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Spring primer: Texas Longhorns

3/9/2015

Texas starts spring ball on March 25 and is looking to bounce back in a big way from a 6-7 season. A preview of what to look for from the Longhorns this spring:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: At various points during his first three years at Texas, Daje Johnson has been suspended, injured or in the doghouse. The electric rusher/receiver/returner got to touch the ball just 16 times last season, and most thought he'd get run off by Charlie Strong's staff. But the offseason reviews on Johnson have been exceedingly positive and there's cautious optimism he can finally be a game-changer for this offense in 2015.

Defensive returner ready to take next step: Sheroid Evans is one of the fastest players in the conference, but he's never really had a chance to show that off. The senior cornerback tore an ACL in 2013 and has missed Texas' last 21 games. Evans is participating in offseason workouts now, which is a great sign. The Longhorns could really use him this fall, and it'll be interesting to see if he can make a statement this spring before touted freshman Holton Hill and Kris Boyd arrive.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Who's going to share the load with Johnathan Gray? Texas will have a crowded group of underclassmen trying to earn snaps at running back, but don't sleep on Donald Catalon. Hamstring issues kept him sidelined during his first year on campus, but when healthy Catalon brings an exciting combination of speed and toughness to the table. He and D'Onta Foreman are the top backups to Gray this spring.

Most significant position battle: Quarterback is the No. 1 issue at Texas, and that probably won't change by the end of the spring. Tyrone Swoopes versus Jerrod Heard still looks like it's going to be a tough, close call. Swoopes has to bounce back from his rough ending to 2014, but few Longhorns have worked harder this offseason. Heard is a dynamic rusher but still needs to mature as a passer. Strong and co-OC Shawn Watson are hoping competition eventually brings out the best in both.

Key midterm enrollee: It's not just Malik Jefferson, though he's impressed so far. Offensive linemen Brandon Hodges, Tristan Nickelson and Connor Williams all showed up in January and have quickly proved they could step in as starters in 2015. Texas' offensive line was a patchwork mess last season, but juco transfers Hodges and Nickelson could be first-team guys from Day 1. The same is true of Williams, a true freshman with big potential.

Question that could be answered: How is the offense changing? Strong has said the Horns intend to go up-tempo in 2015. That doesn't mean a wholesale change in scheme. More likely, we'll see fewer huddles and more plays from this unit, no matter who wins the starting quarterback job. The idea makes too much sense considering the spread is the overwhelmingly preferred offense of the Lone Star State. We'll get our first glimpse of its execution during Texas' April 18 spring game.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: Will the newcomers be ready? Texas is going to have a young team in 2015, and the list of signees who can help this team immediately could be a long one. Hill, Boyd, DeShon Elliott, Chris Warren III, Devonaire Clarington, Gilbert Johnson and John Burt are among the many incoming players who could be relied upon early, but they'll have to show up ready to go when they enroll at the end of May. And you never know who will rise up that list -- remember, Jason Hall was Texas' lowest-rated recruit a year ago.