Punt and Kick Returners:
Under Mack Brown, special teams have become a phenomenal unit. Texas has blocked more kicks (43) since 2000 than any team in the nation. It has been 85 games since an opponent returned a punt for TD Texas has scored on six punt returns since Brown's arrival, compared to just two returns for TDs in the eight previous seasons.
UT's career leader in blocked field goal and career leader in blocked punts are both still on the roster. DE Brian Robison has blocked five field goals and only trails Michael Griffin, who has six blocked punts, for the Texas record. The fact that these defensive starters have had, and will continue to have, such a big impact on special teams shows the coaching staff's commitment to the unit. This has actually created an atmosphere where a position on special teams is not somewhere a player is relegated to, but rather a spot to be vied for.
A position on special teams where that's always been the case is punt returner and Texas returns both their starter and back-up at that spot. Aaron Ross' punt return average (14.7) ranked No. 10 nationally last season while late-bloomer Quan Cosby averaged 15.3 yards on nine punt returns. Texas rank third nationally (27 ypr) in kickoff returns last season, but half of the kick return combo, RB Ramonce Taylor, is gone.
Ross and Brown will stay in their respective spots, but who else will return kicks? Given Cosby's speed and the excellent work he did as the back-up punt returner, he'll likely step into that role, but there are some other candidates. Before his torn ACL, receiver Jordan Shipley was working out with the Texas return teams. However, given the sophomore's tendency to get injured, Mack Brown will be less than eager to have Shipley stand back there and have opposing coverages get a full head of steam. Selvin Young also wants to have a hand in the return game, but given his injury problems and the step he appears to have lost because of it, he probably won't be returning kicks either. Texas coaches and fans are hoping Young's strong performance in the Rose Bowl will be an indication that this will be a huge season for him at running back, but that'll probably be the only position he plays in 2006. The freshmen who may eventually end up getting a shot on kick and punt returns are RB Vondrell McGee, CB Chykie Brown and CB Ken Beasley.
Punting (and possibly all three) duties will be handled by senior Greg Johnson. A Freshman All-American at Vanderbilt in 2002, he transferred to UT in 2003 and served as the Horns backup punter and kickoff man in 2004. He handled kickoff duties in 2005 and has the punting job essentially locked down, besting redshirt freshman Trevor Gerland, who will likely have to wait one more year before becoming the starting punter.
A position he does not have locked down for sure is the kicker position, which has almost always been a question mark for Mack Brown coached teams. Brown typically doesn't offer scholarships to kickers our of high school, instead giving them scholarships once they've earned starting roles as walk-ons. That changed after Rose Bowl I against Michigan, when Texas struggled to pin the Wolverines deep on kickoffs. One of the first things Brown did after returning to Austin is offer Hunter Lawrence a scholarship. The incoming freshman was a two-time all-state pick Hunter Lawrence who connected on 32-of-44 field goals over that span and the competition between the two is still wide open. It's a position the Horns are hoping to shore up, especially considering Texas missed nine PAT attempts last season.