C ZACH SHACKELFORD ... It's one thing for coaches to hope a freshman can come in and live up to expectations of being a Day 1 starter, and it's another thing for that guy to come in and actually do it.
And thus far, there haven't been many bad days for early enrollee freshman from Belton, who was a last-second de-commit from Kansas State (he de-committed from KSU on the Sunday of his official visit weekend to Texas and enrolled at UT the next day ... and wouldn't have come if there hadn't been a change in O-line coach).
Bob Shipley (father of former Texas WRs Jordan and Jaxon Shipley) coached Shackelford at Belton and told me during the recruiting process that Shackelford had the kind of nasty, competitive temperament Charlie Strong is looking for in players. (Wickline nearly cost Texas Shackelford by greeting him for the first time ever as, "Hey, fat ass." - when Shackelford attended a UT camp that he had to pay to attend.
But those days are gone. And it didn't take long for Strong to see that nasty disposition Shipley was talking about for himself. Strong told a story right before spring break began last week about Shackelford in a one-on-one race with a returning player during winter conditioning.
Strong chuckled while describing how "Shack" - as he's known to coaches and teammates - nudged the other player off-balance during their neck-and-neck approach to the finish line to ensure Shack won.
"I saw his competitiveness right there," Strong smiled.
And Shackelford shoved LB Breckyn Hager in the back during an inside run drill, right as Hager was turning to chase the ball carrier. Hager turned around and grabbed Shackelford's face mask, and the two started to mix it up when teammates and coaches broke it up.
I was told later that's one thing coaches and teammates love about Shack - that he's an echo of the whistle player who discreetly works in those shots when no one is looking that get under the skin of an opponent (as long as they're smart about it). And even though Texas defensive players know Shack already has a reputation for doing that stuff, they love that he's on their team.
"We need more players like Shack," one source said. "He's not afraid to mix it up with the toughest guys on the defense. That stuff has earned the respect of his teammates."
And Shack's work ethic and retention is already being compared to Connor Williams. You tell Shack once, and he's got it. He may not have it perfected. But he'll have the proper technique the next time and won't make the same mistakes twice.
Barring any surprises, Shackelford will be the starting center for Texas against Notre Dame and will relish going up against the Irish's toughest linemen.
QB SHANE BUECHELE ... The early enrollee freshman who arrived in Austin as the top-rated QB in the state of Texas in the recruiting class of 2016 has shown a great work ethic through winter conditioning and into spring practices.
OK, so he's listed at 6-1, 191 and looks more like 6-0, 178, that's eerily similar to Colt McCoy dimensions as a true freshman (I was told Colt was more like 168 when he arrived). Well, Colt McCoy turned out OK. I mean his number is up in the north end of DKR.
I've compared Shane to Colt before, and I'm feeling good about the comparison after three spring practices. When you watch the QBs work, Shane is always standing right behind the QB getting the snap, so Shane take a "mental rep" of the play.
Shane is looking around at the personnel on defense and will ask questions of Tyrone Swoopes or Jerrod Heard after a play to confirm what they were seeing or why they made the decision they made. That's how Colt was.
Colt got a full redshirt season. And everything I'm hearing is that Buechele is a sponge and picking things up quickly and making good decisions in Sterlin Gilbert's new rapid-tempo offense.
The thing I compared the most between Shane and Colt is the accuracy. Shane's passes don't hit the ground without hitting a receiver's hands first.
Coaches don't want to rush Buechele. But they'll give him more if he can handle more. And they like his moxie and spark (something that is lacking in Matthew Merrick and has held Merrick back). When I asked how much ground Buechele has to make up behind rep leaders Swoopes and Heard, I was told "not as much as you'd think."
It's early, and Buechele obviously needs a lot of time in the weight room. But it's been a good start for Buechele.
Everything has been as advertised with regard to the top-rated QB in the state in the recruiting class of 2016.
WR COLLIN JOHNSON ... If there is concern about Shane Buechele's physical stature and whether he can handle the punishment that comes at the QB position (sacks, scrambles, etc.), there is no such concern with Collin Johnson, who is a legit 6-foot-6 and 212 pounds.
I know the hype on CJ is already boiling over. But something tells me it will all be justified.
He appears to have already locked up the outside WR opposite John Burt, and no one seems to be complaining - not even the guys competing with Johnson for a starting spot.
Johnson runs well. He runs routes well. Not as well as Burt. But Johnson uses his hands well to get off press coverage, and when the ball is in the air, he believes it's his, high-pointing receptions and using his physically mature body to box out defenders for the catch.
There is a higher-than-average football IQ with Johnson, and he doesn't do drama. Ask those around him, and he's pleasant, but he's all business.
I do believe sooner, rather than later, Collin Johnson will fit into my most elite category of "Best Players/Hardest Workers." You get enough of those, and you start winning championships.
S DESHON ELLIOTT ... Release The Kraken, please! I'm still wondering why Elliott wasn't on the field in the West Virginia game last year when the Mountaineers converted a Tyrone Swoopes' fumble at the WVU 13 into a 48-second TD drive capped by a 53-yard scoring pass from Skylar Howard to Jovon Durante with a minute left in the half.
Not to pick scabs, but the angle Jason Hall took on the pass play was so bad, so unexplainably bad (he cut in front of Durante as if he was going intercept the pass, but all he did was allow Durante to get behind him for the easiest score you've ever seen).
And the reason that play is etched in my mind like a red-hot branding iron is because I've said from the day he signed with Texas DeShon Elliott - aka The Kraken - is going to have the biggest impact at safety since Kenny Vaccaro and Earl Thomas. I think he's that good. And the week before the game at WVU, Elliott recorded not one, but two interceptions against Kansas.
I thought, "Finally, The Kraken has gone and made such obvious plays that the coaches HAVE to play him now."
But then, in Morgantown, Elliott was nowhere to be found. And that TD pass given up by Hall just before the half allowed WVU to go up 21-10 in a game the Longhorns dominated on the ground offensively but then abandoned the run after that TD, because, well, that's what Jay Norvell did all year.
And Texas lost a game it shouldn't have - all because of a play DeShon Elliott would have made that Jason Hall didn't make.
OK, now that I got all that out - The Kraken is running with the first team more and more, and I get the feeling he won't be leaving the field any time soon.
CB SHEROID EVANS ... I almost put the inseparable LBs Anthony Wheeler and Breckyn Hager here, because those two made a lot of plays in inside drill during Day 3 of the spring ball. But I'm going with sixth-year senior Sheroid Evans, because he's running really well, backing up Davante Davis at CB and serving as a leader to guys like Davis and Holton Hill.
Evans is going to provide valuable depth for the Longhorns in the secondary this season, and no one is cheering harder for him than I am. I know how good Evans looked a year ago before he tore his ACL for a second time and then decided, against all odds, to come back and keep playing football.
His long arms and his love of using those long arms to jam and redirect receivers coming off the line is a reason NFL scouts still remember watching Evans in practices two years ago and writing his name down.
Evans is not someone to disregard, even though he may not start this season. He is giving receivers a battle in practice. He'll be an excellent coverage guy on special teams (I'd put him at gunner, along with Kris Boyd, who is backing up Holton Hill at CB).
There is justified anticipation about the play-making possibilities in the Texas secondary AND on special teams coverage units this season thanks to players like Sheroid Evans and Kris Boyd.null