Texas Football: Longhorns with the Most to Prove in 2014
Over the past four seasons, the Texas Longhorns have struggled to put together a consistent game plan, resulting in a 30-21 overall record since 2010 and ultimately causing former head coach Mack Brown's resignation.
Texas has historically put together some of the top recruiting classes in college football. But in recent years, many of the top-rated recruits have not played to their potential once they arrived in Austin. First-year head coach Charlie Strong will look to change that trend.
The Longhorns have a lot to prove, as do the new coaches. But some of the players have much more to prove than others.
Nevertheless, a new coaching staff means a clean slate for Texas, and it couldn't come at a better time for many of the players.
Here's a look at five Longhorns with the most to prove in 2014.
Quarterback David Ash
The quarterback position has been an ongoing struggle for Texas since Colt McCoy's departure in 2009. So it shouldn't come as a surprise to Texas fans that the veteran quarterback on the roster has the most to prove in 2014.
David Ash's career has been an up-and-down battle from the moment he arrived in Austin. His expectations of gaining a redshirt year were cut short in the first game of his true freshman season. The moment his redshirt was pulled in 2011 was only the beginning of the bumpy road for him.
He spent his true freshman season splitting reps with Case McCoy but nabbed the starting role heading into his sophomore year. His 2012 performances were a bit inconsistent, but his future looked bright after he led his team in a come-from-behind win over Oregon State in the 2012 Alamo Bowl.
A lot of hype surrounded Ash leading up to his junior season. He was named to the preseason watch lists for the Maxwell Award, Davey O'Brien Award, Manning Award, Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award and CFPA Offensive Award heading into 2013.
But his opportunity to show he had finally come into his own was cut short in Week 2 when he suffered a concussion against BYU. The concussion symptoms lingered on throughout the rest of the season.
He was granted a medical redshirt and has the chance to redo his junior year and start fresh under first-year quarterback coach Shawn Watson.
Ash started the spring off strong and earned praise from his new head coach. Strong commended Ash for his efforts and said he had established himself as a leader with his team, but his accomplishments were cut short due to another injury.
He suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot during spring practice and underwent surgery to repair the fracture.
He is expected to be at full-strength come fall camp, but he will be somewhat starting over in his quest to establish himself as the No. 1 guy. Ash needs to hit the ground running in order to prove himself to his coaches and, more importantly, show that he can stay healthy.
Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes
Sticking with the quarterback discussion, it's only fitting to have another QB as the second person with the most to prove in 2014. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes was called to lead the Longhorns following Ash's injury in spring practice. But his showing in the Orange-White spring scrimmage was less than stellar.
He ran the first-team offense against the second-team defense and completed only eight of 18 passing attempts with one interception and rushed for minus-19 yards in the first half. His second-half stats were much better, but that does not erase what he showed at the beginning of the scrimmage.
It's difficult to examine what he might be able to do in games due to his lack of playing time during his freshman year. But if his performance in the spring game is a precise depiction of where he's at, then he has a long way to go before he can lead the team to victory.
With Ash's injury-prone past and incoming freshman Jerrod Heard now on campus, Swoopes has a small window to prove he can live up to his potential and develop into an elite college quarterback.
The Offensive Line
Texas entered 2013 with one of the most experience offensive lines in the nation. 2014 is an entirely different scenario.
This may sound harsh, but the offensive line's performance in the spring game was arguably one of the worst showings imaginable.
The line gave up eight sacks for a loss of 60 yards to the first- and second-team defenses. It also allowed six pass breakups, 13 tackles for loss and six quarterback pressures.
Having offensive line issues is not a new thing for the Longhorns. Texas has gone six years without having an offensive lineman drafted. And the lack of offensive linemen in the NFL draft could very likely extend to seven years when you consider the number of inexperienced players on the roster.
Aside from senior center Dominic Espinosa, the offensive line has 10 starts among the group, which leaves offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Wickline with a crowded room of green players.
He is one of the most respected offensive line coaches in college football and has a substantially long track record of putting together stout O-lines. But his skills will be put to the test in his first season at Texas.
Linebacker Jordan Hicks
Linebacker Jordan Hicks has a lot of talent but has been held back due to multiple injuries. The former 247Sports' 5-star prospect's injury history has caused him to play only one conference game over the last two years.
His most recent injury happened September 21 when he suffered a noncontact rupture of his Achilles tendon against Kansas State. Texas has not officially released a timetable for his return, but according to WebMD, the typical recovery period for a ruptured Achilles can take up to nine months.
Once Hicks returns to the field, he will not only have to prove himself to the new coaches but also demonstrate that he can go a full season without injury, which he has not accomplished since 2011.
Running Back Joe Bergeron
Running back Joe Bergeron was held out of the final weeks of spring practice to handle personal issues, but Strong said he expected Bergeron to return to the team in time for summer workouts.
And he will be needed.
Texas has a trio of solid running backs between Bergeron, Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. Brown proved he could live up to his 5-star potential last season after Gray went down with a torn Achilles in November. There has not been official word on when Gray is expected to return to the field, which leaves Bergeron and Brown to carry the load for the offense.
Bergeron has shown flashes of his talent during his three seasons as a Longhorn but has constantly battled for playing time with Brown and Gray. With Gray sidelined and the quarterback position still up in the air, the time is now for Bergeron to prove he can be a reliable option in the ground attack.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.
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