposed to previous, more one-dimensional speed threats like D.J. Monroe. Johnson has just six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown, but he's also supplied danger as a running back and as a return man, taking back a punt 85 yards for a score against Oklahoma. And that's without mentioning how he draws a defense's attention, opening things up for other players.
Marcus Johnson doesn't have the wow factor of Sanders, but he's another 6-foot-plus outside receiver who can run. Johnson made some big catches when pressed into duty against Kansas State, and his 59-yard touchdown on a wheel route against Oklahoma showed what he can do when a defense elects to play him with a nickel or dime back. For the year, he has seven catches for 137 yards and a score, and he's only getting better.
Jackson hasn't played this season, though his timeline for recovery would put him on the field in the next couple weeks. Harris made the most of Jackson's absence, catching five passes for 141 yards and a touchdown, with the massive 6-foot-3, 225-pound target pulling in a huge end-of-half Hail Mary from Case McCoy to help win the Iowa State contest.
Every receiver to see the field has made an impact via a long catch — all six wideouts have at least one grab of 45 or more yards so far this year. And they've also done a stellar job of blocking at the next level. A big part of the reason Texas has been so much more explosive has been the
That blocking, and the increased depth have not only helped the Longhorns make it through an injury-prone season, but have also moved them closer to Wyatt's end goal of a deep, tough receiver rotation.