AUSTIN, Texas -- When last Texas unfurled four wide receivers with a quarterback who proved to be slightly more than adequate (Colt McCoy), six players caught 30 or more passes.
So to say changes in the new-yet-old spread offense are afoot or at hand for the Texas wide receivers is an understatement of well, Texas-sized proportions.
The first of those changes might be to find more wide receivers. While Texas does have its top two wide receivers, Davis and Shipley, back in the fold, it has lost Marquise Goodwin (26 catches) and has no other wide receiver who had more than 10 catches in 2012. Bryant Jackson has the most with eight. Next in line are Cayleb Jones and John Harris with two each.
So the priority now becomes finding bodies to throw on the field and to throw to. And, really beyond the aforementioned Davis, Shipley, Jackson and Jones (Harris is being switched to a hybrid tight end spot), there are not that many from which to choose.
There are at most three more legitimate candidates who complete Texas’ complement of wide receivers: Kendall Sanders, Marcus Johnson and Daje Johnson. In total, that is seven players. Remember in 2009, Texas had six true wide receivers each catch at least 30 or more balls. So the depth at the position is not optimal but, to retread the maddening catch-all that Mack Brown uses to gloss over actual explanations, it is what it is.
And with that, here it is:
Davis and Shipley: Each should push into at least the 60s in receptions as more one-on-one coverages are thrown their way with more receivers in pass patterns. This spring, play-caller Major Applewhite will need to experiment with how much to utilize Davis as a deep threat while also continuing to foster the chemistry between quarterback David Ash and Shipley.
Keeping Davis mentally engaged is another crucial component this spring. The rising senior briefly toyed with the idea of leaving for the NFL draft. And sometimes when that happens, a player who has a bad practice or two can be nagged with regrets that he didn’t leave. Davis has shown in the past that he mentally can be pulled away from the game. But, on the flip side of that, as a junior Davis showed that he had matured and was dedicated.
Shipley should emerge as a clear winner in the switch to spread. Given his abilities, that is a win for the entire Texas program.
Jones: A logical choice to see increased action. Jones is not a breakaway player but he does have ability to go over the middle or down the sideline. He sees the ball well in the air and adjusts to it. Plus his 6-3 frame is an asset. Matched against smaller defensive backs, despite not having overwhelming speed, he should be a solid target. Look for him to emerge as the solid No. 3 receiver in the spring.
Sanders: Long arms and the ability to go up and get the ball at its highest point are two of Sanders' best attributes. Going into 2012, there was a thought that he could be a red-zone receiver, particularly someone who thrived on fade end zone routes. That didn’t happen. With really only one spot to fill he will have to use the spring to show the coaches his value. And some of that value might be found in his ability to block.
Jackson: The converted defensive back has been an afterthought when it comes to the passing game. There were instances when he stepped up and made big catches in 2012, but he was not targeted a lot and therefore remains an unknown quantity. He should get plenty of reps in the spring but will have a hard climb to make it into the first four receivers.
Marcus Johnson: Johnson would have been better off taking a redshirt and developing. He did not catch one pass and was not an integral part of the gameplan in any area. Whether or not Texas regrets burning his shirt will be something everybody finds out in the future. And that future could start this spring as an opportunity. Plenty of balls should be thrown his way.
Daje Johnson: Whether or not Applewhite wants to use Johnson as a full-time receiver remains to be seen. He has skills that also translate to part-time running back as well. Johnson does have good hands and is very good on screen passes. He can stretch the field on those screens and make the first or even second defender miss. But it has yet to be established if Johnson is a realistic threat in the vertical passing game. Applewhite will tinker with Johnson and see what he can and can’t do this spring. If he emerges as a receiver Applewhite is comfortable with on every down, then that would relegate Jackson, Marcus Johnson and Sanders to second-team status.