Texas Football: Spring Practice Position Battle Tracker

Taylor Gaspar@Taylor_GasparFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2014

Texas Football: Spring Practice Position Battle Tracker

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    Eric Gay

    Many positions are still up for grabs for the Texas Longhorns. With new head coach Charlie Strong and his staff in place, the Longhorns have a clean slate and the opportunity to seize control of starting roles.

    Ten starters from the 2013 squad have moved on from playing football at Texas, which has opened up a variety of positions on both sides of the ball.

    "When you get into spring practice, you always talk about refining the fundamentals and techniques because that is what's critical," Strong said. "You want to make sure that each day, they look to improve from position to position."

    Of all of the changes happening to Texas football, here's a look at four of the biggest position battles to track this spring.

Quarterback

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    The Longhorns have now lacked consistent and often decent quarterback play for four seasons. With a new offensive scheme, offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at the helm, the position is far from settled.

    "We're not asking them to do a lot because we don't have to go play here in the next few weeks," Strong said of the quarterback position. "It's about them getting better, getting control of the offense and running the team. That's what you want to see from the quarterback position." 

    Texas has two spring candidates leading the battle on the field: David Ash and Tyrone Swoopes. Ash is the veteran of the two and has a 14-7 record in games he has started as a Longhorn. Some might argue the position is Ash's to lose but definitively stating that would be premature. 

    Ash has not seen live game action since September 21 and was sidelined with recurring concussion symptoms for the majority of the 2013 season. Swoopes played in six games during his true freshman debut, but the majority of his snaps came during garbage time play. 

    Adding the 2013 season woes to having to learn an entirely new offensive scheme creates a lot of uncertainty from one of the most important positions on the field. 

    After two weeks of practice, the major emphasis is on grasping quarterback coach Shawn Watson's new scheme and doing what the coaches ask of them. 

    "What they're trying to do is get a grasp of and run the whole offense and do everything we ask them to do," Strong said. "Coach Watson has inputted a lot so it's more of them making sure they can go out and just operate." 

    Texas fans are craving any and all updates on the quarterback position. But expecting an answer right now would be setting yourself up for disappointment. 

Offensive Line

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    The Longhorns had one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country in 2013 but have the polar opposite situation this season. 

    Offensive coordinator Joe Wickline is often regarded as one of the best offensive line coaches in the country. He coached seven All-Big 12 and three All-American offensive linemen during his time at Oklahoma State. But Wickline faces a serious task at trying to rebuild the Longhorns offensive line.

    "Especially at this time of year, I just want to find five players," Wickline said. "Let's just get five on the field, and once they're there, we will adjust accordingly."

    Here is what is known about the current state of the offensive line: Texas has 12 scholarship offensive linemen, the center is likely the only position locked down on the line and the Longhorns have a combined 10 starts between the guards and tackles.

    Outside of center Dominic Espinosa, the offensive line is very green. Sedrick Flowers is the only guard with a start under his belt, but he proved to be a reliable backup last year and saw playing time in all 13 games of the 2013 season. Curtis Riser and Taylor Doyle are the only other guards who have any playing time under their belt.

    Redshirt freshmen Rami Hammad and Darius James were both highly touted recruits in the 2013 class and bring a lot of upside to Wickline's line. Former head coach Mack Brown referred to the 2013 signees as one of the best offensive line classes he had ever signed in his 16 years at Texas.

    It's too early to nail down the starting guards but one could assume Flowers, James and Hammad are leading the charge.

    The offensive tackle's have much more experience than the guards. Kennedy Estelle started eight games in 2013 and Kent Perkins was used as a reserve tackle in six games and picked up one start during his true freshman campaign last season. Desmond Harrison was one of the top-rated junior college offensive linemen in the country during his two-year stint at Contra Costa Community College, but he only played in seven games in 2013. 

    Wickline wants to find his five starters, but he also wants his players to be able to play different positions on the offensive line.

    "It forces them to learn the entire offense and scheme from a protection standpoint," Wickline said. "It's all about competition."

    The offensive line may not have its starting five guys settled but one thing you can count on is weekly competition from the unit.

    "This will continue through the season," Wickline said of the competition. "It will continue through game five, game eight, the bowl game, it's week-by-week."

Safety

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    Texas previously coined itself as "DBU" due to the number of great defensive backs former secondary coach Duane Akina helped send to the NFL. But aside from Kenny Vaccaro, the Longhorns secondary have not played up to the DBU standard in recent years.

    Defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford are in charge of coaching the secondary and could be faced with a difficult task when it comes to finding legitimate safeties.

    Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner are the most experienced of the group but neither have truly lived up to their potential. Thompson's 18 starts makes him the most veteran option at safety, followed by Turner, who has picked up five career starts during his first three seasons at Texas.

    But the slate has been wiped clean with a new defensive coordinator and secondary coach. Will Turner and Thompson make up for lost time and impress Bedford and Vaughn, or will their inconsistent playing history open up a spot for a young defensive back to grasp? 

    One of the less experienced players to keep an eye on is Adrian Colbert, who played in all 13 games last season on special teams and saw the field as a reserve safety in three of those games. Colbert recorded six tackles on special teams last season and has the potential to be the hard-hitting safety the Longhorns have lacked recently.

Defensive End

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    One of the biggest hits the Longhorns defense took was losing All-American defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. The 2013 Ted Hendricks Award winner led the defense with 86 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and 19 quarterback pressures. Defensive end Cedric Reed's decision to return for his senior season will help soften the blow of losing Jeffcoat but who will start opposite Reed has yet to be determined.

    Shiro Davis could be next in line as a great Texas defensive end. The 6'3", 258-pound talent has spent three seasons as an understudy playing behind Alex Okafor, Reed and Jeffcoat. Davis' time to shine could be quickly approaching, but it will not be handed to him without a fight.

    Davis' competition includes Bryce Cottrell and Caleb Bluiett. Cottrell saw action in 11 games during his redshirt freshman season and Bluiett played in nine games, including one start in the Valero Alamo Bowl against Oregon.

    If Davis seizes the opportunity available, he could very well be playing opposite Reed at the start of the 2014 season.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

    Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. You can follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.