Spring football has drawn to a close throughout the Big 12, and teams have started gaining more clarity as to what their 2019 squads are going to look like. As they head into summer workouts, we’ll get into some of the possible issues and potential surprises in store for them.
Head coach Tom Herman enters his third season at Texas, and by most all measures he seems to have turned around. The Longhorns are coming in hot off a ten win season and a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia. They appear to be playing championship football again, but Herman’s team entered spring practices in 2019 with its fair share of questions.
Practices ended in Austin a few weeks ago with a Texas-sized performance after the spring game. As the Longhorns head into their summer workouts this offseason, what’s the state of the program on the Forty Acres?
Here we get into some tentative impressions of this year’s Longhorns, providing a projection of offensive and defensive starters for the upcoming season (returning starters in bold) as well as some post-spring observations about Texas football.
|PROJECTED 2019 STARTERS|
|QB||Sam Ehlinger (Jr.)||DE||Malcolm Roach (Sr.)|
|RB||Keontay Ingram (So.)||NT||Gerald Wilbon (Sr.)|
|WR||Collin Johnson (Sr.)||DE||Ta’Quon Graham (Jr.)|
|WR||Devin Duvernay (Sr.)||BLB||Joseph Ossai (So.)|
|WR||Joshua Moore (So.)||MLB||Ayodele Adeoye (Fr.)|
|TE||Cade Brewer (Jr.)||ROV||Jeffrey McCulloch (Sr.)|
|LT||Samuel Cosmi (So.)||CB||Jalen Green (So.)|
|LG||Junior Angilau (So.)||SS||Caden Sterns (So.)|
|C||Zach Shackleford (Sr.)||FS||Brandon Jones (Sr.)|
|RG||Derek Kerstetter (Jr.)||CB||Anthony Cook (So.)|
|RT||Denzel Okafor (Jr.)||NB||B.J. Foster (So.)|
There’s A Lot Of Youth On This Team
Many of the Longhorn players who’ll see the field next season will be younger underclassmen, and that was clear in Texas’ spring game. Admittedly, many of the more seasoned, older players were sitting out with minor injuries. Nonetheless, it was difficult not to notice how many freshman and sophomores there were on the gridiron.
Offensively, players like freshmen Jordan Whittington and Malcolm Epps were all over the field. Defensively, most of the players who project to be a part of the two deep next season will be sophomores or freshman, meaning that in Tom Herman’s third year at Texas, this team will be relying heavily on players signed during the head coach’s tenure.
However that plays out in live action next season, it’ll speak to the ability of Herman’s staff to both recruit and develop players, something that the Longhorns struggled with notably in the years before Herman got to Austin.
Can Texas Develop The Running Game?
Sophomore Keontay Ingram projects to be the primary ball carrier next season after having carried the ball 142 times in 2018 for 708 yards. If Texas wants to make another run at the Big 12 championship, they’ll need Ingram and the rest of the running back room to be legitimate threats to opposing defenses.
That’s if they want to help preserve the health quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who’s already entered into Heisman conversations. The junior signal caller was the team’s second-leading rusher last season, and missed time due to injury for the second year in a row.
The Longhorns are certainly setup to take steps there. The running back group probably has more upside this season, and with the addition of Georgia Tech transfer guard Parker Braun in the offseason, Texas could have one of the best offensive lines in the Big 12 in 2019.
Defensive Backs Will Carry Much Of The Load
Despite their losses from last season, the Longhorns should have one of the better secondaries in the Big 12 this year. Brandon Jones and Caden Sterns are probably the best safety duo in the conference, and heralded sophomores who shined in limited playing time last year will likely start at the other defensive back spots.
Of all the questions surrounding the 2019 Texas squad, the defensive backfield will likely be the unit that the Longhorns lean on as they try to repeat last season’s success.
The Defensive Front Six Is A Concern
Despite the fact that Texas might have one of it’s best offenses in a decade in next season, with Ehlinger and wideout Collin Johnson presenting a potentially lethal combination, there are questions on defense.
Texas returns only three starters there, and the linebackers are of particular concern as summer approaches. Senior Jeffrey McCulloch could have a standout season next year, but he’ll have to help bring along the underclassmen around him.
The defensive line will have a veteran presence, but there are serious concerns about whether the pass rush will improve. Senior Malcolm Roach is set up to have a good year there, but opposing offenses will likely test the Longhorns’ front six next heavily year to see whether or not vulnerabilities exist there.