Last season showed what can happen to a talented front line that's torn down by injuries and this year's team is essentially an exaggeration of the 2006 Horns. The Longhorns are bringing back almost all of their offense weapons, each of whom have become more in tune with the offense. The Texas front seven on D returns the core of the unit, including every single linebacker. Yet behind this array of starters sits some very, very unproven depth. If the players start falling one by one as they did last year, Texas could be in big trouble.
Of course, the number of injuries the Longhorns suffered last season was astounding.
Roddrick Muckelroy, who established himself as the best linebacker in the occasionally struggling group was lost after the third game of the season due to nerve damage. Sergio Kindle and Drew Kelson were each slowed by ankle injuries.
Jamaal Charles, who was looking for a breakout year after a thrilling freshman campaign, was nicked up all season. Run-stuffing DT (and the best fullback on the team) Derek Lokey was lost for the year, crippling the Texas D in a way that was not apparent until after his loss. Cedric Dockery, having finally established himself as the starter, blew out his ACL. Almost every member of the secondary appeared slowed by nicks, bruises, twists and tweaks.
And then the big one, Colt McCoy. When McCoy went down, the life got sucked out of a team that was closer to the brink than any of us would have liked to admit. In a matter of weeks, Texas went from National Title contender, to Big 12 Title contender, to Alamo Bowl participant. An offense which had run roughshod over the vaunted Oklahoma Sooners, found itself unable to score more than seven points against Texas A&M.
Looking at this year's Texas squad, if you take the 2007 Longhorns and only look at the starters, I'll put this team up against any in the country.
But what if Charles twists his ankle...again? Say all you want about the promise that the human-bowling ball, Vondrell McGee, brings to the field, the fact is he hasn't played a single down of college football.
What if Jermichael Finley tweaks a hamstring? Peter Ullman's a hard-nosed, brawler on the goal line, but he had only a single catch last year for a reason.
Fullback? Texas hasn't proven yet that it even has a quality fullback...unless you include Lokey...whom Texas also lost to injury last season.
And once again, there's McCoy. He's established himself as the central leader of this football team, but if he's lost injury, just as he was in 2006, Texas is in big trouble. Yes, John Chiles and Sherrod Harris bring a great deal of excitement to the running game, but make no mistake, the passing offense gets parred down until these guys can prove they can hit a receiver past 15 yards. The back-up with the most passing experience is G.J. Kinne, who is likely sitting fourth on the current depth chart.
That's not even mentioning the two biggest question marks with this team, the offensive line and secondary.
Mack Brown does not like to play true freshman offensive linemen. It makes sense, given the steep learning curve intrinsic to the position, but this year Texas will likely have two true freshmen on the two-deep, one of whom, Tray Allen, could very well be the back-up at left tackle. Tackle is a position, by the way, where the Horns will be starting two players who gray-shirted due to major injuries, Tony Hills and Adam Ulatoski. The other true freshman who could see time is guard Michael Huey, who will be a back-up on the interior. This is the same interior that lost three linemen who combined for 115 straight starts. The only returning guard or center to even start a game is Dockery, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL.
The starter at center will be Dallas Griffin, who's played in a lot of games as a back-up but never started. Plus, with only Dallas and Marcus on the roster, this will be the fewest number of Griffins on a Texas team since 2002! Cause for concern, indeed. (Anybody? No? Okay.)
As for the secondary, despite an overabundance of safeties (most of whom are now seniors, unfortunately), Texas' two starters at corner will likely end up being a sophomore, Deon Beasley, and a redshirt freshman, Chykie Brown. And those two probably have the least number of question marks amongst the corners.
Oh, don't get me wrong, there are some very bright spots in terms of depth. The defensive line is stacked at both tackle and end. The linebacking corps is, in theory, a deep and talented unit just waiting to explode onto the scene. And, according to offensive coordinator Greg Davis, this is the most talented group of receivers he's ever had the privilege of coaching. High praise considering that only a few years ago Texas was lining up Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson and Sloan Thomas at wideout.
Believe me, the talent is there. This is a great football team. If Texas can stay healthy, this could be one of the best years in the history of Texas football.
But that's a big 'if' and all it takes is one play.