AUSTIN, Texas -- Nobody has played more true freshmen than Texas over the past two years.
Eighteen hit the field in 2011. Another 16 in 2012.
In 2013, few teams will play less newcomers than the Longhorns. The simple fact is Texas, despite the record, is loaded with returning talent at every position. And those few freshmen who did not play at the start of their careers are starting to appear more and more ready to step up now.
"In fact, all of them have looked really good," said Texas coach Mack Brown of the redshirts participating in bowl practice. "I think that's a great class. For us to have played 16 of them and the ones that didn't play looked good. So it will be fun to watch those guys through the spring."
That fun might have to be tempered with a few hard decisions when it comes to mixing and matching where to put the bodies. But that there finally are experienced bodies in place bodes well for Texas, even if doesn’t for those in the incoming class of 2013 who want to play right away.
The grumblings probably won’t be too loud, however, simply because there are not that many voices to be heard. Texas has 12 commitments from high school players with quite possibly only one more high school prospect becoming a commitment, Andrew Billings (Waco, Texas/Waco). If that remains the case, this will be the smallest class of high school players Brown has signed in his tenure at Texas.
Texas has and is expected to continue to try and supplement this class with junior college players. De'Vondre Campbell (Hutchinson, Kan./ Hutchinson CC) is a possibility at linebacker and Geoff Swaim (Chico, Calif./Butte CC) is coming in as a tight end. There might be more to come. And that further clogs up the playing pipeline for next year’s true freshmen.
Whether or not Campbell signs with Texas, the linebacker spot should have enough bodies so that Deoundrei Davis (Cypress, Texas/ Cypress Woods) is not pressed into early playing time. Texas should have a healthy Jordan Hicks back as well as returning starter Steve Edmond and the emerging Peter Jinkens as the first group. That leaves Texas with a strong group of reserves in Tevin Jackson, Dalton Santos, Kendall Thompson, and Demarco Cobbs. Thompson has started in the past and will get a shot. Cobbs also has started but might be seen as more of a third down specialist in the future.
Texas has three defensive backs committed and that is a spot where the Longhorns will be weakened by the departure of safety Kenny Vaccaro. But moves have already been made to shore up that weakness. Cornerback Quandre Diggs, one of Texas’ best defensive players, has been shifted to safety during bowl practice
"[Defensive backs coach Duane Akina] always likes to move them around and if you have more corners than safeties for next year, you're losing that toughness that Kenny Vaccaro brings and that confidence and leadership; so who will be the guy to step in there and to help that?" Browns said. "So Quandre has played about every day at safety, he knows what to do, and the other end of it."
Adrian Phillips played significantly better in the second half of the season at safety than the first. Mykkele Thompson should also be more prepared. At corner, Carrington Byndom is back, Duke Thomas is available and Josh Turner can play both. While the defensive back position is not loaded, there appear to be enough veteran players to keep Texas from having to dip down and grab someone like Antwuan Davis (Bastrop, Texas/Bastrop), Chevoski Collins (Livingston, Texas/Livingston) or Erik Huhn (Cibolo, Texas/Steele).
The defensive and offensive lines return everybody except defensive end Alex Okafor. Cedric Reed, Reggie Wilson and Shiro Davis will serve as Okafor’s replacement and Jackson Jeffcoat’s backup. So it is unlikely Jake Raulerson (Celina, Texas/Celina) will see any time. Defensive tackle is Texas’ deepest position and with Malcom Brown commanding more and more playing time there is not much sense is using A'Shawn Robinson (Fort Worth, Texas/ Arlington Heights) early.
On the offensive line there may have been some thought to what Darius James (Harker Heights, Texas/Harker Heights) or Billings, if he commits, could do to help shore up the middle of the line. But Sedrick Flowers, pushed into action because of Trey Hopkins’ injury, finally appears to be emerging and that gives the Longhorns slightly more flexibility in who it will play.
At wide receiver, Texas does lose Marquise Goodwin, but it had trouble working in the explosive talents of Kendall Sanders, Cayleb Jones and Marcus Johnson in 2012. So while the depth of Jake Oliver (Dallas/ Jesuit Prep) and Jacorey Warrick (Houston/Cypress Falls) will be appreciated in practiced it probably will not be utilized on Saturdays.
At quarterback Texas will have at least four players ahead of Tyrone Swoopes (Whitewright, Texas/Whitewright) this spring. That number could be in flux depending on how Texas handles its current group, plus its flirtations with junior college. Although it appears if Texas were to sign a junior college player he would not be added to the roster until the fall. But even if there are shifts in the number of quarterbacks on Texas’ roster it is highly unlikely Swoopes would see the field in 2013.
But, it’s pretty clear, Swoopes is not the only who will be watching and learning next year.