Texas Football: 4 Biggest Position Battles to Watch in Spring Practice

Taylor Gaspar@Taylor_GasparFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2014

Texas Football: 4 Biggest Position Battles to Watch in Spring Practice

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    Texas football will get back in the swing of things March 18 at the start of spring practice. The Longhorns have a revamped image under first-year head coach Charlie Strong and his staff, and have a new motto for the team to follow: Put the "T" back into Texas.

    Strong described his slogan as a representation of instilling toughness in an interview with KXAN-Austin's Roger Wallace.

    You have to coach it, you have to recruit it and you have to be about it. I have a slogan, there's a t-shirt. It says, 'Put the T back into Texas.' No. 1 is toughness. No. 2 is trust, togetherness, teamwork. And those things have to be done.

    The first test of toughness will be seen in position battles during spring practice. Who will step up and replace the starters from 2013?

    Here's a look at four position battles to watch during the Longhorns' spring practice.

No. 1: Quarterback

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    Spring candidates: David Ash, Tyrone Swoopes

    Quarterbacks David Ash and Tyrone Swoopes will enter spring practice with a clean slate, hoping to impress the Texas coaches. Ash's experience gives him an automatic edge over Swoopes, but what happened to Ash in 2013 cannot be ignored.

    After suffering a season-long head injury, Ash was cleared to return to team workouts in January and is expected to fully participate in spring practice. But some may question if he will be the same player he was prior to his injury. Others may wonder if Ash is ready to return to the field after the number of months he was sidelined from any team workouts.

    Could Swoopes pass Ash on the depth chart? It is possible, but unlikely.

    Ash entered 2013 with high expectations. He was named to the preseason watch lists for the Davey O'Brien Award, Maxwell Award, Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, Manning Award and the CFPA Offensive Award, and was a preseason first-team All-Big 12 selection by Sporting News. If Ash proves he is indeed 100 percent cured of injury, it would be hard to bet against him. 

    It is difficult to determine where Swoopes stands because he did not have much opportunity to show his skills during his freshman year. The 6'4", 245-pound quarterback has the physical measurables that compare to Vince Young, but it is easy to assume nobody, not even the Texas coaches, have a feel for what Swoopes can bring to the Longhorns.

    Ash and Swoopes have until the Orange-White game on April 19 to make their case before incoming freshman Jerrod Heard is added to the mix this summer.

No. 2: Defensive End

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    Spring candidates: Caleb Bluiett, Bryce Cottrell, Shiro Davis, Cedric Reed

    Losing Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and All-American defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat is a big hit to the defensive line, but it may not be as bad as it sounds. Soon-to-be senior Cedric Reed has the talent to take over Jeffcoat's role, but who will play opposite of Reed is still up in the air.

    Davis is the most experienced of the remaining three and has logged 18 tackles in 20 games during his true-freshman and sophomore seasons at Texas. 

    Cottrell saw action as a reserve defensive end and on special teams in 2013, and picked up five tackles and one sack in 11 games during his redshirt freshman season.

    And then there's Bluiett, a versatile athlete who has spent time as a tight end and defensive end for the Longhorns. The redshirt freshman had two tackles and one sack in nine games last season. 

    The three defensive ends have yet to experience life as a full-time starter because they have played behind Jeffcoat, Reed and Alex Okafor during their two years at Texas. But the time has come for them to step up and compete for a starting role. After spring, incoming freshman and Under Armour All-American Derick Roberson will be added to the competition.


No. 3: Offensive Line

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    Spring candidates: Alex Anderson, Taylor Doyle, Dominic Espinosa, Kennedy Estelle, Sedrick Flowers, Garrett Greenlea, Rami Hammad, Desmond Harrison, Camrhon Hughes, Darius James, Kent Perkins, Jake Raulerson, Curtis Riser

    The Texas offensive line entered 2013 as one of the nation's most experienced groups. That will all change in 2014.

    The Longhorns lost three starters—Mason Walters, Trey Hopkins and Donald Hawkins—to graduation. Another starter, Josh Cochran, has chosen to end his football career due to a shoulder injury. The group combined for 140 starts.

    Espinosa is the veteran of the linemen and has started at center in all 39 games since his redshirt freshman season in 2011. He will likely hold on to his starting status for 2014.

    Estelle, Harrison, Hughes and Perkins are expected to be the top tackles battling for a starting role.

    Estelle is the most experienced of the tackles and started eight games in 2013. Perkins played as a reserve tackle in six games and junior college transfer Harrison saw backup action in seven games in 2013. Hughes has yet to see playing time at Texas. 

    Flowers, Hammad, James and Riser could very well be the lead candidates competing for a starting role as an offensive guard. Flowers played in 18 games during his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons at Texas and received his first start in the Alamo Bowl game against Oregon. Riser saw action as a reserve guard in four games during his redshirt freshman season, while Hammad and James both redshirted in 2013.

    First-year offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Wickline has a lot to work to do in finding the linemen who will lead the charge in 2014. The starting role at center is probably in the bag, but the remaining positions will be battled for during spring football.

No. 4: Wide Receiver

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    Spring candidates: John Harris, Daje Johnson, Marcus Johnson, Montrel Meander, Jake Oliver, Kendall Sanders, Jaxon Shipley, Jacorey Warrick

    Texas loses 200 receptions, 2,753 yards, 18 touchdowns and 38 starts with standout wide receiver Mike Davis entering the NFL draft. But the positive is the Longhorns still have a lot of talent and depth at wide receiver.

    Texas has three viable receivers who could take over the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 starting roles with Marcus Johnson, Sanders and Shipley. The trio has combined for 220 receptions, 2,659 yards and 13 touchdowns. Shipley is the veteran of the group, but Johnson and Sanders proved to be reliable options in 2013. 

    Running back/wide receiver Daje Johnson is arguably one of the most talented athletes on the Longhorns' roster, but has struggled to stay healthy and out of trouble during his first two seasons at Texas. If he can regain his focus, the speedster could become one of the most critical weapons for the Texas offense.  

    Meander, Oliver and Warrick do not have much experience at the college level, but the trio has the chance to become difference-makers for Texas. Meander and Warrick were both three-time all-district receivers in high school, and Oliver was a Parade All-American and set the Texas state high school record for career receptions during his time at Jesuit High School.

    Even though nobody is guaranteed a starting position, it is difficult to expect anyone will take the starting roles from Marcus Johnson, Sanders and Shipley. However, a heated battle will almost certainly take place among those gunning for playing time as backup receivers this spring.

    The competition will only heat up during the summer when incoming freshmen Roderick Bernard, Armanti Foreman, Garrett Gray, Lorenzo Joe and Dorian Leonard arrive in Austin.


    Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's Featured Columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.