Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Texas players prepared to shine in 2013
By Carter Strickland
AUSTIN, Texas -- Rare is the time when a coach singles out players from others.
Football, after all, is a team sport. And Texas likes to take that concept to a new level. Take, for instance, any question about a quarterback from the two previous seasons. Almost every answer was started with "Both those guys," not putting one above the other or either above the team.
But Texas has turned the page and in a new era of accountability and, in an effort to applaud individual efforts, Texas coach Mack Brown dispensed with the regular lumping together of players when asked about who has stood out to him. Instead, the veteran coach had no problem pointing fingers at those individuals who have excelled, thereby also possibly pointing one at those who need to pick up the pace.
Sophomore Daje Johnson, one of the fastest players on the team, should have a big role in Texas' offense this season.
With that, here are the players who caught Brown’s eyes before, because of NCAA rules, he had to avert his, and what might be expected of those players in the fall.
• Duke Thomas, WR/DB: This one might be slightly obvious because of what he was able to do for both the offense and defense. Thomas worked himself into a possible starting role in nickel packages and then turned around and had a very successful spring game at the wide receiver spot. Texas is going to continue to keep him at both spots mainly because wide receiver remains a possible issue. Plus, he has proven that he has the skills and head for both of the positions.
• Daje Johnson, WR/RB: The exact quote from Brown on Johnson was "He had an outstanding spring. He came a long way." Now, some of that, actually a lot of that, might be attributed to the new offense. Texas wants to be fast so it would make sense that its fastest offensive player becomes more involved. Texas started to learn all the things it could do with Johnson this spring and how he could impact the game both out of the backfield and in the passing game. Additionally, back when Johnson’s career at Texas started, he was suspended for the first game for team rules violation. The way he worked on and off the field this spring was an indication to coaches that he has matured.
• Sedrick Flowers, OL: Flowers has been a bit of a mystery in his first two seasons. A hamstring injury cut his first season short but he was expected to be more of a factor in 2012. He wasn’t until the final game of the season. Flowers played 27 snaps against Oregon State and built on that experience in the spring. Flowers might be the most physically gifted of all of Texas’ linemen. He has the best feet and flexibility of the group. Plus he has the ability to play both guard and center. He might not get a ton of playing time at guard. Texas has options there. But Texas has long needed someone to put pressure on center Dominic Espinosa. If Flowers can do that, it could make the running attack more potent against the bigger defensive lines in the Big 12.
• Donald Hawkins, OL: Another key for Texas to become a faster-paced offensive team is having enough linemen to build an effective two-deep. Hawkins' ability to move over and play guard, plus his increasing speed and stamina, should give Texas the opportunity to shift toward a more athletic, aggressive and quicker offensive line. Hawkins also has the ability to play tackle, as he did last season, but the better option would be for him to move inside. That gives Texas five possible options at guard -- Trey Hopkins, Hawkins, Flowers, Mason Walters and Darius James -- as well as the ability to move either Hopkins or Flowers to the center position.
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• Kennedy Estelle, OL: The one stop on the line where there is not a lot of depth is at tackle. Right now, the general thought is that Josh Cochran takes over one side and juco transfer Desmond Harrison nails down the other. That leaves Estelle as the primary backup. It was important for Texas to see that he could handle that spot so that it could plan accordingly when it came to Hawkins. Estelle is another player who better fits what Texas wants to do with the line. He can get out and run and also has solid enough feet to protect the edge. While Estelle will be the first reserve tackle, Texas could still use Hawkins in a reserve role if it needed too. Hopkins can also play tackle and, if he does not grab a starting spot at guard, might be a candidate as a backup at tackle.
• Shiro Davis, DE: Davis has gained 20 pounds since last year without losing his quickness. So it is the strides in the weight room that really have Brown and Texas excited about the future potential. He probably still will not be an every-down impact player in 2013. That is unless Jackson Jeffcoat goes down with another injury. Still, Texas likes the speed he can bring in certain situations and now with his weight up knows that he can withstand and even succeed on long drives if he is placed on the edge.
• Peter Jinkens, LB: The sophomore might be the fastest riser on the Texas team. Jinkens was thrown in early at linebacker to see what kind of impact he could make and, by the end of the season, appeared to be one of Texas’ best players on defense. As for the spring: "[Jinkens] continued to do what he did in the bowl game in the last couple games in the spring," Brown said. "Had an outstanding spring." It appears Jinkens has locked himself into one of the starting outside linebacker positions. He has brought a toughness to the defense, and more particularly to his position that was lacking in 2012.