Texas Longhorns: Jalen Overstreet

The last two weeks, we’ve been examining the strongest and weakest positions for each team in the Big 12 heading into the fall.

We continue the series with the Texas Longhorns:

Strongest position: Running back

Not only does Texas have the best one-two punch at running back in the Big 12, the Longhorns might also have the league’s best two overall running backs.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
David K Purdy/Getty ImagesA healthy Johnathan Gray will make the Longhorns' backfield deep and talented.
Before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury Nov. 9 at West Virginia last year, Johnathan Gray was well on his way to having an all-conference-caliber season. Despite getting limited touches at times, Gray rushed for at least 89 yards during a six-game span and was well on his way to achieving the feat again against the Mountaineers until the Achilles injury.

Malcolm Brown picked up where Gray left off and rushed for 128, 131 and 130 yards in Texas’ final three games while averaging almost five yards per a carry. From the beginning of November to the bowl season, Brown was the Big 12’s leading rusher, with an average of 112 yards per game.

Soon, Brown will be getting his backfield mate back. Gray missed the spring while recuperating, but coach Charlie Strong has said he’s hopeful Gray will be cleared by mid-June.

Either player is a handful for an opposing defense. Together, when healthy, they’re a load.

Both can catch passes out of the backfield. Both can pound the ball between the tackles. Both can make opponents miss in the open field. Both have experience shouldering the rushing load.

And with veteran Joe Bergeron (assuming he rejoins the squad) and big-play threat Jalen Overstreet flanking Gray and Brown, as well, the running back position gives Strong a foundation piece on offense in his first season.

Weakest position: Quarterback

The Longhorns really only have one glaring weakness on their roster, but it’s a weakness that has plagued the program since Colt McCoy was behind center.

For the fifth straight year, quarterback once again is a position of concern for the Longhorns heading into a season.

David Ash, the only quarterback on the team with any meaningful experience, missed most of last season with lingering concussion issues, then missed most of this spring with a fractured foot.

Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes struggled mightily through the first half of Texas’ spring practice and doesn’t look ready to take over a Big 12 offense.

And since former USC Trojans QB Max Wittek appears unlikely to transfer to Texas now, that leaves incoming freshman Jerrod Heard as Texas’ only other quarterback option.

Ash has the ability to lead Texas into Big 12 title contention. At times in his career he’s been excellent, including in the 2012 Alamo Bowl victory over Oregon State. But over three seasons, Ash has yet to display the week-to-week consistency needed to guide a team to a conference title. Now, who knows how the concussion issues might affect the remainder of his career?

Swoopes, in place of Ash, ended up posting a decent box score line in Texas’ spring game. But facing the Horns’ second-team defense, Swoopes’ first four drives ended with an interception, a punt, a three-and-out and a missed field goal after his first three offensive plays failed to net a single yard. Swoopes’ only first-quarter completion came on a screen pass.

There's no doubt, Swoopes has potential, with good mobility and a big arm. But he seems at least another year in the system away from realizing any of that potential.

That leaves Heard, who is the sixth-best incoming dual-threat quarterback recruit in the country. Heard is skilled and a winner, having led his high school team to a pair of state championships. But he'll also be a true freshman. And if Texas is forced to play a true freshman at quarterback, it will only further underscore its weakness at the position going into the season.
Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series will take a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from them. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 3 Jalen Overstreet
Sophomore running back

[+] EnlargeJalen Overstreet
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsSophomore Jalen Overstreet has considerable talent, but Texas' running back depth chart is loaded.
Recruitment rewind: Initially recruited as a safety, Overstreet became a late priority for Texas in the fall of 2011 following the departures of Connor Wood and Garrett Gilbert. Then-OC Bryan Harsin spearheaded a search for a second quarterback pledge to join Connor Brewer and landed Overstreet. The Tatum (Texas) standout got offers from Arkansas and Missouri as an athlete and Michigan saw him as a receiver, but he couldn't turn down a chance to play quarterback at UT.

Career so far: Overstreet redshirted in 2012 and spent a year learning the Texas offense at quarterback. Despite Overstreet's encouraging showing in his first spring game, Texas coaches elected to move him to running back full-time before the 2013 season. His first career game was impressive -- 92 rushing yards and two TDs in the fourth quarter against New Mexico State -- but that would be really the only highlight of his redshirt freshman season. Overstreet logged 11 carries for 10 yards over the rest of the season as Texas' No. 4 running back.

Best-case scenario for 2014: With two seniors and a junior ahead of him, it's difficult to envision a scenario in which Overstreet emerges as Texas' starting running back in 2014. A good season for him might just be proving himself in nonconference play and developing into a change-of-pace back off the bench in Big 12 play who gets 50 carries and makes a few big plays (think Jeremy Hills in 2011?). He can keep Texas' other backs fresh while proving he's got a future at this spot.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: A long season on the bench. This is Malcolm Brown's senior season, so you know he's going to get his carries. Johnathan Gray is supposed to be ready to go for the opener. And if Joe Bergeron gets back in the good graces of the staff, he's at least the short-yardage back. Even in a offense that will be fairly run-pass balanced, that doesn't leave a ton of room for Overstreet if he doesn't go out and earn some playing time.

Future expectations: Don't overlook the three freshmen coming in. While it's unknown whether Kevin Shorter will be cleared to play, the addition of Donald Catalon and D'Onta Foreman does pose a threat to Overstreet's hopes to seeing the field. With several more backs committed for the 2015 class, Overstreet could find the room is getting too crowded and either ask to play a new position or ask to leave. Let's hope neither are the case, because Overstreet is an explosive talent and, entering his third season in the program, has shown promise that he can become a threat at running back.

Gray positive Texas can run without him

November, 15, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- Nearly two weeks ago, Johnathan Gray posed a question to a Texas assistant trainer out of pure curiosity.

“How does it feel if you tear your Achilles?”

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
David K Purdy/Getty ImagesJohnathan Gray had become one of the top runners in the Big 12.
Who knows how long he’d wondered, but this came to mind sometime after Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks went down for the season with that tear.

The answer? It feels like somebody has kicked you from behind, like they’ve stuck a knife just below your calf.

Gray isn’t making up that anecdote. He says he asked the question. He got a much more definite answer a week later.

“I felt like I kind of jinxed myself,” Gray said Monday.

The sophomore running back’s season is over. He had surgery on Wednesday to repair the torn Achilles he suffered against West Virginia last Saturday, and by all accounts the operation went well. Now he’s in for a long road to recovery, carrying the hope he’ll be back in time for the start of the 2014 season.

“God puts us here in weird positions and we have to overcome them and get through adversity,” Gray said. “That’s what I plan on doing.”

And Texas, with three high-stakes games and a bowl left, must find a way to keep its run-heavy offense rolling without the third-leading rusher in the Big 12.

When he turned after hauling in a third-quarter pass from Case McCoy at West Virginia, Gray felt the pop. He’s seen the slow-motion TV replays that show a ripple in his right leg after trying to plant his foot. He skidded to the ground.

“Sure enough, I looked behind me and nobody was behind me. It felt like somebody kicked me,” Gray said. “I knew right then when I went down I’d tore it. It sucks, but you have to get through it.”

He’d notched more than 330 touches in two seasons and proved to be Texas’ most durable running back. Gray didn’t have much of an injury history in his time in Austin. That’s why his teammates were stunned.

“I was shocked. Like, damn,” tackle Donald Hawkins said. “It’s Johnathan, you know? The guy who's always smiling, always encouraging people. To see him on crutches was surprising.”

What didn’t shock fullback Alex De La Torre was the way Gray reacted. When he went down near the sideline, he unbuckled his chinstrap, took off his helmet and asked for some help.

“I don’t think he even yelled when he got hurt,” De La Torre said. “He was just like, ‘Hey, I’m hurt.’”

If the former five-star recruit is hurting right now, he’s hiding it well. Gray was all smiles on Monday, in his boot and crutches, and is staying overwhelmingly positive about the setback.

He believes in juniors Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. He’s confident they can handle the workload and get the job done against No. 12 Oklahoma State on Saturday.

That duo is now responsible for powering an offense that has averaged more than 49 carries per game in the past month. And Gray will be with them throughout, barking out orders as a volunteer running backs coach in practice and offering his in-game encouragement when he returns to the sidelines.

“We've got a good thing going for us: defense playing well, offense playing well, special teams playing well. Anyone can step up and play any position on this team,” Gray said. “We have talent on this team. I told the guys to keep going forward and keep my goal in mind, and that’s to win out and make it to a good BCS bowl and win that.”

Co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said Gray has always been one to choose optimism. His running back had the same smile when Texas was 1-2 as he did after beating Oklahoma. The attitude is infectious, and Gray will have a presence in the locker room no matter his health.

And just as Gray will tell you, Texas isn’t necessarily sunk without him. The four backs left -- Brown, Bergeron, Daje Johnson and Jalen Overstreet -- have combined for 3,130 career rushing yards and 45 touchdowns.

Applewhite spent the last five years coaching Texas running backs. He knows what he’s working with. When it comes to Brown and Bergeron, the coaching staff will ride the hot hand on Saturday.

“The carries and the rotation, except for certain situations, is kind of handled by how they’re playing and how they’re taking care of the ball,” Applewhite said. “Both those guys will play a whole bunch.”

Gray wants to be there for them. He can't be on the sideline Saturday afternoon, but coach Mack Brown made sure Gray and defensive tackle Chris Whaley join everyone else at the team hotel this weekend. He wants them to miss out on as little as possible.

Teammates say they’ll miss Gray as much off the field as on it, but the ever-faithful back says he’ll be fine. He’s keeping his head up. He wants a Big 12 title more than ever now, and he believes his fellow Longhorns can deliver.

“Those guys have nothing but victory in their eyes,” Gray said. “I know they’ll get the job done.”

Big 12 mailbag

October, 11, 2013
In today’s mailbag, Red Raiders and Bears delight in their undefeated starts while other fan bases search for answers.

To the ‘bag:

Andrew in NYC writes: As exciting as the Baylor offense has been, why haven't there been any comparisons to the WVU team last year? We all saw where they went once they started playing real teams. Any chance we see a similar meltdown this year with the Bears?

Jake Trotter: The difference is that last year’s West Virginia team was really a three-man show with Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. From the offensive line to the depth of the receiving corps, this Baylor offense is way more complete. Baylor’s defense is also far superior to West Virginia’s 2012 unit. I get the comparison. But this Baylor team has more staying power.

rtXC1 in Denison, Texas, writes: Hey, love the work you are putting in! Am I the only person left that believes playing Tyrone Swoopes against OU is unnecessary? If Major Applewhite can create a good gameplan -- getting the 5 RBs 50+ total touches, including Daje Johnson and Jalen Overstreet -- AND STICK TO IT, then Case McCoy CAN win this game and many more. Playing Swoopes, with his current state of poor mechanics (thanks a lot Whitewright coaches), could be as counterproductive as playing Ash was in 2011, and potentially hurt his confidence. The only thing he'd really add is the zone-read element, which Gray and Overstreet could run just as well. What's best for Texas is to follow the gameplan. Thoughts?

Jake Trotter: I enjoy insightful mailbag submissions like this. Texas fans who believe Swoopes is the answer are just not being realistic. There’s a reason he hasn’t stepped on the field yet. He’s just not ready. For all their issues, the Longhorns still have enough offensive playmakers to stay in the game Saturday. It’s about putting them in good positions to make plays -- something Applewhite has struggled to do.

Andy in Austin, Texas, writes: Jake, I was wondering if you could investigate as to why Overstreet hasn't seen more on the field time in the "Wild Horn" formation. Since McCoy seems to lack serious mobility, why hasn't this package been seen more? Will OU be seeing it Saturday?

Jake Trotter: The Longhorns should be pulling out all the stops in this game. Fake field goals, double reverse passes -- whatever is still in the holster. I would give the Overstreet package (if the Horns still have it in the playbook) a shot early, as well, just to test how OU defends it and see if there’s something that can be exploited.

Larry in Austin, Texas, writes: Hi, Jake. When Mack Brown leaves at the end of the season, do Applewhite and (Greg) Robinson get shown the door as well?

Jake Trotter: Yes. As Hawk Harrelson would put it, they gone.

Blake Bell in Norman, Okla., writes: I think I need a new nickname. I've heard "Bellthrowzer" and “Bellicopter.” But what about the “Bellista?” On the other hand, the "Wrecking Bell" sign at the last game was pretty good. So what do you recommend?

Jake Trotter: You have a great nickname. Why do you need another?

Darrell in Huntsville, Ala., writes: This week you said Art Briles would be an excellent hire for Texas. Wouldn't Briles be an excellent hire for any program?

Jake Trotter: Probably, but I feel like he would be an especially good fit for Texas. Briles knows the state. Because of his background, he has relationships with virtually every high school coach in the state. And I think Briles would do a better job of getting the right players to Austin than the Mack Brown regime has done in recent years.

Sic ‘em in Birmingham, Ala., writes: I had a Twitter conversation with a USC fan the other day. He wanted USC to pursue Briles with everything they had, and was convinced Briles would leave if they offered him enough. Thoughts?

Jake Trotter: If Briles were going to leave, I think he’d leave for Texas ahead of USC.

Big Ferm in San Diego writes: Jake, welcome aboard the Baylor Bandwagon. Like Lache Seastrunk, it’s moving at breakneck speeds and pancaking haters like Cyril Richardson does defenders. Most talking heads in the media believe OU is the conference favorite because of its victory over the Irish. Too bad the Bears didn't schedule Notre Dame. They would've hung 70 on them.

Jake Trotter: I’ve been talking up the Bears since the preseason, but so far they have exceeded even my expectations. If I had to pick the Baylor-OU game today, I would pick the Bears.

Jack in Waco, Texas, writes: I am a little confused how OU can be ahead of Baylor in your power rankings. That being said, I'm still a big fan of the blog since you guys took over, great job!

Jake Trotter: Thanks, Jack. The answer is simple. OU has two wins that are better than any Baylor victory. The Sooners have also won away from home. That gives them the edge at the moment, even though Baylor has looked unstoppable through four games. But if the Bears are just as impressive in Manhattan as they have been in Waco, I’ll have to rethink my rankings.

Prescott in The Woodlands, Texas, writes: I know Baylor is planning to take off the tarp for the final game at Floyd Casey Stadium. Would they consider removing it for Oklahoma in November?

Jake Trotter: Sure, if they sell enough tickets.

Mo in Dallas writes: There has been a lot of hate on Baylor’s schedule. Why doesn't Alabama receive the same hate?

Jake Trotter: Come again? Alabama has beaten Virginia Tech, Texas A&M and Ole Miss. Alabama has also won three national titles in four years. I’m assuming those might be reasons why.

Alex in Austin, Texas, writes: Which do you think is more explosive, the ‘05 Texas offense or this Baylor offense?

Jake Trotter: I’m placing a moratorium on questions like this until after Baylor plays Oklahoma.

Travis the Tech fan in Houston writes: Mr. Trotter, I don't know why there has been so much bickering among Tech and Baylor fans on the Bears’ legitimacy. Tech and Baylor have a lot more in common than what you would think. If anything we should be finding a way to work together to vanquish all who challenge us. Go Bears (not on Nov. 16, though).

Jake Trotter: Get your guns up, Baylor fans.

Casey Parkhurst in Fort Worth, Texas, writes: Do you think Texas Tech is a contender in the Big 12?

Jake Trotter: Sure, the Red Raiders are a contender. The defining game will be at Oklahoma in two weeks. If Tech wins that game, then the Red Raiders could be playing for a Big 12 title in Arlington. Remember, Tech has had OU’s number lately, too. Dating back to 2005, the Red Raiders are 4-4 against the Sooners.

Clint in Houston writes: Tech is currently ranked 32nd in recruiting per ESPN, which is interesting. On one side, we have a new coach. On the other, we have an extremely energetic and passionate staff, and the team is rolling. Do you see us climbing the recruiting rankings before the end of the season?

Jake Trotter: The Red Raiders already have 21 commitments, so there’s not much room to rise. That said, this has been an excellent recruiting effort by Kliff Kingsbury and his staff. Tech fans should be very excited.

Mike writes: Let me say, I really like this season’s version of the Big 12 coverage! It's a major upgrade to what was already an excellent read. Do you think that, given the right upsets, an undefeated Big 12 champion could leap over ALL the one-loss teams to make the title game?

Jake Trotter: Given the absolute right upsets, maybe. But a one-loss Oregon or Alabama would be tough to unseat.

Greg in Richardson, Texas, writes: Jake, now that we are six weeks in, can you compare the Big 12 to the Big Ten? Will an undefeated Big 12 team be more deserving of a title shot than an undefeated Big Ten team?

Jake Trotter: I give the Big 12 a slight edge over the Big Ten. But deserving or not, an undefeated Ohio State would get in over an undefeated Big 12 team. An undefeated Michigan, however, would not.

Alex in Ames, Iowa, writes: Hey, Jake. You've been doing a great job on the blog so far (except those ISU picks... yikes). Anyway, after the gut-wrenching, anger-inducing controversial loss to Texas, we saw anger, confusion, and a TON of passion not only from Paul Rhoads, but fans and players, as well. Does this loss energize the team the rest of the year? Or did it drain them?

Jake Trotter: Thanks, Alex, and sorry about the weekly Iowa State jinx. This really could go either way. But knowing what kind of coach Rhoads is and knowing how his players respond to him, my guess is they’ll play with some energy Saturday.

Bullet in Stillwater, Okla., writes: Since our offense hasn't scored much this year, I've been getting out of shape. Do you think we'll have a new coordinator next year? Mike Gundy needs to get me back in game shape.

Jake Trotter: I would give Clint Chelf a shot and see if that changes anything first.

Matt in Wamego, Kan., writes: As a diehard KU fan I am a believer in always supporting and backing your team. However, I am starting to get very frustrated. Especially seeing teams like Baylor, Louisville and Northwestern, who were once the laughing stock of college football, now building winning programs. Please help me. I am tired of being ready for basketball season in mid-September. What will take to at least make my Jayhawks relevant again?

Jake Trotter: The right coach. Not saying Charlie Weis isn’t the right coach. He’s been there less than two years. But what do the three undefeated teams in the league all have common? The right coach. Mark Mangino proved you can have success at Kansas. But it starts with the head man.

John in San Jose, Calif., writes: TCU's three losses are to three top 20 teams that are a combined 15-1. TCU has been in all three games, too. Is an 8-4 finish in reach, considering four remaining games are at home and TCU has shown it can play well on the road?

Jake Trotter: It’s not out of reach, but it’s going to be pretty tough. The Frogs still have to go to Oklahoma State and face Baylor. The obviously would have to win one of those two games and then run the table. Not impossible. But not likely, either, given how inconsistent the offense has been.

Joe in Gauley Bridge, W.V., writes: Is it totally unreasonable for me as a fan to expect West Virginia to win at least nine or 10 games a year and compete for the Big 12 title yearly? I don't want to be mediocre, I want to be the best.

Jake Trotter: That was probably reasonable in the Big East. It’s not reasonable in the Big 12. What you’re suggesting is what Oklahoma has basically accomplished in the Bob Stoops era. West Virginia’s program is just not on that level.
AUSTIN, Texas – The three-headed monster that is Texas’ stable of running backs somehow sprouted a fourth head this past Saturday.

“Four-headed monster” doesn’t really have the same ring to it that three did. But for now, it’ll do.

“Yeah, I mean, you can call it that,” Texas sophomore back Johnathan Gray said. “You can get the ball in anybody’s hands in the RB room and they can make explosive plays.”

And right now, Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are getting a kick out of seeing what Jalen Overstreet can do when the coaches call his name.

[+] EnlargeJalen Overstreet
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsRedshirt freshman Jalen Overstreet dazzled in his first running back action, rushing for 92 yards and two touchdowns.
The converted quarterback made the most of his nine carries against New Mexico State. His teammates are excited to see what he can do for an encore.

“That’s a crazy transition for him,” Brown said. “Just seeing him going out there and being so natural at it is really fun.”

Even if Overstreet’s exploits came against a worn-out NMSU defense in the final minutes of a blowout, it’s hard to ignore what the redshirt freshman did in his first career game.

Who would’ve guessed the guy stuck behind three established veteran backs on the depth chart would finish the night as Texas’ leading rusher at 92 yards and two touchdowns?

The 38-yard touchdown to end the night was a sight to behold, no matter how tired the Aggies might’ve been. Overstreet took a handoff from Case McCoy, juked a safety, avoided a pursuing cornerback with a quick stiff arm and scampered the final 20 yards.

It’s the kind of run he made all the time back in his days at Tatum (Texas) High School, though they never began with a handoff. The breakout debut for Overstreet is, at the very least, affirmation that the conversion from quarterback to running back was worthwhile.

Last season, the gang of Brown, Bergeron, Gray and senior Jeremy Hills seemingly had as close a bond as any position group on the team. Gray and Brown both said that Overstreet fit right in with their trio when he first joined the running back room for meetings.

“He fits perfectly well with us,” Gray said. “We always hung around Jalen when he was a quarterback, so him moving to running back was just another position. We all accepted him as family and he’s doing a great job right now. The sky’s the limit for him.”

Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite likes the natural instincts that the 6-foot-2, 215-pound East Texas native offers. Mack Brown joked Monday that Overstreet has never blocked a day in his life, but Applewhite is seeing him make steady improvement on the intricacies of running back.

“There’s a lot of finer points to playing running back,” Applewhite said. “Sometimes people are like, ‘Hey, just hold onto the ball and show up at 3 o’clock when the bus leaves.’ But with running back, there’s a lot of finer points. He’s learning those now and starting to learn how to run with power.”

The running backs consider themselves a selfless unit and have no problem with seeing Overstreet get more reps as the season progresses. Gray says he’s earned the right to play.

The only downside to Overstreet’s rise? He won’t be able to catch defenses off-guard anymore. Brown liked that element of surprise entering the opener.

“They have no film on him, you know?” he said. “Just to have him pop in there, I believe, people wont really notice him and then all the sudden he’ll break one. Jalen is a great athlete and he’ll do great for us, early in the game or late in the game.”

What his role will be this weekend at BYU and going forward is hard to peg. Texas managed to spread the ball around fairly evenly between its top three backs in the opener, but that was a luxury that can’t be expected every week.

But there will be a place for Overstreet. He helped ensure that with the first nine carries of his young career.

“It’s not fair to him to say, ‘Well, they were just tired and that’s why he did good,’” Applewhite said. “No. He worked his butt off and did good because he’s worked hard.”

Big 12's unsung heroes

September, 2, 2013
It's that time of year.

September is the time when new names start to emerge in the Big 12 and prove themselves as players who will be key components of their teams' success. Here's a look at one player from each school whose season-opening performance might have been overlooked, yet they could become important playmakers for their teams this fall:

Defensive end Shawn Oakman, Baylor: The Penn State transfer could end up being a terror for Big 12 offenses this fall. At 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, he brings terrific size and athleticism to the Bears’ defensive front. He was extremely disruptive against Wofford, recording six tackles including 3.5 tackles for loss in Baylor’s 69-3 win.

Linebacker Jared Brackens, Iowa State: Against Northern Iowa, Brackens was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing loss for the Cyclones. He recorded 10 tackles and one sack,as he is trying to help Cyclone fans forget about A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. If Brackens continues to play like he did against UNI, the Cyclones should fell terrific about their linebacking corps with Brackens alongside Jeremiah George and Jevohn Miller.

Safety Dante Barnett, Kansas State: Lining up alongside preseason All-Big 12 safety Ty Zimmerman, Barnett could give the Wildcats the conference’s top safety duo if he continues to play like he did against North Dakota State. The sophomore finished with seven tackles including one tackle for loss and an interception. He was a shining light in the upset loss to NDSU.

Defensive end Charles Tapper, Oklahoma: Sooners’ coach Bob Stoops has been consistent in his praise of Tapper leading up to the season opener. The sophomore didn’t disappoint on Saturday as he was able to consistently get pressure on Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Kolton Browning in OU’s 34-0 win. Tapper had three tackles and one quarterback hurry in his first collegiate start.

Running back Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State: The junior could emerge as a solid No. 2 option in the Cowboys backfield this season. The buzz in Stillwater says he’s matured and found a renewed focus that should help him be an impact player in OSU’s offense. He had 10 carries for 46 yards against Mississippi State and saw extensive time alongside Smith and quarterback J.W. Walsh in the Pokes’ diamond formation.

Running back Jalen Overstreet, Texas: The Longhorns have so many explosive skill position players it’s unfair. Add Overstreet to the mix after his nine-carry, 92-yard, two-touchdown performance against New Mexico State. UT moved Overstreet from quarterback because the coaches recognized he was too talented to be standing on the sidelines, and now Overstreet gives the Longhorns another weapon to allow offensive coordinator Major Applewhite to be creative with his play calling.

Cornerback Kevin White, TCU: Returning All-Big 12 cornerback Jason Verrett gets all the headlines, but White was consistently around the ball against LSU. With the Tigers picking on him, he won some individual battles and lost some individual battles but held his own with four tackles, four pass breakups and a fumble recovery. White made a strong case that the Horned Frogs have the Big 12’s top cornerback duo.

Linebacker Micah Awe, Texas Tech: Awe could emerge as one of the key players in the Red Raider defense as a sophomore. He’s an athletic, quick linebacker who plays with a physicality that belies his size. He was consistently around the ball against SMU with 5.5 tackles including 0.5 tackles for loss. If Awe can make plays from sideline to sideline in the Big 12, he’ll become more than just the other No. 18 for the Red Raiders.

Receiver Daikiel Shorts, West Virginia: The true freshman had been the buzz of WVU’s preseason camp and backed up the praise he received by leading the Mountaineers in receptions in his first collegiate game. He had seven receptions for 63 yards in their 24-17 victory over William and Mary.

Texas QB Swoopes working to find a role 

August, 15, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- Tyrone Swoopes has never seen players this good.

In his tiny hometown of Whitewright, Texas, he played with only one other Division I football player on his Class 2A team, a three-star tight end who signed with TCU. Swoopes’ go-to receiver the past two years was 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds.

These days, the Texas freshman quarterback finds himself surrounded by receivers bigger, backs faster and linemen tougher than any he’s played with. His career at Whitewright couldn’t have prepared him for these luxuries.

Rewind: Texas Longhorns fall camp

August, 12, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- After getting to watch six consecutive days of Texas practice, it’s safe to say we’ve taken plenty of notes. Here’s a look back at the superlatives of Texas’ first week of fall camp.

Best offensive performance: QB David Ash. He throws as pretty a ball as any Texas quarterback in the past, oh, 10 years, and on most days the incompletions were few and far between. Ash was sharp and made it all look easy. Nobody is questioning who the team’s top QB is this year.

Best defensive performance: CB Carrington Byndom. Granted, he wasn’t covering Texas’ top two wideouts, but Byndom provided lockdown coverage pretty much all week long. He played like a senior, with considerably more confidence.

David Ash
Max Olson/ESPNDavid Ash has shown his touch during passing drills but still needs to help Texas' offense pick up the pace.
Breakout player: WR Kendall Sanders. Several guys could earn this honor but Sanders thrived this week as the Longhorns’ top wideout with Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley sidelined with injuries. He could be in for a big sophomore season after catching two passes in 2012.

Best newcomer: OT Kent Perkins. Perkins jumped right into the second-team right tackle spot early in the week and probably would’ve stayed there had a sore shoulder not kept him out a few practices. He impressed his fellow linemen this summer and could have a solid role in 2013. Honorable mention goes to speedy receiver Jacorey Warrick and cornerback Antwuan Davis.

On the rise: CB Sheroid Evans. Quandre Diggs sitting out practice this week meant lots more work for Duke Thomas and Sheroid Evans, and both made a good impression. Evans, a 6-foot, 192-pound junior, snagged several interceptions during the week in 1-on-1 drills and could carve out a key role in Texas’ nickel defense.

Most improved: LB Steve Edmond. The middle linebacker is rebounding from his difficult 2012 season by shedding weight (from 260 pounds to 235), and the results have been positive. Edmond has made plays up the middle in 11-on-11 work and appears to have the edge over Dalton Santos for the starting job.

Fastest player: WR/RB Daje Johnson. We must tip our hats to Evans, a track athlete who probably is truly faster, but Johnson was practically a blur when running routes over the middle this week. His transition from running back to receiver has been a successful one thus far.

Biggest hit: S Adrian Colbert. The redshirt freshman popped tight end Greg Daniels hard Saturday night after he caught a ball over the middle, prompting the entire Texas secondary to run onto the practice field in celebration. The downside: Colbert probably would’ve been popped for a targeting penalty had it happened in a game this year.

Best position change: RB Jalen Overstreet. He’s still getting some work as the No. 3 quarterback, but Overstreet turned heads this week as a running back. He had little trouble adjusting to taking handoffs and showed he could be an explosive weapon as essentially an “athlete” for Texas this season.

Best position group: Running backs. Tough decision here. The RBs get credit here due to Overstreet’s rise and the new and improved Joe Bergeron. The junior back dropped from 240 pounds to 230 this offseason and looks quicker than ever but just as powerful.

Best depth: Offensive line. Thanks to Texas’ decision to practice with three separate offenses, we know the Longhorns have as many as 15 scholarship offensive linemen who could make the two-deep. Perkins and Rami Hammad worked with the No. 2 offense Saturday, and there’s the potential for more reshuffling in the next few weeks.

Top position battle: Wide receiver. The absence of Davis and Shipley meant lots of opportunity for everyone else. First-team reps went to Sanders, Marcus Johnson, Daje Johnson and Bryant Jackson, but Warrick, John Harris, Montrel Meander and Jake Oliver are all in the mix for playing time.

Biggest disappointment: Desmond Harrison’s absence. Texas’ junior college transfer hasn’t practiced since Monday due to an academic issue. Mack Brown has declined to disclose the specifics, but Texas officials believe it will be resolved soon. Still, it’s becoming a troubling development considering Harrison has a chance to be the team’s starting left tackle this fall.

Boldest quote: “Of course you’re mad about last year. You don’t want to be known as a soft defense. We’re taking the right steps to be a dominant defense. We want to be the most dominant defense in the world.” -- Safety Adrian Phillips

Biggest question: Tempo. Ash said Texas' offense will speed things up in the next few weeks after keeping the time between snaps to between 12-15 seconds this week. Just how fast will the final product look, and how well will Texas be executing it by Aug. 31?

Still wondering: We didn’t get much of a look at the Longhorn special teams this week, and it’s safe to say there are still unanswered questions with that unit. Could be some intriguing battles at placekicker and punter over the next few weeks with several participants: Nick Jordan, Anthony Fera, Nick Rose and William Russ.

Injury update: Exclude those who were already planning to be limited entering camp and you have to say Texas fared well. Byndom (head) and Josh Cochran (shoulder) were held out Saturday for precautionary reasons. All in all, there were no major injuries in week one. That’s a significant plus.

Four Downs: Opening observations 

August, 11, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- Each week, Sean Adams looks at a few topics around the Texas Longhorns and college football.

First Down: Up tempo is even faster now

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AUSTIN, Texas -- It’s hard to tell whether Jalen Overstreet should be labeled a running back or a quarterback these days. So let’s just go a more fitting title: Wild card.

The Texas redshirt freshman has embraced his new do-anything role during fall practices, even if that role remains relatively undefined. With each explosive run out of the backfield -- and he’s had a few -- Overstreet is making a compelling case for why he could be a unique weapon in the Longhorns offense

“He’s so fast,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “We’re enjoying what we’re seeing, and I think we’re seeing more out of Jalen right now because he’s got more confidence, because he’s actually playing a lot more than being some redshirted quarterback. We’ve been impressed so far with what we’ve seen.”

Jalen Overstreet
AP Photo/Eric GayThe ability to run and throw gives Texas options to use Jalen Overstreet's versatility.
He arrived on campus a relatively unknown talent from East Texas with perhaps the strongest arm of any quarterback in the program. Right now, Overstreet is happy to play “athlete” if it’ll mean a little playing time. All along, he’s only wanted to do what’s best for the team.

He agreed to commit to Texas in the fall of 2011 knowing full well that the Longhorns already had their future star quarterback on board in the much-hyped Elite 11 finalist Connor Brewer. But Texas needed a second QB, and Overstreet was happy to oblige.

When he arrived in Austin last summer, he knew he was at the bottom of the totem pole among UT’s quarterbacks. He just wanted to compete.

He was No. 4 on the depth chart throughout the year but didn’t flinch or look to transfer. And in a strange twist, his moment nearly came at the Alamo Bowl in December.

Case McCoy was suspended. If Oregon State knocked David Ash out of the game, new offensive coordinator Major Applewhite planned to insert Overstreet. He spent two hours in a hotel conference room in San Antonio preparing the rookie as quickly as he could for that nuclear option.

Playing in the game would’ve meant burning Overstreet’s redshirt, effectively costing him one year of eligibility. But he was fully on board with the emergency plan.

“He was great, his parents were great,” Brown said. “They said we'll do whatever we need to do to win the game. But it's totally unfair for him if he goes in that game.”

Fast forward to today and Brewer is gone after transferring to Arizona this summer. The next big-time recruit, Tyrone Swoopes, is making progress and likely won’t redshirt.

And Overstreet, well, he’s just doing whatever he can to contribute. Same as always.

Texas’ running backs respect that. They see his quickness, the way he runs surprisingly hard through holes, and his versatility. All valuable traits, and he brings some intangibles to the role, too.

“With Jalen, it is different. With quarterbacks, it is different,” junior back Joe Bergeron said. “As a quarterback, he knows what the offensive line and every other position should do on the field. For him to come in as running back, that is a vital piece for us because he can help us with other things that we may not know. He can tell us to notice rotations and other things. I love it.”

Overstreet still occasionally gets reps as the No. 3 quarterback in fall camp, and he’s capable of playing slot receiver. The challenge for Texas’ staff is finding a few plays or a package in the playbook that highlights his unusual gifts.

An obvious solution would be taking direct snaps in the Wild formation. Brown has said it would take quite a talent to bump Johnathan Gray out of that role after how effective he was in 2012. But Overstreet has a shot.

“We’re looking at he and Johnathan at that position, and he gives you the ability to throw better than John,” Brown said. “So as good as Johnathan was in it last year, if Jalen continues to progress, that would give him something to do.”

And at the end of the day, that’s all Overstreet is really looking for.

Connor Brewer is heading home.

The former Texas quarterback revealed Monday night that he is transferring to Arizona. Brewer, who is from Scottsdale, became one of the nation’s highest-rated quarterback recruits in 2012 after leading Chaparral High School to three straight state titles. He also threw a state-record 100 touchdown passes.

Brewer announced three weeks ago that he was leaving Texas.

Short term, Brewer’s departure means one less fallback option for the Longhorns should anything happen to two-year starter David Ash.

But long term, Brewer’s transfer clears the path for true freshman Tyrone Swoopes as the heir apparent. Ash is a junior, veteran backup Case McCoy is a senior and the only other quarterback on the roster, Jalen Overstreet, has dabbled at other positions.

The Longhorns do have a verbal commitment from Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas/John H. Guyer), who is the No. 5-rated dual-threat quarterback in the country in ESPN 300's Class of 2014. But it won’t be easy surpassing Swoopes on the depth chart -- something Brewer found out very quickly.

After enrolling early in January, Swoopes flashed his enormous potential in the spring game, headlined by a dazzling 21-yard scramble through the Longhorns’ first-team defense. That performance prompted Texas coach Mack Brown to declare immediately after the spring game that Swoopes would be the No. 3 quarterback behind Ash and McCoy.

“Tyrone is ahead of the other two [Brewer and Overstreet],” Brown said. “He can run. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s in great shape and he’s throwing the ball well. He just needs to get more reps.”

Evidently, Brewer saw Swoopes surging as well. And with Brewer heading back to Arizona, Swoopes' status as Texas' next starting quarterback has become even more defined.

Four Downs: Texas' X-factor in 2013 

July, 16, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- Each week, Sean Adams looks at a few topics around the Texas Longhorns and college football.

First down: X-factor in 2013

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It hasn’t even been 24 hours since Longhorns redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Brewer told Texas’ coaches that he was leaving the program, and other schools have already inquired.

“There are definitely a lot of schools that are interested,” Brewer said. “A lot of schools that recruited me are coming back in the picture, which is good news.”

[+] EnlargeConnor Brewer
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comQB Connor Brewer, who was the No. 130 recruit in the 2012 ESPN 300, is leaving Texas.
Brewer isn’t naming names at this point. He’d like to give his situation some more time to breathe. But his suitors could involve some powerhouse programs based on who offered him out of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral High School in 2012.

He chose the Longhorns over offers from Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas A&M, UCLA, USC and Washington.

“I’m just playing it by ear,” he said. “Just getting in contact with schools over the next couple of days.”

A congested path to playing time was likely one of the main reasons for his transfer. David Ash has started his first two seasons at Texas and still has two years of eligibility remaining. Behind him is senior Case McCoy, who played in eight games last season, and highly touted true freshman Tyrone Swoopes, who dazzled in the spring game.

Brewer hinted at that being the case on Wednesday.

“It was a really long and hard decision for me to actually leave the University of Texas just because it’s obviously the school I committed to,” he said. “I committed there for a reason. I had hopes and dreams to play. I loved everything about the academics, the coaches, the support from the fans. Everything that came along with it was top of the line. I know in the future they will be doing great things. But for me, as a player, I just felt like there are better opportunities to go out and play quicker somewhere. Ultimately, I think that’s what it came down to.”

There are so many quarterbacks vying for snaps that Texas has decided to tinker with redshirt freshman Jalen Overstreet at wide receiver or the defensive secondary. And then there is perhaps the most highly regarded of the QBs, 2014 commitment Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas/Guyer), who accounted for seven touchdowns in a state championship win last season.

The logjam at the position didn't leave much room for Brewer to compete, even though he figured to be in the running for the No. 2 job this fall.

“I think there was an opportunity [for that No. 2 spot],” Brewer said. “But at the same time I think I could go somewhere else and, potentially, after the one-year sit out, be the guy. That was a better option.”

His pending transfer from the program brings a sudden halt to a promising career that never materialized in burnt orange.

Brewer was highly sought out of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral High School in 2012. An Under Armour All-American, he was the No. 130 recruit in the ESPN 300 and the No. 7 quarterback.

A four-star recruit, he ended his high school career by becoming the first quarterback in Arizona history to win three consecutive state titles as the starting quarterback. He finished his career with a 41-2 record.

Brewer (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) also set an Arizona big-school record with 100 career touchdown passes. In 686 career attempts, of which he completed 441 for 7,574 yards, he threw only 17 interceptions. That equates to one interception out of every 40 passes thrown.

Brewer said he’s thought about this decision for a while but really took it seriously over the last two weeks. It was tough telling the Texas coaching staff that he was leaving.

“I don’t know if they expected. I think they could see where I was coming from,” he said. “Obviously they didn’t want me to leave. They were disappointed that I was leaving. I was a quarterback they recruited and they don’t want to lose players that they recruit. It was tough for both of us, but we wished each other well.”

Longhorns head coach Mack Brown wished Brewer the best in a school released statement on Tuesday when it announced they’d granted him an unconditional release to transfer.

"We appreciate everything Connor has brought to our program," Brown said in the statement. "He is a tremendous young man and is a great teammate and student. We hate to see him leave, but at the same time we understand his reasons. We wish him the best of luck in the future."

Brewer is the second of his siblings to transfer from Texas. His sister, Ashley Brewer, left the Longhorns swim team in 2012 and now competes for USC.
AUSTIN, Texas – Texas has 19 starters returning, a two-deep no longer as shallow as the Pedernales River, a coach who has been pointing to this year during the tumult of the last two and a team that's been as high as No. 4 in some of the preseason rankings.

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Question of the Week: Dividing carries 

June, 20, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas – It has become rather clear that Johnathan Gray will be the primary running back at Texas.

The sophomore is the most versatile of the Longhorns’ three tailbacks and is better equipped to work in space as well as create an explosive play any time he touches the ball.

What has not been clear is just what will happen with the two running backs behind Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. Texas coach Mack Brown has by no means lost faith in their ability and has no plans to shelve either of the juniors.

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Loyal Texas Fans To Get Ticket Priority
University of Texas senior associate athletic director Nick Voinis explains the loyalty points system that will reward prior donors and ticket purchasers with priority access for tickets to in-demand games.