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Three receivers, one spot

AUSTIN, Texas -- At this time of year, Texas coach Mack Brown likes to say all jobs are open.

It's better for competition. And it sounds like the right thing to say.

The reality is that while all jobs might be open, there is only one spot on the offensive side of the ball where a starter is not returning: wide receiver. Even there, Texas has two veterans back. It's just that the Longhorns are headed toward more four-receiver sets, and because of that, Texas needs at least one receiver to step up and fill the third spot. (The fourth spot is primarily reserved for hybrid runner/receiver Daje Johnson.)

To date, it hasn't been just someone but a few players who have started to rise to the occasion. When the coaches or players are asked about just who it is in their eyes that is making a move, Kendall Sanders is the first name thrown out.

"We have been really pleased with Kendall Sanders,'' said co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite. "He has made some huge plays in the six days.''

Added Brown: "The other guy that's really getting attention is Kendall Sanders. He had two great plays yesterday and stepped up and he was tough; and he's playing really hard, but not as a leader but as a player.''

Sanders is a player who received virtually no attention last year. A long-armed, two-way player in high school, there was some thought that he could come in and help the offense inside the 20s. He has a knack for catching passes in and around the goal line and is solid on the fade routes. He finished the 2012 season with two catches.

In fact, none of the three heralded freshman receivers from 2012 -- Sanders, Cayleb Jones and Marcus Johnson -- were found at the top or even toward the middle of the stats. Jones also had two catches. Johnson had none. What they all did get was live repetition and inside knowledge of the offense each week because none of the three were on the scout team. So while losing a potential redshirt year for meager returns on the field might be questioned, the benefits of understanding the offense and being at full speed might ultimately outweigh any negatives.

"The guys that played some last year are usually ahead of the guys that redshirted because they have had more full-speed practice with intensity and urgency and what they've had to do with the games,'' Brown said. "Some of the guys that redshirted have to wake up in the first eight days of practice and they are usually better in the last seven.''

In the case of the wide receivers, the first eight practices were vital. Again, this is the one spot Texas needs not only to find at least one starter, but to also build depth. So the Longhorns had to find out what they had and do it quickly so that in the remaining seven practices they can continue to expand on what they can do in the offense.

Sanders hasn't been the only player catching balls and the eyes of the coaches. Jones, who came into spring ball as the odds-on favorite to replace Marquise Goodwin, has not disappointed. At 6-foot-3, he provides a larger target for quarterback David Ash. He also has shown a willingness to give up his body when making the catch.

"He made some tough, physical plays,'' Brown said.

Not to be outdone, Johnson started to peek through in the past few practices.

"Marcus improved in the last two practices and made some moves today, but it is just that, consistency,'' Applewhite said. "Can you get yourself to be as consistent as [Jaxon] Shipley or Mike [Davis]? That is what those three young guys are competing and trying to do, is put themselves on that level.''

It's a level that still remains above all three. But it is also a level that one, two or even all three have the potential to reach.

"All three young receivers can make big leaps,'' Brown said.