- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series takes a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from him. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.
No. 52 Darius James
Redshirt freshman offensive guard
Recruitment rewind: You don't find too many guys like James. The mammoth 6-foot-5, 320-pound lineman from nearby Harker Heights, Texas, was a top-20 recruit nationally (No. 17 in the final ESPN 150) even though our scouts projected him as a center. James committed to the Longhorns in March of 2013, and the Under Armour All-American stuck with it because he wanted to play with Harker Heights teammate Naashon Hughes in college. James was Texas' highest-rated signee in 2013.
Career so far: James suffered a broken foot at the start of his high school senior year and missed nearly the entire season. That injury proved to be a setback for his conditioning, so it was no surprise he ended up redshirting in his freshman season at Texas. In his first game action, James lined up as the second-string left tackle in the spring game.
Best-case scenario for 2014: On his best days, James is a mauler capable of overpowering defenders with his sheer strength. If he can prove to Joe Wickline he's in shape and he excels at cross-training at the other offensive line spots, James could work his way into the lineup in a number of spots. Desmond Harrison has yet to prove much at left tackle. The battle at right guard is still undecided.
Worst-case scenario for 2014: What is James' best position? Wickline is a firm believer in trying out his linemen at every spot to see how they fit. He played left tackle in the Under Armour game against elite players and fared reasonably well, but seemed more likely to end up playing on the interior at the college level. It'll be interesting to see where James winds up by the end of fall camp and whether that spot offers much hope for instant playing time.
Future expectations: If left tackle is the decision, James can challenge Harrison for his job throughout the season. That's the Wickline philosophy: Your job must be earned every single week. If Harrison, a senior, does blossom into the kind of NFL-caliber tackle he was once hyped up to be, then it's just a year wait for James and a big opportunity to win a starting spot in 2015. If he ends up at guard, he could win that starting spot even sooner. His conditioning and his understanding of Wickline's scheme are really what will make the difference in the timing of James' ascent.