2004 Preview: Does Texas Have 'Good Hands' People?

The good news is that Texas, in fact, has experienced athletes who can catch the ball. The not-so-good news is that none of those experienced athletes play wide receiver. The talent is raw among the good hands people, but the talent will be there when preseason camp begins Monday.

For starters, experienced guys like TEs David Thomas and Bo Scaife not only have good hands but also possess the speed to stretch the field. RBs Cedric Benson and Selvin Young should get their share of tosses out of the backfield (not just as safety valves but as primary targets). Heck, FB Will Matthews will get more than just a couple of receptions in 2004. All of this is to say (a-gain) that the go-to receivers (in the early going, at least) will be the seasoned talent already on campus.

Most everyone knows that when Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson and Sloan Thomas completed their eligibility, Texas lost three of its Top 10 all-time receivers. These days, coach Mack Brown's cupboard of WRs is certainly not bare, but the produce is obviously green. Any Orangeblood that saw the Texas High School All-Star game last week has got to be stoked about true freshmen Nate Jones (three TD receptions from future Oklahoma QB Rhett Bomar) and all-around athlete Jordan Shipley (one TD grab, plus he also fielded punts, kicked PATs and did everything but sell popcorn in the stands). More about the bumper crop of new receivers later because any talk of a deep ball threat this season begins with FL Tony Jeffery.

The fifth-year senior has just 277 career receiving yards on 24 catches, but that makes him Texas top returning wideout.

Without diminishing the role of QB Vince Young or FS Phillip Geiggar in that 24-20 win over eventual Big 12 champ Kansas State last October, Texas does not win that game without Jeffery's contributions. We all remember that 52-yard reception (a career best) from Young on the game-winning drive. For a second or two, that ball was up for grabs and Jeffery went up and got it. He also recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for the opening score against KSU. He has not been the fastest or biggest WR on campus the past three years, but he has been the most acrobatic.

Jeffery has seen action in 28 games but won't log his first start until the September 4 home opener against North Texas. All told, Jeffery posted eight receptions for 91 yards and a TD in 2003. He should exceed those numbers by the end of the Arkansas game, unless junior FL Brian Carter continues his strong push for playing time that he waged last spring. Coaches were so impressed with The Woodlands product that Carter was listed as a co-starter with Jeffery by the end of spring drills. He has seen actions in 22 games (31 yards on two receptions, including a 21-yard TD grab against Kansas during his freshman year). Carter redshirted in 2002.

RS-sophomore Dustin Miksch has appeared in five games and is looking for his first reception.

You gotta love a kid like RS-sophomore SE Eric Enard, generously listed at 6-3, 200-pounds. He walked on in 2002 and opened eyes last August with grab after grab over lockdown CB Nathan Vasher. It was enough to send spectators reaching for their rosters to see who this unknown was. Meanwhile, the national press is having a field day with the fact that Roy Williams is being replaced by a walk on. It's as if Enard is being presented as some sort of poster child personifying the dearth of talent Texas supposedly has at wideout. Enard is a feel-good story revealing what a little bit of talent and whole lot of determination can get you. He's a gamer and he'll have his share of catches in 2004. But the Burnt Orange crystal ball says that Enard eventually yields his position to RS-freshman Limas Sweed.

There's going to be an ample number of Orangebloods who'll do a double take the first time Sweed races down the field. "I thought he graduated," they'll say, as No. 4 reminds us of you-know-who. In uniform, Enard looks like Roy even when he's standing still. But his long, effortless stride (the kind that makes him look like he's loafing when he's loping) will cause some to think Roy might have been granted an extra year of eligibility. But can he catch like the Legend?

Comparisons to Roy, of course, are premature and probably unfair to Sweed. But the Brenham product should benefit from the redshirt year that Roy and company did not have. Unlike Roy, Sweed is a true 6-5 (according to OC Greg Davis, who conceded coaches fudged a little on Roy's height). And here's a stat you don't see every day: nearly half of Sweed's 72 catches in his final three seasons of high school went for TDs.

Billy Pittman and Tyrell Gatewood will also vie for playing time at SE. Both are RS-freshmen, while Pittman served as the scout team running QB last season.

Now about those true freshmen! Brown signed five last spring and then said coaches would take a long look at them during camp. Shipley would not only have a good chance of seeing action, Brown added, but may be counted on to contribute. Could Shipley make that kind of rapid transition from a Texas 3A program (Burnet) to Big 12 football? Brown thought he could.

The 6-0, 184-pounder is the Texas state record holder -- and No. 2 nationally -- in career receptions (264), total yards (5,424) and TDs (73). He was a Parade All-American and the Texas Sports Writers Association's choice as 3A Texas Player of the Year. Yet, the freshman WR who could have the most immediate impact is 6-2, 180 WR Nate Jones. Sure, Bomar was incredibly impressive but Jones showed a real knack for separation from DBs and was a major factor in Bomar's selection as offensive MVP at the All-Star game. Jones was a two-way all-state performer at WR and DB at Texarkana (recruited, in effect, by lifelong friend Nathan Vasher). Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach continued to push hard for these guys long after they gave Brown their verbals. (It's fair, of course. Texas does it, too. But Jones told Tech coaches to "back off" because wearing the Burnt Orange represents a life-long dream.)

Houston Westbury's George Walker is polished as a receiver and route-runner, but he may need some time in the weight room before he's ready for high D-I ball (a bit like the skinny Jeffery when he arrived on the Forty Acres four years ago). Houston Strake Jesuit's Chris Ogbonnaya also might need a year to mature physically before being ready to contribute. Myron Hardy is more physically prepared for the jump to college ball, and the Texas coaches obviously love his potential at wideout, but he comes to UT after playing running back as a senior at McNeil.

Bottom line: despite its lack of golden receivers, Texas has not gone to the dogs. These pups should grow up in a hurry.


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