- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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AUSTIN, Texas -- We continue our five-to-watch series this week with a look at a group of Texas players who missed some or all of the spring but will be important cogs in 2014. In the interest of mixing it up, we’ll focus on five Longhorns not named David Ash.
1. LB Jordan Hicks
Ideally, it would make sense for Texas to roll into Big 12 play with Hicks and Steve Edmond patrolling the middle of the defense. Having those two holding it down gives you all sorts of options. But it requires a healthy Hicks.
The senior has played in just one conference game in the past two years, felled by freak injuries in back-to-back seasons. He’d like nothing more than to take out that frustration on opposing offenses in 2014.
He’ll be relied upon, too, to help Quandre Diggs and Cedric Reed lead this defense in the locker room. Coach Charlie Strong is optimistic that Hicks can return sometime in June, which would have him ready to go for fall camp in August.
That would be a boon for a defense that has sorely missed Hicks. After all the missed time of the past two seasons, who knows how good this defense could be if he’s on the field and at his best.
2. RB Johnathan Gray
There will be consternation among Texas fans over how Gray should be utilized this fall.
Some will say he can team with Malcolm Brown to form one of the Big 12 and even one of the nation’s best rushing duos. Others will argue that, whether or not he’s 100 percent recovered from his torn Achilles, Gray should redshirt in 2014 and led Brown carry the load.
It’s an interesting conundrum for Strong and his staff as they construct their offense this offseason, and one that can be ignored for now with a wait-and-see approach. But we at least know what Gray can do.
Over a six-game stretch in the middle of last season, Gray rushed for 628 yards and four scores and was the workhorse of the post-Ash run-heavy attack. If he does return sometime next month, as Strong hopes, there will reason for hope that he can play in the opener.
Don’t underestimate this: Gray is an absolute freak of an athlete. Normal recovery times might not apply to him. Let’s see how he looks in August before making any predictions about his junior year.
3. CB Sheroid Evans
Evans’ time is coming. The junior cornerback showed serious promise entering the 2013 season and played in five games before being lost for the year to a torn ACL.
After sitting out the spring to recover, Evans should get thrown right back into the mix to serve as Texas’ nickel corner, a job that’s good for a lot of playing time against Big 12 spread offenses. Bryson Echols and Antwuan Davis should provide good competition, but Evans is too good to stay sidelined.
He’s got all the tools, especially with his long arms and track speed, to develop into a Big 12 starting corner. Just depends on how he recovers and how he responds to his two new position coaches.
4. RB Joe Bergeron
Bergeron was held out for the final weeks of spring practice for undisclosed reasons -- reportedly academic issues -- but Strong expects him to come back. And he’ll need him back.
Behind Brown, you have a bunch of questions at running back in addition to Gray’s injury. Jalen Overstreet remains an unproven former quarterback, and a trio of freshmen arrive this summer of varying readiness. It’s entirely possible all three redshirt.
That would leave Bergeron, a thumper of a power back with nearly 1,400 career rushing yards.
Fumbling issues put him in the doghouse for a while last season, but Bergeron can be a lot more than a goal-line back when playing at his best. And the guy still scored 16 TDs in 2012. Texas’ backfield needs him on board.
5. OG Kent Perkins
Might Perkins be able to find a starting job on this Texas offensive line? Shawn Watson might have hinted at that late in spring ball by acknowledging that the right tackle had moved inside to guard in practice.
But Perkins went down with a minor knee injury that required surgery at the start of April, a setback that raises questions about what he can provide this fall. He’s expected to be healthy for spring practice, and the former top-100 recruit should have a major role on this line regardless of whether he starts.
With veteran Sedrick Flowers fairly entrenched at left guard, it’s possible Perkins’ best shot at starting will be on the right side competing with Taylor Doyle and Rami Hammad. He proved in his only start last season he’s good enough to back up Kennedy Estelle at right tackle, too.