Texas Longhorns: Five players to watch UT

Who to watch in spring: Steve Edmond

February, 27, 2014
Editor's note: This is the fourth part of a weeklong series taking a closer look at Texas players worth watching when the Longhorns begin spring practices in three weeks.

Brian Jean-Mary had to like what he saw the first time he glanced at the Texas roster for 2014.

The new Texas linebackers coach followed Charlie Strong from Louisville and inherited a situation that might best be described as favorable, maybe even ideal.

Good luck finding another first-year coach whose position group includes seven players with starting experience.

[+] EnlargeSteve Edmond
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsSteve Edmond made significant strides in his second season as a starter for the Longhorns.
Jean-Mary gets to work with a veteran group that might be three-deep at each spot. He gets at least four seniors -- Jordan Hicks, Steve Edmond, Tevin Jackson and Kendall Thompson -- who know what they're doing and can lead the underclassmen. He gets the hard-hitting Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens, now juniors, and another third-year player in Timothy Cole who contributed in 2013.

But that depth is also indicative of what Texas hasn't had from its linebackers in recent seasons: Consistency. Injuries are as much to blame as anything else, but the Longhorns have rolled out all sorts of linebacker combinations in the past two seasons.

How will all these linebackers adjust to the new defensive scheme in spring ball? That's an especially good question for Edmond.

After a disappointing first season as a starter, Edmond took a step in the right direction in 2013. He finished with 73 tackles, two interceptions -- including the game-clincher at West Virginia -- and five pass breakups, but missed Texas' final two games after suffering a lacerated liver against Texas Tech.

With Hicks out for the spring while he recovers from his ruptured Achilles, it's on Edmond to not only lead this group, but also outperform his peers. Don't be surprised if you see Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford experiment with Edmond at a few spots, maybe even on the defensive line. The spring is the best time to explore those options.

We don't know the ceiling of Edmond's potential, but this is his third position coach in three years. Can Jean-Mary get the best out of him? If so, and if Hicks can finally stay healthy, Texas could have the best linebackers in the Big 12.

Who to watch in spring: Desmond Harrison

February, 26, 2014
Editor's note: This is the third part of a weeklong series taking a closer look at Texas players worth watching when the Longhorns begin spring practices in three weeks.

Believe it or not, few people believed in offensive tackle Desmond Harrison more than Mack Brown.

The junior college transfer did not achieve much in his debut season, yet Brown was steadfast in his belief that one day Harrison would put it all together and reach his potential. And that potential, he believed, included becoming a first-rounder in the NFL draft.

High praise, sure, but Harrison did nothing in 2013 to prove he deserved it. There were just too many setbacks.

He didn’t arrive early in the spring, instead joining the program in mid-July (and even that was a close call). A couple weeks later, he took the field for his first fall practice.

Then came the ordeal of his transfer credit from BYU that sidelined Harrison until Aug. 20. He was eased back into practice, but by then it was too late to get him ready for a serious role in the season opener. Texas stuck with Donald Hawkins at left tackle, who played well, while Harrison settled for occasional mop-up duty. An ankle injury slowed him during the season.

All in all, it was a rough and challenging first season in the program. The good news is Harrison has another year and another chance to figure out how to dominate in the Big 12.

The expectations for Harrison shouldn’t change. The 6-foot-8, 310-pound lineman needs to go out and earn the starting left tackle job. Texas has two very promising tackle prospects in Kennedy Estelle and Kent Perkins who are fully capable of making Harrison a backup once again if he doesn’t get better.

The X-factor here, of course, is Joe Wickline. The offensive coordinator and line coach worked wonders with all sorts of lineman in his days at Oklahoma State. For all we know, Harrison could have as much raw talent as the best guys Wickline has coached up. But it takes more than size -- it takes full buy-in, the right mentality and a lot of hard work.

If Harrison can get the job done in those areas, he can be special. A Texas offensive line that’s losing three starters needs just that.

Who to watch in spring: Duke Thomas

February, 25, 2014
Editor's note: This is the second part of a weeklong series taking a closer look at Texas players worth watching when the Longhorns begin spring practices in three weeks.

The right word might be trust. Duke Thomas earned a lot of trust in 2013.

It started around this time last season, when the then-sophomore was so electric in spring practices that Texas coaches talked seriously about letting him become a two-way player.

He lined up at wide receiver in the spring game and caught three passes. He could return kicks, too. Thomas had been on campus less than a year and he was already emerging as one of Texas’ most promising underclassmen.

[+] EnlargeDuke Thomas
John Albright/Icon SMIDuke Thomas was solid as a first-year starter in 2013, but the Longhorns need more from him this upcoming season.
That trust only grew in fall camp, to the point where Duane Akina was so confident in Thomas’ ability to become a starter he moved Quandre Diggs into a nickel role. Texas had to get Thomas on the field, and one of the nation’s best DB coaches believed he was ready.

For the most part, he was. Thomas didn’t get exposed in his first year as a starter. He was solid, sometimes great. He led the Longhorns with three interceptions. He started 10 games, notched 50 tackles, five pass breakups and 17 returns.

Two of those picks came in critical victories over Oklahoma and Texas Tech. And Thomas was humbled a time or two, most notably when Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage beat him and raced 97 yards for a touchdown.

He put in a year of starting time. He learned and he got better. What’s he capable of as a junior?

Texas needs Thomas to take the next step, especially with Carrington Byndom gone and Sheroid Evans on the mend from a torn ACL. Diggs is back for his final season and brings the kind of leadership and swagger this secondary needs.

Thomas, meanwhile, has to bring his best and impress new position coaches Vance Bedford and Chris Vaughn.

He’s got to show the same stuff he displayed last spring and again in fall camp, the kind of talent that makes sidelining him impossible. But staying on the field won’t be enough, not if this Texas defense wants to keep up in a year when every Big 12 school is seemingly loaded at receiver.

In this league, the cornerback spot can become a real advantage for Texas in 2014. But that’s going to depend on just how much better Thomas can get this spring and beyond.

Who to watch in spring: Shiro Davis

February, 24, 2014
Editor's note: This is the first part of a weeklong series taking a closer look at Texas players worth watching when the Longhorns begin spring practices in three weeks.

No Jackson Jeffcoat and no Oscar Giles means a whole new world for Texas’ defensive ends going into the 2014 season.

[+] EnlargeShiro Davis
John Albright/Icon SMIAfter showing flashes last season, it's time for junior defensive end Shiro Davis to live up to his recruiting hype.
Their best player, Jeffcoat, graduated and is off to the NFL after becoming the Big 12’s best defensive player in his senior season. You could call him the undisputed leader of this unit, but truthfully that was the job of Giles, the former assistant coach who recently took a job at Louisiana Tech after nine seasons under Mack Brown at Texas.

What Texas does have, fortunately, is another All-Big 12-caliber defensive end ready to lead the way in Cedric Reed. On his finest days as a junior, Reed was just as good as Jeffcoat and probably better. He came back for one more season because he wanted to finish things on the right note.

But he’s going to need a sidekick. Why not Shiro Davis?

The 6-foot-3, 250-pound junior enters his third year in the program with every opportunity to take on such a role.

He’d been behind Jeffcoat, Reed and Alex Okafor ever since he arrived on campus as a high school All-American and ESPN 150 recruit who made a last-second flip from LSU to Texas on signing day. The Shreveport, La., native left his home state for a chance to do big things in Austin.

There’s no better time than now. Davis has appeared in 20 career games, with five of his 18 tackles coming behind the line of scrimmage. After two seasons as a situational pass rusher, a starting job is there for the taking.

Davis will no doubt have competition from players such as fellow third-year players Caleb Bluiett and Bryce Cottrell, as well as incoming freshman Derick Roberson. And Davis will have to surpass the expectations of Chris Rumph, his new position coach from Alabama.

But Davis is used to high expectations, and they were raised the day he made his signing day stunner and signed with Texas. He played the understudy and passed up a redshirt to get on the field midway through his freshman season. He’ll need a strong showing in the spring to get where he wants to be in 2014.

Think about Texas’ recent run of defensive ends: Reed, Jeffcoat, Okafor, Sam Acho, Sergio Kindle, Brian Orakpo. The Longhorns have been loaded with NFL-caliber talent off the edge, to the point that it probably gets taken for granted.

Is Shiro Davis the next big name on that list? He’s got all the talent necessary, and he finally has opportunity. It's time to put it all together.


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