Texas Football: 7 Longhorns Who Could Surprise This Spring
Charlie Strong's first spring practice with the Texas Longhorns begins on March 18. Which unknowns will make an impression on their new head coach?
Every spring begins with expectations for the returning starters as well as the rotational players that saw regular action. This is the time for them to show that they are ready for extra reps and to seize their roles for next season.
It is also the time for the relative unknowns to burst on to the scene, especially in front of their new coaching staff. Whether they are redshirts or simply looking to find a spot before it's too late, these guys have as much to gain (or lose) as any of the returning regulars.
Aside from Hassan Ridgeway, a little-used but immensely talented tackle, this list is all about the Longhorns that can go from occupying a roster spot to a budding star with a big showing.
All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.
All stats and information on the Texas Longhorns courtesy of TexasSports.com.
WR Montrel Meander
Thanks to guys like Daje Johnson and Kendall Sanders, Texas has plenty of breakaway speed on the outside. What it lacks is a receiver who brings both speed and size to the position.
Projected starters Jaxon Shipley, Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders are all under 6'1", and this team needs more size in the red zone. In 2013, the Longhorns scored touchdowns on just 57 percent of their possessions inside the 20, which was 87th in the nation.
At 6'3", Montrel Meander brings size to the position along with the ability to be a home run threat. Meander was a track star in high school, turning in a 21.55 time in 200-yard dash according to Longhorn Digest's Kevin Flaherty.
An unheralded recruit of the 2013 class, Meander is going to turn some heads this spring.
TE Blake Whiteley
For the second year in a row, the Longhorns have signed a JUCO tight end that they expect to make an immediate impact. Will Blake Whiteley be able to turn the team's fortunes around at the position?
Texas' tight end position is and remains a disaster until somebody proves otherwise. As a whole, Longhorn tight ends brought in 11 catches for 183 yards on the entire season, most of which belonging to pseudo-receiver John Harris. Starter Geoff Swaim had all of three catches for 14 yards, dropping two passes in the Alamo Bowl.
Like Swaim, Whiteley is known mostly for his blocking ability, recording a pedestrian eight catches for 67 yards at Arizona Western. However, the above highlight film (all caveats apply) does show off at least some ability to make tough catches. As a high schooler, Whiteley recorded 1,118 yards and 16 touchdowns.
He may or may not be Texas' cure for its anemia at tight end, but the early enrollee has serious upside.
OG Rami Hammad
You expect former 5-star recruit Darius James to excel under Joe Wickline. The same goes for redshirt junior Sedrick Flowers, who appeared in all 13 games last season.
The guy that will fly under the radar is Rami Hammad, who surged up the rankings in the final year of his recruitment.
Hammad isn't unique solely because he is the only Longhorn who observes Ramadan. The 4-star guard added 50 pounds as a senior, then proceeded to maul everyone in his path. His performance at the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl put him on the map, though he couldn't get the tape because "it would embarrass kids."
With that type of work ethic, Hammad could mess around and still get a starting spot as a redshirt freshman.
S Adrian Colbert
Losing Adrian Phillips hurts, but the silver lining is the opportunity for Adrian Colbert to become Texas' regular strong safety.
Phillips stepped up after an abysmal 2012 season, but his graduation leaves three sieves to fill his spot. Mykkele Thompson, Josh Turner and Leroy Scott each weigh well below 200 pounds and have no history of coming down to make big hits.
That leaves the door wide open for Adrian Colbert, an all-around athlete at the position. Also a sprinter for the Texas track team, Colbert stood out last offseason thanks to his willingness to initiate contact and his ability to make plays on the ball.
Colbert is Charlie Strong's type of player, and he will use these skills to break into the starting lineup this spring.
DT Hassan Ridgeway
At some point in his career, Hassan Ridgeway is going to be a force of nature in the Big 12. It's just a matter of when he can put it all together.
After switching to defensive tackle, Ridgeway saw action in 12 games last season but regressed after recording nine tackles and three pressures in the first two games. His tackle for loss against New Mexico State, in which he tackled two players at once, is an example of the physical prowess he brings to the field.
With some more seasoning at the position, look for Ridgeway to push Desmond Jackson from the starting job in 2014.
LB Deoundrei Davis
Deoundrei Davis won't start next season, and he may not even crack the two-deep. But he will make some noise in the spring as he makes his long-awaited return from a torn ACL.
An early enrollee in 2013, Davis lost almost all of his senior season to the devastating injury and spent his freshman year recovering. Before the injury, he got SB Nation's Wescott Eberts raving about his physicality as well as his playing speed and instincts.
Even as he regains that former strength, Davis is going to make a name for himself. Once he begins to adjust to the college game, he will quickly transition to a major role in the near future.
LB Naashon Hughes
The whole point of this list is to give you some players that have a chance to make a name for themselves this spring. This final name could be Caleb Bluiett or Bryce Cottrell, two experienced guys that will fight it out for the third spot in the defensive end rotation.
Instead, you are getting an introduction to linebacker Naashon Hughes. Brother of offensive tackle Camrhon, Naashon accepted a grayshirt offer that was eventually converted to a full scholarship. And for good reason—this is a special athlete.
Hughes is 6'4" and 225 pounds with the ability to play anywhere the coaches see fit. He was recruited with the thought of playing safety, but he looks like a jumbo linebacker and could balloon up to play defensive end if needed.
Wind him up and watch him go.