Big Names in Waiting

Up and down the Texas roster, there are names of players that most Longhorn fans have never heard of before, but by season's end will be stars. As spring drills gear back up, which relatively unknown players grinding it out on the practice field now will be big names on the gridiron in the fall? Inside Texas breaks each one down.

Those who follow Texas recruiting will likely know each of these names as most are young players from recent classes, predominantly members of the Texas class of '07 who redshirted last season. But to the larger Texas fan base, they are a mystery. They are each one of the many players who ran through the smoke and out of the tunnel at Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium to stand on the sideline as one of the many in Burnt Orange who wore the jersey, yet contributed little, or none, on the field last season.

But with a new year comes new opportunity for unknowns to become stars. On this list are three running backs -- there's a reason for that -- two wide receivers, two defensive linemen, one linebacker and two defensive backs who should become big-time players by the end of the 2008. Among them are six freshmen, two sophomores, one junior and one senior, a senior who fans are aware of, but whose placement on the list will be explained.


(Photo by Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

Redshirt freshman running back Foswhitt Whittaker
Perhaps the biggest ratio of most-talented to least-known on the roster belongs to Whittaker. The redshirt freshman running back will push presumed starter Vondrell McGee for carries and could end up being the explosive speed threat the Longhorns are looking for. Whittaker finished his high school career as the sixth leading rusher in Texas 5A history with 5,717 yards to go with his scored 51 career touchdowns. He rushed for over 1,000 in each of his three seasons as a starter at Pearland, but put up close to 3,000 yards in his senior season. The 5-10, 195-pound Whittaker will compliment McGee's inside power with his outside speed.


(Photo by Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

Sophomore running back Antwan Cobb
Cobb may be a fullback, but that position may be about to get more important for Texas. With personnel lending to a slightly more ball-control scheme, Cobb could be a big cog in the Texas offense. Although senior walk-on Luke Tiemann officially started at the sparingly-used position last season, Cobb had appeared to win the job before being knocked out with a season-ending injury. Cobb has both the running and blocking skills to make a big impact in the run game, which has never looked the same since the departure of fullback Ahmard Hall.


(Photo by Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

Redshirt freshman running back Cody Johnson
The third running back on this list is a big one. At 5-11, 255 pounds, Johnson is hard to bring down, but what's surprising fellow athletes in practice is how the fast powerful runner is. He averaged 9.6 yards per carry in high school because he could carry the ball, and his weight, to the first down marker and beyond it very quickly. He could also be a big contributor in '08, just like the previous two RBs on the list, because Texas will likely use much more of a running back by committee approach. Expect to have each of these players' names called, as well as the more well-known Chris Ogbonnaya, who will likely maintain his role as Texas' third down back.


(Photo by Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Malcolm Williams
Watching Johnson tote the ball as quickly as he does may be surprising, but no player has been a bigger surprise or made a bigger impression in the early part of spring than Williams. With seniors Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby holding down the flanker and Sub-B (slot) spots in the starting line-up, Texas needed someone to step up at split end to replace departing Longhorns Limas Sweed and Nate Jones. The answer came clear as a bell: Malcolm Williams. Because he's a big-bodied receiver with sure hands, expect to see Williams leaping over defenders and securing the ball for first down after first down.


(Photo by Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

Sophomore wide receiver Brandon Collins
There were a multitude of receivers on the roster last season, but that couldn't keep Collins off the field as a true freshman. Expected by most to play corner when he arrived at Texas, Collins was almost immediately placed on the offensive side of the ball when offensive coordinator Greg Davis fell in love with his speed and agility. Although Collins never played a prominent role last season, coaches would frequently bring him up in conversation about the wide receivers and he'll likely get his chance to shine this season.


(Photo by Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

Senior defensive end Henry Melton
Wait, we've heard of him, right? Wrong. You've heard of Henry Melton the running back. Meet Henry Melton the defensive end. He's got the speed, the power and the athletic ability, he just never had the right skill set to be a running back. He ran to upright and, at 265 pounds, tried to dazzle with quick feet. This instead resulted in him being taken down in the open field by players much smaller than himself. After his spectacular freshman season, in which he scored 10 touchdowns (third-best in Texas history among freshmen running backs and fourth-best by any freshman), he disappeared in his sophomore season and spent his junior season at the back of the line on defense as he worked to transition over to the position he's better suited for. Some of the most positive reports we've heard about are on Melton and although the defensive end position is deep at Texas, expect to meet a new incarnation of Henry Melton in 2008.


(Alexander on the left; Photo by Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

Junior defensive tackle Ben Alexander
With Texas losing three defensive tackles, it's one of the most troubling positions on the roster and is in need of some serious questions answered -- defensive coordinator Will Muschamp has even mentioned Melton showing up here on passing downs because of lack of depth. Enter Ben Alexander. The 6-0, 310-pound fireplug played in both his true freshman and sophomore seasons at Texas, but hasn't been on the forefront due to the talented tackles in front of him. This spring, Alexander has been the starter at nose-tackle and will be responsible this season for collapsing the opposing defensive line to open up opportunities for the other defensive linemen, especially the defensive ends, who could be some of the best Texas has fielded.


(Photo by Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

Redshirt freshman linebacker Keenan Robinson
Speaking of "some of the best Texas has fielded", counter to defensive tackle, linebacker is one of the deepest positions on the roster. Sergio Kindle, Roddrick Muckelroy, Jared Norton and Rashad Bobino will each make their impact, but a relative unknown by most fans who's been tearing it up in practice is Robinson. He's grown to 6-3, 220 pounds and with Kindle rehabbing and injury, he's getting an opportunity to show he can be a dominant force as a strong-side linebacker. Expect him to be frequently rotating in during games.


(Photo by Texas Sports Photography)

Redshirt freshman cornerback Earl Thomas
There are a lot of corners on the roster. However, among the multitude of young DBs a name that keeps popping up is Thomas'. Other young players like Curtis Brown and Chykie Brown may have received more hype at the position, but players and coaches alike are talking about how much the redshirt freshman could contribute. The real change came in the month between last year's regular season and the Holiday Bowl, when multiple sources brought up how impressive he'd looked in practice. Cornerback is a deep position, but Thomas should be in the rotation (he's also been playing some safety in the spring, but expect him to be back at corner in the fall).


(Photo by Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

Redshirt freshman safety Christian Scott
There are not a lot of safeties on the roster. Scott will likely go from unknown to starter when he steps in next to Ishie Oduwegu at safety. But his rapid rise will not only be because of necessity at the position. Scott was one of Texas head coach Mack Brown's main targets in recruiting for the Class of 2007 and Brown was willing to go down to the wire, making a rare in-home visit to obtain a commitment from the coveted athlete. Scott was immediately one of Muschamp's favorite players when the former Auburn DC arrived in Austin, winning one of the first "Hard-hat" awards, handed out to standout defensive players in practice. Expect Scott to be a standout on the field as well in 2008.


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