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Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Three spring storylines: Special teams

By Carter Strickland

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas heavily invested itself in special teams in 2012.

The Longhorns, however, saw few returns.

It was 81st in kickoff return defense. It was 37th in kickoff return yards, despite having an Olympian and another player, D.J. Monroe, with top-end speed.

Daje Johnson
Daje Johnson could be Texas' answer at kick returner.
The Longhorns missed eight of 19 field goal attempts including a 40-yard attempt that might have changed the outcome of the West Virginia game.

Ah, but there was punting. Alex King proved to be one of the nation’s best as did the punt coverage team as Texas finished No. 4 in net punting.

Now King is gone. So too are returners Marquise Goodwin and Monroe. But there are still plenty of pieces left to construct at least a halfway decent special teams unit. That is if Texas coach Mack Brown, whose stated goal was to construct the best special team units in the nation in 2012, doesn’t abandon that possibility in the wake of the minimal returns of 2012.

With that in mind here are three things Texas will have to work out this spring:

1. Who will step up in the kicking game?

Nick Jordan should be the favorite to be the field goal kicker. The sophomore had a very shaky start to his freshman season. He missed six of his 15 field goal attempts. But five of those six were from 40-plus yards. Additionally, four of the misses came in his first three games as a college player. Jordan has a strong enough leg to succeed at this level. He just has to get more confidence in his abilities. This spring could provide that opportunity.

2. Will the "Wild Bunch" be back?

The kickoff cover team, so effective in the first two games of the season against lesser competition, became an undisciplined mess against any opponent with speed and skill. Texas will continue to put some of its better players on this unit. But it has to teach them how to stay in their lanes and how to tackle. Those two fundamentals were evidently glossed over as Texas was preparing to be the best special teams unit in the nation.

Helping change the fortunes of this unit should be kickoff man Nick Rose. Rose proved to have a strong leg at times -- he had 30 touchbacks in 82 attempts -- but in some instances, because he was not consistent, Texas even resorted to squib kicks.

He should be much better this year and don’t be surprised if Texas doesn’t reward him with a scholarship sometime in the near future.

3. Who will handle punt and kick returns?

Quandre Diggs was not a huge threat in 2012. Although he did not get much of an opportunity as he only returned 13 punts. He did average a very respectable 8.2 yards. That would have placed him about 40th in the NCAA had he had enough returns to qualify for those stats.

Diggs will most likely stay on punt returns because he is sure handed.

As for kickoff returns, Daje Johnson is a rather obvious choice. The sophomore speedster had four returns last season with a long of 25 yards. Mykkele Thompson and Sheroid Evans are two other players who should get looks at kick returns this spring. Evans is the faster of the two but Thompson might be the harder runner. If neither proves to be capable, Texas will give incoming freshman Antwuan Davis a look when he gets to campus in the fall.

Also wide receivers Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders could be options and will likely get opportunities this spring to show their value in the kick return game.