<
>

Big 12 spring battle spotlight: Texas WRs

3/1/2015

We know as little about who'll be catching passes for Texas as we do about who's throwing them. With two trusted seniors gone, the Longhorns' offense has a relatively clean slate at the receiver position. Who's going to rise up and make plays this fall? A closer look at another key Big 12 spring position battle:

Departed: John Harris defied all expectations to become the first Texas receiver in five years to surpass 1,000 yards. Tyrone Swoopes' favorite target was the Horns' breakout threat with 68 catches for 1,051 yards and seven touchdowns. The other go-to target, Jaxon Shipley, is also gone after four productive seasons as a starter and 218 career receptions for more than 2,500 yards. Together, they accounted for 52 percent of Texas' receptions and nearly 200 targets last season.

Spring contenders: Senior Marcus Johnson, senior Daje Johnson, junior Jacorey Warrick, sophomore Armanti Foreman, sophomore Lorenzo Joe, sophomore Dorian Leonard, sophomore Jake Oliver, sophomore Roderick Bernard, redshirt freshman Garrett Gray.

Summer contenders: Sophomore Gilbert Johnson, freshman DeAndre McNeal, freshman Ryan Newsome, freshman John Burt.

The skinny: Concerns about Texas' returning receivers were one reason why Kyler Murray didn't pick the Longhorns, and they're valid. Marcus Johnson was supposed to break through in 2014 but didn't play with much confidence, finishing with 27 catches for 313 yards and one score. Daje Johnson is a dynamo when healthy but is perpetually on thin ice. Foreman showed flashes as a freshman with two long touchdowns late in the year. Warrick and Joe played plenty but rarely got the ball. Oliver has been hampered by injury and Bernard suffered a season-ending one as a freshman. There's optimism about Leonard, a long target who caught one ball in 2014. But nobody in this group has done enough to guarantee a starting job in 2015. That's why the Longhorns inked four in February. Prep school transfer Gilbert Johnson is an intriguing sleeper who'd previously signed with Georgia, and McNeal was promised immediate playing time. But they're not in Austin yet. New receivers coach Jay Norvell will give lots of guys a shot to become difference-makers this spring.

Prediction: Expecting the unexpected with this group is probably a wise approach. Buy stock in Foreman and Leonard, two guys Norvell recruited hard while at Oklahoma. They could give Texas' offense big-play ability and I think they'll help their chances this spring. The Longhorns need Marcus and Daje Johnson to get back on track this spring and go into fall camp as front runners to start, or else is going to be a very young and unpredictable group. Who's going to be the Harris of the bunch and lead the way? Too hard to tell right now.