Texas Football: Position-by-Position Preview of the the Longhorns' 2014 Roster
The Texas Longhorns' next crop of freshmen arrives on June 3, officially locking in the players available to Charlie Strong and his staff this season.
Because the Longhorns, according to ESPN, return the most starting experience of any Big 12 program, few of the incoming players project to start. But given the lack of depth at key defensive positions, guys like Edwin Freeman and Poona Ford may be thrust into key roles.
Then, of course, there is the looming possibility that Jerrod Heard could bust his way to the backup job and end up starting before season's end.
Broken down by starters, backups and projected redshirts, here's the outlook for Heard's and every other Longhorn's position in 2014.
Starter: David Ash
It's optimistic for a concussion-prone, oft-injured and inconsistent quarterback, but David Ash will start every game he is healthy for the Longhorns. He is the only quarterback on the roster that has ever started a game, much less even thrown a collegiate touchdown.
Strong expects him to return from his foot injury by mid-July, which will get him back on track to start the season opener. From there, who knows what will happen.
Charlie Strong said he's hoping to have RB Johnathan Gray, LB Jordan Hicks back by mid-June, QB David Ash by mid-July
Whoever ends up as the second-string quarterback has a strong chance of playing this season. We have seen Swoopes look very good, such as when he completed 15 of his last 21 spring-game passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns, and we've seen him throw a pick to a walk-on.
Depending on which version of Swoopes prevails, freshman Jerrod Heard could claim the backup role after spending some time with quarterback coach George Whitfield. The nation's top dual threat is now up to 205 pounds, according to CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman, and Strong has said, per Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman, he's open to starting Heard if he proves he can handle it.
The battle between these two gifted athletes will be of chief interest during fall camp, while Onyegbule should not see the field under any circumstance as a quarterback.
It won't matter who actually makes the start each game, because Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray are both going to get starter's carries. Each brings a different style to the field and will do a bulk of the work for this offense in tandem.
The distribution of carries may vary on a game-by-game basis, but both of these players are due for about 200 totes apiece.
According to HornsDigest, Bergeron is back in the program's good graces and should return to his short-yardage duties as a senior. That lessens the likelihood that Overstreet will see any regular usage, though he will probably be jumped on depth chart by top recruit Donald Catalon.
Foreman will eventually settle in to a short-yardage role, especially if Texas fails to reel in either Chris Warren or Soso Jamabo in 2015. Shorter may never play football again because of a spinal injury sustained last season but will spend at least one season on the roster.
In traditional sets, Texas' receivers will be Shipley, Johnson and Sanders. Shipley is easily the No. 1 as the most complete pass-catcher on the team, with Sanders and Johnson each providing the vertical threat. The latter two will benefit the most from some stability at quarterback, and look for Johnson to have some huge games in a breakout junior season.
Expect Johnson and Warrick to lead this group in snaps because of their quickness and big-play ability. Either one could emerge as a starter with a strong offseason, and the rest will see the field only sparingly. Monitor Jake Oliver as a possible red zone option, while freshmen Armanti Foreman and Roderick Bernard project to contribute on special teams.
Two guys that are big, fast and extremely raw talents. Possessing 4.4 speed at 6'4", Gray has outstanding potential on the outside once he spends a season learning how to play football at this level.
Starter: Geoff Swaim
Swaim was the starter last season because of his blocking and remains so unless a better pass-catcher emerges. He did pull in two catches for 25 yards in the spring game, but don't expect any huge games from him.
Also known for his blocking prowess, Daniels started six games in 2013 and should find his way back into the rotation once he recovers from shoulder surgery. McFarland has the most potential as a pure receiver, averaging over 15 yards on his eight career receptions. But because he is a liability as a blocker, the chances are that JUCO transfer Blake Whiteley passes him up before season's end.
Perkins is out until the fall recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery but should still get the edge over Desmond Harrison because of his starting experience. Per HornsDigest, Kennedy Estelle has corrected the academic issues that kept him out of the Alamo Bowl.
As for the inside, Rimington Trophy Watchlist member Dom Espinosa and Sedrick Flowers are firmly ensconced in the starting lineup as two of the program's most experienced linemen. Meanwhile, surprise starter Taylor Doyle will have to work overtime to fend off Darius James and Rami Hammad for the first-team right guard spot.
Harrison will be the starting left tackle if Perkins cannot recover in time, while James and Hammad will each contend for a guard spot. Regardless, each will be needed to provide depth along with Jake Raulerson and early enrollee Alex Anderson. Third-year guard Curtis Riser was left off the second-team line in the spring game, according to ESPN's Max Olson.
Given the amount of bodies in front of them, it seems unlikely either of these 3-star recruits will break into the two-deep as a freshman. Then again, anything's possible under Joe Wickline.
A former 5-star recruit, Brown is a difference-maker up front who should be preseason All-Big 12. A top-three performer last season in tackles for loss, quarterback pressures and passes broken up, the inevitable breakout year is coming. The only question is whether Desmond Jackson can pull his weight alongside him.
Ridgeway got off to a strong start last season, recording nine tackles, one for a loss, three quarterback pressures and a press breakup through the first two games. Then he regressed, recording only four stops the rest of the season. He will have to be better this season providing depth for a thin unit.
The rest of the returnees have been used sparingly, which opens the door for freshman Poona Ford to see some early action.
Redshirt: Chris Nelson
Even if he sits out the 2014 season, Nelson was a big get on national signing day because of the depth he will provide in the future. He has the size and the quickness to become a solid player.
Cedric Reed became a dominant force last season as one of only two FBS players to record five sacks, five forced fumbles and four pass breakups. The other one was Buffalo's Khalil Mack. Reed is a lock for All-Big 12 honors but will need Shiro Davis to come into his own on the weak side to reach his full potential.
Caleb Bluiett is going to push Davis for the weak-side job right up until the season opener, making his case with eight tackles and two sacks against the first-teamers in the spring game. That will benefit both players and give freshman Derick Roberson enough time to fill out his 6'3" frame.
Redshirt: Jake McMillon
Already bringing good size at 6'3", 240 pounds, McMillon may be headed for a switch to tackle.
Middle linebacker Steve Edmond finally looked like a 5-star talent in 2013, earning an honorable mention for All-Big 12 honors. Flanked by Peter Jinkens and Tim Cole, he will lead the defense's deepest group.
The backup linebackers combine for a total of 38 career starts. How's that for depth?
When healthy, Jordan Hicks is one of the team's best defenders and could push for Cole's starting job. Seniors Kendall Thompson and Tevin Jackson will provide steady hands, and Dalton Santos can play middle linebacker in a pinch.
But the players to watch here are Demarco Cobbs, Naashon Hughes and freshman Edwin Freeman. Cobbs and Freeman both have the athleticism to play a hybrid safety role, while the 6'4" Hughes has the size to put his hand in the ground if needed.
Andrew Beck made some progress this spring as an early enrollee, but there is too much experience ahead of him to justify burning his redshirt. The same goes for Cameron Hampton.
Following a down a junior season, senior Quandre Diggs returns as Texas' best defensive back. In order to solidify his NFL future and hold this group together, he will have to turn in an All-Big 12 season. Opposite him will be Duke Thomas, who needs to find some consistency in coverage as a junior.
A special teams leader in 2013, Bryson Echols is ready to take on a larger role as the team's top reserve corner. He and redshirt freshman Antwuan Davis should see plenty of snaps this season, especially if Thomas continues with his growing pains.
According to The Daily Texan, speed demon Sheroid Evans has been out of his knee brace since mid-March, meaning he should figure back into the rotation this season. He would be a major help here if he can play up to his potential; otherwise freshman Jermaine Roberts will have to get his feet wet early on.
Though both players recorded an interception in the spring game, Josh Turner and Mykkele Thompson remain suspect until they prove otherwise. Neither brings legitimate, run-stopping size to the position, and we've seen just as much bad as good from them in the past.
Even if Turner and/or Thompson struggle, the Longhorns don't have much depth they can turn to. Colbert, Collins and Huhn are all solid athletes that are over the 200-pound mark but lack any real experience. Of the three, Colbert has the best chance to develop into a reliable player this year.
Cobbs or Freeman will probably help out here in 3-3-5 sets, but the staff may have to look at moving a corner over.
Redshirt: Jason Hall
The Longhorns will look at position changes before they throw Jason Hall into the fire.