- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
Five questions that linger going into the four-month break before Texas’ fall camp begins:
1. Will young leadership emerge?
Don’t discount the importance of the chemistry that develops during summer 7-on-7 drills. They’re organized not by coaches but by the veterans and leaders of the team. Of the 10 scholarship seniors, Texas has valued, respected leaders in Kenny Vaccaro and Alex Okafor. But, who’s going to run the show on offense?
Junior linemen Mason Walters (25 career starts) and Trey Hopkins (17) fit the bill as experienced vets, and it’ll be interesting to see if guys like Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis can take leadership roles. Make no mistake, though: This is a prime time for each quarterback to assert himself as an influential leader.
2. Which freshmen will be ready?
The 22 newcomers will arrive on campus at the end of May knowing they have a chance to play right away. The spring game revealed Texas is in dire need of better depth in its two-deep. All eyes will be on Aledo running back Johnathan Gray, but there are lots of fresh faces who shouldn’t be overlooked.
Incoming linebackers Peter Jinkens, Dalton Santos and Tim Cole and wide receivers Cayleb Jones, Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson will compete for early playing time to shore up two of Texas’ thinner positions, and defensive linemen Malcom Brown and Torshiro Davis have the build and talent to be immediate contributors.
3. Will special teams be a weakness?
Nick Jordan better be ready to go when he gets on campus. The Coppell product won’t have to fill the shoes of kicker/punter Justin Tucker, but he will have every opportunity to be the Longhorns’ placekicker and kickoff specialist as a true freshman. Will Russ likely ends up taking over the punting duties, but he’s got to be good -- winning field position is a crucial factor for this Texas offense.
As for the returners, Shipley and Mykkele Thompson looked good Sunday and Quandre Diggs will be a difference-maker when healthy. Could D.J. Monroe and Marquise Goodwin push them and carve out impact roles in the returns game?
4. How good can each line become?
Texas coaches want to be 10-deep on the offensive line. The starting five is clearly defined coming out of the spring -- Walters, Hopkins, Donald Hawkins, Dom Espinosa and Josh Cochran. Just how many good, game-ready linemen Texas has by the end of fall camp will make a world a difference in the offense’s efficiency this season. That makes this a critical summer for Garrett Porter, Sedrick Flowers, Paden Kelly, Camrhon Hughes and a handful of other young linemen.
It’s the same thing on the other side of the ball. Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat are proven commodities. Brandon Moore, Desmond Jackson and Ashton Dorsey emerged as the top defensive tackles. But what will Reggie Wilson and Cedric Reed make of the extra snaps they got this spring, and can Chris Whaley be a consistent contributor on the inside? Again, don’t be surprised if Brown and Davis get on the field right away this fall.
5. Can David Ash take control of the QB job?
Mack Brown says Ash and Case McCoy are even. Maybe that’s true. Or maybe he has to stick to that message in order to get the best possible competition and development from both. Either way, there’s little doubt this is Ash’s job to lose. What he does with this summer will go a long ways toward how this battle shakes out.
And remember, for the next few months this isn’t about measurable results. Coaches don’t run summer drills and 7-on-7s. They don’t mandate how much extra time Ash spends working with his receivers.
They can’t decide how teammates perceive and treat him, or whether they follow him. Just as character is defined by what you do when nobody is looking, leadership will be defined by what he and McCoy do this summer when coaches and fans aren’t watching.