Spring Preview: Receivers Have Big Cleats To Fill

When SE <B>Roy Williams </B>packs his suitcase for the NFL later this year, he will take with him nearly every individual receiving record in Longhorn history. Who is expected to step up and fill the cleats of Roy, B.J. and Sloan when Texas football spring drills begin Monday?

Then again, does it matter? After all, Williams was a virtual after-thought in the final two games of 2003 (Texas A&M, Washington State) as Texas hitched it's wagon to QB Vince Young and RB Cedric Benson at mid-season and rode the reins of the Big 12's best rushing offense (NCAA No. 5). The bread-and-butter plays have stemmed from Texas' zone read offense in which the quarterback largely makes reads based on the play of the defensive end. The emphases abruptly shifted from Texas' receiving corps to a scheme that was predicated upon winning with Young's and Benson's feet. As Williams commented shortly after the makeover, "When Chance Mock is in the game, I go long. When Vince is in the game, I run downfield and block my dude."

To answer the question, of course it matters. Head coach Mack Brown would say that the cardinal sin of his offense is to become one-dimensional. Now, the seventh-year Texas coach must search his roster for legitimate receiving threats to complement what should still be an explosive ground game.

You can pencil in Tony Jeffery at flanker. The senior-to-be was just the eighth-leading receiver in 2003, with fewer total yards (91 on eight grabs) than even a pair of running backs (Benson, Brett Robin) and tight ends (Bo Scaife, David Thomas). Yet those who have watched Jeffery throughout his collegiate career can attest that the former Houston Klein QB may have been the most acrobatic WR on the team during the past three seasons. Case-in-point: his gravity-defying 52-yard grab on the game-winning drive against Kansas State midway through the fourth quarter. Jeffery went airborne as if sprung from a catapult to pull down one of Young's moonballs. Other than the fourth down quarterback sneak at the goal line, Jeffrey turned in the most significant offensive play of the 24-20 comeback win.

He caught 11 passes for 112 yards as a sophomore and blocked a punt against Kansas State and Tulane. He also set up the first score of the 2001 season when he, as a freshman, blocked a New Mexico State punt in the end zone that Phillip Geiggar recovered for a TD. You may recall that the speedster picked up a Rod Babers' blocked punt in the 21-7 win at A&M that season and returned it 23 yards for the game's first score.

We're looking for RS-freshman Limas Sweed to have a breakout spring and emerge as the starting SE when Texas opens the 2004 season on September 4 against North Texas. Although Roy Williams was listed at 6-5, offensive coordinator Greg Davis concedes (and recent NFL combine numbers confirm) the measurement may have been a tad generous by a couple of inches.

Sweed is a true 6-5. And his downfield gait is remarkably reminiscent of the Legend's. A three-year letterman at Washington Brenham, nearly half of Sweed's 72 career catches (for 1,684 yards) went for touchdowns. At the very least, he has all the tools to carry on the legacy that Roy, B.J. and Sloan brought to the Forty Acres.

Senior Brian Carter (5-11, 185) has two years of eligibility (he redshirted in 2002 while nursing a hamstring injury) and could finally factor into the offense. His touches last season amounted to backing up Jeffrey as the holder on FG attempts. He participated in nine games as a true freshman in 2001, his highlight play a 21-yard TD grab against Kansas.

RS freshman Tyrell Gatewood (6-2, 190) will get a serious look, although he saw most of his action at QB while a senior a Tyler Chapel Hill. There's also another redshirt frosh at the spot in Billy Pittman. The Cameron Yoe product was two-time District 18-3A Most Valuable Player at QB and was Texas' scout team running QB last season (Brown said his first team D "never could catch him"). Pittman is expected to remain the scout team QB and could immediately become the No. 3 QB if Young, Mock or Matt Nordgren were injured.

The surprise of August two-a-days was mighty-mite walk-on WR Eric Enard (who is generously listed at 6-3, 200). Enard made grab after eye opening grab against Thorpe Award semifinalist CB Nathan Vasher. The West Orange-Stark product had just one reception (six yards against Baylor) in all of 2003 but has three years of eligibility to show the folks on Saturdays a little more of what he demonstrated against Texas' best DBs late last summer.

RS-sophomore Dustin Miksch (6-0, 180) will also be part of the mix until what is arguably the nation's best collection of freshman receivers will report in August.

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