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Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Speedy spring overhaul

By Carter Strickland
HornsNation

AUSTIN, Texas -- The new offensive plan for Texas is to exhaust the opponents with alacrity so that it will no longer exasperate the fans with plodding inconsistency.

Well, it is true that slow and steady never did win many races for Texas, mainly because the Longhorns couldn't manage both parts of that equation. Now that same group of 2012 players -- 10 starters return on offense -- is going to be asked to pick up the pace along with a new scheme.

Texas offensive line
Curtis Riser (left) and Kennedy Estelle can find playing time by improving stamina as well as technique this spring.
It's a transition that will begin when the curtain is thrown back on spring football on Feb. 21. There will be missteps and trepidation.

Players, starters included, will want to know how and where they fit into the new offense. Coaches obviously will wonder, too, as a change in scheme this dramatic could tap entirely new veins of talent for Texas.

For instance, Texas now will pressure its linemen for speed and stamina as much as technique. The coaching staff wants five players who can remain on the field for an entire drive without rest but also come off the ball with a willingness to run to the next level for blocks.

That's a tough ask for a 300-pound athlete living in the depths of the trenches. Offensive line coach Stacy Searels has always preached a downhill, downfield blocking scheme. That, at least, provides some small foundation for the linemen.

But, again, to do that repeatedly without the benefits of a huddle or substitutions is a large ask for large men.

What that sets up this spring is an opportunity for Texas' younger players -- Curtis Riser, Kennedy Estelle and Camrhon Hughes -- to prove that they not only have the ability to stay on the field but the willingness to do it, as well. Whether or not that translates into changes along what has been an underperforming line remains to be seen. At the very least it should light the fire of competition in a group that has needed it for two straight years.

And the offensive line will not be the only place players are fighting to prove they can excel in the new up-tempo spread, no-huddle offense. With Texas going to more four wide receiver sets -- essentially squeezing the tight end out of being an every-down position -- there is an opportunity for two more players to join Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley on the field. Cayleb Jones, given a work ethic that has been publicly applauded by the coaches, is a likely candidate to fill one of those spots.

The rangy rising sophomore has demonstrated a willingness to make the tough catch. Blocking also will play a large role for him, as he is replacing Marquise Goodwin, the most tenacious blocking wide receiver Texas had the past two seasons.

Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders also should get long looks. Both played as true freshmen, but neither excelled. Former defensive back Bryant Jackson's game did improve in 2012, so he will have the opportunity to enter the mix.

The player who could mix things up for Texas is Daje Johnson. Play-caller Major Applewhite has not unveiled how he will use the mercurial Johnson, but he is without question the one round peg fitting into a round hole, and there is no question he finds his way into spread sets.

As for the running backs, the picture of what is to come appears to have been painted by Johnathan Gray's performance last season. The rising sophomore is the leading returning rusher (701 yards) and even when Malcolm Brown was healthy, he was not used. (He had four carries against Oregon State.)

Gray, because of his variety of talents when it comes to quick bursts and open-field running, should become an even bigger focal point this spring. Brown will be used because he too has talents suitable for the spread, but the running game will be Gray's to carry.

As for Joe Bergeron, he too has exploitable talents, just not enough to supplant Gray, or Brown for that matter, outside of the shadow of the goal line.

Then, finally, is the quarterback. This position had been so hotly debated that it's amazing that it's at the bottom of any personnel discussion. But David Ash is so far and away the favorite that there are no longer flames of change to fan.

The rising junior more than proved he could operate the no-huddle offense against Oregon State. Texas had only six of Applewhite's new plays in the game plan against the Beavers, but Ash showed flashes of brilliance in the fourth quarter of the Alamo Bowl.

To believe that Ash could be overtaken by rising redshirt freshmen Jalen Overstreet or Connor Brewer, much less Case McCoy, would be spring folly. The fodder is which of the two young quarterbacks grabs the edge in what will be backup battle for the next two seasons.

As for Tyrone Swoopes, he will get a taste of the offense, but most of his time will be spent digesting new techniques so that his fundamentals meet his athleticism. Swoopes' changes, given a history of throwing and playing one way, might not come that quickly.

Texas', on the other hand, will have to come quickly, as there are just 15 practices in which to make them.