Spring Game Question

Each day this week LonghornDigest's William Wilkerson and Kevin Flaherty will each give their take on a question leading up to Texas' spring game on April 19.

Today's question: What player are you most interested in watching?

Wilkerson

It's really tough to name just one as I'm interested in seeing what several of the offensive linemen have to offer, as well as guys like Shiro Davis, Hassan Ridgeway, Naashon Hughes, and several of the younger defensive backs like Bryson Echols, Antwuan Davis, Adrian Colbert, and Chevoski Collins.

And then there's the obvious go-to of Tyrone Swoopes.

But I'm going with junior college tight end transfer Blake Whiteley because he could be the key to solving Texas' receiving woes at that position.

It might not be the sexy pick but it could be one of the most important as the Longhorns have gotten virtually nothing out of its tight ends in the passing game over the last few seasons, which is just hard to believe given some of the players that have come through in the past.

Charlie Strong has said repeatedly that his TEs have to get better because they are going to play a big role in the passing attack, and Whiteley should be the guy they look to more often than not.

The 6-foot-5, 242-pound Whiteley didn't blow the world away in his one season at Arizona Western Community College with his eight catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns. It's what he did in high school in Vancouver, B.C. (West Vancouver) that should have Bruce Chambers on the edge of his seat though.

Whiteley was simply unstoppable his final two seasons catching 112 passes for 1,828 yards and 22 touchdowns (18 his senior season).

He also grew up playing rugby – his father is South African – so you know he's tough as nails too. If he can live up to his billing as one of the premiere juco TE recruits from 2014, Texas could stretch the field much more than it has been able to in recent memory.

His presence could also be the kick in the pants someone like M.J. McFarland has been waiting for. He didn't catch a pass last season.

Flaherty

It's hard for me to pick just one because I consider these two guys almost linked: Naashon Hughes and Chevoski Collins. Sure, they play different positions. And their routes to Austin weren't the same — Collins was the more heavily recruited of the two, and at times people weren't sure he would pick Texas, while Hughes actually committed to a grayshirt offer early on over full offers from LSU and Oklahoma. Of course, later in the process, Hughes was given a full ride when Texas didn't fill up its scholarship allotment as planned.

But they share other similarities. Both represent athletic upgrades from what Texas has had at their positions in the recent past, and both redshirted a year ago to add more polish to their game. Both must fight through veterans to see the field … Texas returns a stacked group of linebackers, while Josh Turner, who has served as part of a safety rotation the past few years blocks Collins's progress.

Why am I interested in them? Because Texas's defense, for the most part, appears fairly set. The Longhorns return three of their four defensive linemen who were starting at the end of the season and every linebacker (along with a few like Jordan Hicks and Demarco Cobbs who were injured). And Texas brings back two of its top three cornerbacks and loses just Adrian Phillips at safety. So there are relatively few spots for change on what could be a pretty salty group. But Collins and Hughes represent high-potential players who could help the defense get better.

Collins will battle Turner for the free safety spot, where Collins's range and hitting ability could add an extra element. Turner has basically been a cornerback playing the position in recent years — he's good in coverage, has nice speed but isn't much of a physical presence. And while the odds are against Hughes winning a starting job with such a logjam for talent at linebacker, he could find a home as a situational pass-rusher where his size (6-4 231) and athleticism (he was clocked at 4.42 at Texas camp his senior year at 217 pounds) would pay off in a big way.

At worst, both could find themselves as rotational players this year while pushing their way into more permanent action, as possible cornerstones of the defense, in years to come.


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