Texas Football: 7 Players to Watch in the Longhorns' Spring Game

Zach SheltonFeatured ColumnistApril 13, 2014

Texas Football: 7 Players to Watch in the Longhorns' Spring Game

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    Texas head coach Charlie Strong
    Texas head coach Charlie StrongErich Schlegel/Getty Images

    David Ash's fractured foot will place much of the spotlight on Tyrone Swoopes, but the sophomore quarterback is just one of several Longhorns that are must-see in Saturday's Orange-White Game.

    This is the program's first spring game under new coach Charlie Strong, and therefore our first real look at the direction he is taking it. There's been plenty of talk about toughness and culture change, but few have been able to physically see the difference. 

    Even with the quarterback debate on hold for a few months, the game offers valuable insight. Questions surrounding the safety position, who has stepped up to replace the departed starters and how the offensive line will shape up all get their first semblance of an answer when the team takes the field.

    Be sure to watch Tyrone Swoopes, but the performances of Daje Johnson and Josh Turner will be just as important to next season's results.

QB Tyrone Swoopes

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    Texas QB Tyrone Swoopes
    Texas QB Tyrone SwoopesEric Gay

    For the second straight year, all eyes will be on Tyrone Swoopes in Texas' spring game. Only instead of garbage time, he will get a full complement of snaps.

    David Ash's foot injury has defaulted the sophomore to the top of the depth chart. This comes one year after Swoopes, as an early enrollee, captivated fans with his elusiveness and power in the open field during last year's spring game

    For Swoopes to make a similar impression this time around, his passing will have to do more of the talking. He only completed 38.5 percent of his attempts as a freshman, and the coaches may want to limit how much he runs without another experienced passer in the fold.

    Whatever the case, he will see a lot of snaps in a great opportunity to show off his abilities. If he comes out dealing, there will be a massive campaign to give him the keys to the offense.

DE Shiro Davis

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    Texas DE Shiro Davis
    Texas DE Shiro DavisMichael Thomas

    Shiro Davis has done all the right things this offseason as he attempts to make the jump from backup to starter.

    Though he will not be expected to replicate Jackson Jeffcoat's production, Davis knows he will be replacing the departed All-American in the starting lineup. He has faced the challenge head-on thus far, bulking up to 258 pounds and earning some praise for his efforts this spring.

    The junior has been quiet since his arrival, recording just one sack for his career. Still, this is a prime breakout candidate that deserves your attention as the season approaches.

WR Marcus Johnson

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    Texas WR Marcus Johnson
    Texas WR Marcus JohnsonBrandon Wade

    Marcus Johnson broke out in 2013 as Texas' big-play receiver, averaging a team-best 15.9 yards per catch. Saturday gives us our first look at how he is adjusting to a bigger role for the Longhorns.

    A favorite to take over Mike Davis' starting role, Johnson is an explosive receiver with reliable hands and a good feel for the position. The junior has impressed the coaching staff with his breakaway speed and should run with the first team on Saturday.

    Tyrone Swoopes has the arm to find Johnson on deeper routes, so expect Texas to try to hook these two up for a couple of big plays.

RB/WR Daje Johnson

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    Texas WR/RB Daje Johnson (left)
    Texas WR/RB Daje Johnson (left)USA TODAY Sports

    Charlie Strong has discussed the volatility of Daje Johnson's game numerous times. It's clear the new head coach is a fan of his offensive weapon's ability, but the spring game will be our first indication of how he plans to put it to use.

    Johnson alternates between "positionless wonder" and "no wonder he has no position." He has game-changing burst, but he lacks polish as a receiver and is too small at 180 pounds to handle significant carries out of the backfield.

    But when Johnson gets loose, he's the most exciting player on the field. He's recorded touchdowns of 70-plus yards as a rusher, receiver and returner, putting up 128 yards and two scores on just nine touches in a game last season.

    Now that Joe Bergeron has been suspended, Texas could use this type of ability out of the backfield. However, he could also be an asset in the screen game and on underneath routes, so expect the offensive coaches to give him touches in a variety of ways.

S Josh Turner

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    Texas FS Josh Turner
    Texas FS Josh TurnerMichael Thomas

    Aside from quarterback, no position battle bears more weight than the one for safety, where Josh Turner has been the lone standout.

    "Josh Turner is doing a really good job at free safety" is all Charlie Strong has had to say about his safeties. In that same press conference, he acknowledged that Mykkele Thompson was a starter last season and left it at that.

    Neither player has ever been overly productive, so Turner's progress will be interesting to see when he takes the field against his talented offensive counterparts.

    Just as noteworthy will be the second safety that starts beside Turner. Though he has a longer frame, the 183-pound Thompson is not big enough to play strong safety with a 180-pound Turner. Adrian Colbert fits the bill at 202, though there has been no word to substantiate any claims that he will be the guy.

    In short, keep an eye on who the first-team safeties are and hope at least one is bigger than a kicker.

OT Desmond Harrison

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    Texas OT Desmond Harrison
    Texas OT Desmond HarrisonRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    Down to his last season of college football, Desmond Harrison has one chance to reach his 6'8" ceiling, and this game would be a great start.

    Having Joe Wickline immediately makes Texas' offensive line an area that spectators must pay attention to. The members of his first-team line and how well they produce will be highly scrutinized since production has not matched talent the past two seasons.

    Whether Harrison is a part of that group will say a lot about his future in football. The gargantuan tackle was jumped by underclassmen Kennedy Estelle and Kent Perkins last season, but he has no excuse for not establishing himself with Perkins injured and both tackle spots up for grabs.

    The 'Horns have experimented with redshirt freshman Darius James at tackle, so there is a chance Harrison has again been passed up by a younger talent. We will find out soon enough.

TE M.J. McFarland

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    Texas TE M.J. McFarland
    Texas TE M.J. McFarlandMichael Thomas

    M.J. McFarland? But he hasn't caught a pass since Thanksgiving 2012! True, but Strong wants his tight ends involved in the offense, and he likes what he has seen from the junior tight end.

    The Longhorns were terrible at this position last season, getting a combined six catches for 42 yards. Both regular Greg Daniels and starter Geoff Swaim are accomplished blockers but don't give you much whatsoever in the passing game.

    As a former receiver, McFarland is a different story. His blocking has always been his downfall, but he has more promise as a threat up the middle than any other tight end on the roster.

    Don't take this to mean that McFarland is set to break out, because we should all know better than to expect that from a Longhorn tight end. Just watch him and decide for yourself if it's possible.