Texas Longhorns: Montrel Meander

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 takes a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from him. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 88 Montrel Meander
Redshirt freshman wide receiver

Recruitment rewind: Meander was about as last-second a find as it gets, a relatively unknown three-star recruit from up north in the Panhandle. He committed in January 2013 to play safety at Washington State with a teammate from Amarillo Palo Duro High, and then Texas entered the picture a week before signing day. Darrell Wyatt convinced him to fly down to Austin for an official visit, and Meander committed during his trip.

Career so far: Meander redshirted in 2013 along with most of Texas' true freshmen. He had arguably the best catch of the spring game, a 30-yard snag early in the first quarter for the second-team offense.

Best-case scenario for 2014: He's going to see the field on special teams, but no doubt Meander wants a shot at making some plays for the Texas offense. Best-case, he's looking at maybe 10-20 catches as the Longhorns' No. 4 receiver if he can work his way up the depth chart. He got stronger and faster in his first year in the program, and the lowest-rated member of Texas' 2013 class could end up being a surprise standout.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Meander is a big 6-foot-3 target with a lot of raw talent, but don't be surprised if he needs more seasoning and plays a limited role this fall. Fellow second-year receivers Jacorey Warrick and Jake Oliver are probably ahead of him on the depth chart behind the three returning starters, and at least one newcomer -- likely Armanti Foreman and/or Lorenzo Joe -- could sneak up into the two-deep. Still, Meander will help on special teams regardless of his receiving duties.

Future expectations: Texas' depth chart at wide receiver is going to be wide open entering the 2016 season after Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson graduate, so that year is probably Meander's best bet for winning a starting job. He's going to push his way onto the field before then, especially if he has that knack for making tough catch he demonstrated in the spring game, but Meander's best years are most likely at least a year away.
Editor's note: This is the first part of a weeklong series breaking down Texas’ most important spring position battles when the Longhorns begin practice in two weeks.

Moving on: Texas is losing, statistically, one of the best wide receivers in its program’s history in Mike Davis. He leaves Austin ranking No. 4 in the Longhorn record books in both career receptions and receiving yards, and fifth in receiving TDs. And imagine what he could have done had Texas enjoyed a little more stability at the quarterback position during his four years. He started 38 games and brought the deep threat needed to stretch Big 12 defenses.

The contenders: We know what Texas has in reliable longtime starter Jaxon Shipley. No reason to worry about him. And you could argue that Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson aren’t really competing with each other for snaps. They seem like logical choices to be the No. 2 and No. 3 guys in this unit, at least on paper.

Among those vying with Shipley, Sanders and Johnson to prove they should see the field in 2014: John Harris, Jacorey Warrick, Montrel Meander, Jake Oliver, Armanti Foreman, Lorenzo Joe, Dorian Leonard, Roderick Bernard and Garrett Gray.

And don’t forget Daje Johnson, the versatile weapon who focused on receiver in 2013, and the injured Bryant Jackson, who will miss spring practice. Even if a few of these wideouts leave for playing time elsewhere, it’s going to be a crowded receiver room this fall.

Moving forward: What makes this a battle is the stunning number of young backups who will compete for playing time this fall. There’s plenty of time for this number to change, and it will, but Texas could have as many as 14 scholarship receivers on the roster this fall.

Several of the incoming freshmen will redshirt, that much seems certain, but who knows what the Longhorns can expect from the rest. That’s the upside of signing so many wideouts with different skill sets. Throw them all onto a practice field, see which ones improve and stand out, and play the best of the best. That’s a luxury new receivers coach Les Koenning gets this fall.

Prediction: Many will point to Foreman and Joe as immediate contributors, and they’ll get a shot. But the trio of second-year receivers -- Warrick, Meander and Oliver -- will catch folks by surprise and find meaningful roles.

What’ll be fascinating to watch this spring is how the new staff puts Daje Johnson to use, and whether he can get his act together after two suspensions last season. If he does, he’s got a chance to become a nationally known and feared playmaker.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley aren’t practicing, and that just might be a good thing.

As strange as it sounds, Texas’ top two wide receivers spending the first week of fall camp sidelined ended up proving beneficial for the Longhorns offense. Their absence created opportunity for a receivers group full of unproven talent.

Davis had surgery for a hernia and Shipley underwent a procedure to address a hip injury. Neither ailment is serious, and both wideouts were in pads and catching passes by the end of the week.

[+] EnlargeKendall Sanders
AP Photo/Eric GaySophomore Kendall Sanders has gotten extended time with the first team with injuries to Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley.
Their absence is more precautionary than anything, and at some point in the next two weeks they’ll get back into team drills and 11-on-11 work.

But the point is this: Neither truly needed the practice reps. Their younger backups most definitely did.

“With Mike and Jaxon being limited early, that’s going to force the guys to be out there with David [Ash] and see how they can do with pressure on them,” Texas coach Mack Brown said before camp began.

How’d they fare? Sophomores Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson slid into the spots held down by Davis and Shipley last week. They combined for two receptions in 2012. One of them will likely have to start this fall.

That guy might not be Johnson, who suffered a sprained MCL in his right knee during practice Monday. There's no timetable for his return, but UT head athletic trainer Kenny Boyd is hoping Johnson will be back "before the end of camp or soon after."

That’s not necessarily a damning blow for the Texas receiving corps, but Johnson made a good impression during his week with the first-team offense.

“I think Marcus has been making huge strides from where he was in the spring,” Ash said. “I'm really excited just because with the nature of the offense and what we're doing now, he will have to be a big part of it. He’s got to make plays for us and understand that when some of our primary receivers are covered or doubled, he's going to be the guy that gets the ball.”

There’s no doubt Sanders is ready for a larger role after recording two catches for 15 yards in 11 games as a true freshman. The 6-foot, 187-pound wideout is as well-rounded a target as the Longhorns have when Davis and Shipley aren’t on the field and appears to be the favorite to become Texas’ No. 3 receiver.

But they weren’t the only beneficiaries at receiver last week. Take the top two guys out of the equation and everyone gets bumped up the totem poll, including the newcomers.

“It’s really helped us to be forced to look at the freshmen,” Brown said. “Jacorey Warrick has done some good things, and it’s been fun to watch him. All of those young ones have shown ability, but we probably wouldn’t have got them many snaps if Jaxon and Mike were out there.”

That Warrick is earning early praise is impressive considering his rapid recovery, as he missed most of his senior season at Houston Cypress Falls after suffering a torn meniscus in his right knee in October.

The former ESPN 150 recruit looks as speedy as ever and hasn’t lost a step since that injury. He and freshman Montrel Meander worked with the No. 2 offense last week while Jake Oliver and Chevoski Collins started off with the third-string receivers.

Those four fresh faces will continue to be evaluated in the next two weeks, and several could see the field on Aug. 31 against New Mexico State. But what would that mean for Bryant Jackson and John Harris?

Both are fourth-year players seeking to finally break through and establish their roles. Harris has experimented at tight end but spent the week as one of Case McCoy’s favorite targets as an outside receiver. Jackson moved over from defensive back and played in the slot with Daje Johnson and the No. 1 offense.

“The guys brag on Bryant Jackson a lot,” Brown said. “He’s an older guy who’s been around, a blocker and special teams guy that’s making some good plays for us.”

With those freshmen on the rise, it’s practically now or never for those juniors. They benefitted from Davis and Shipley sitting as much as anyone.

And yet, you could make a case no Longhorn is affected more than Ash. The starting quarterback didn’t mind one bit, as he enjoyed working on his rapport with a variety of receivers.

“There is a silver lining to it,” Ash said. “Obviously, we want Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley out there getting work, but there is a silver lining that we are going to develop some depth with these young wideouts. They’re going to get some experience now and there’s no doubt it’ll pay off, because you never know what’s going to happen in the season.”

If either of Ash’ top two targets go down at some point this fall, that will likely mean trouble. But a full week of preparing for that possibility can’t hurt.

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

Four Downs: Texas collecting receivers 

June, 18, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- Each week, I look at a few topics around the Texas Longhorns and college football.

First down: Few O-linemen in 2014 class

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We’re kicking off this year’s Meet the Freshmen series with the member of Texas’ 15-man signing class that Longhorns fans know the least about: Montrel Meander.

The Amarillo (Texas) Palo Duro wide receiver was the final piece of the class, committing two days before signing day. He’d been committed to Washington State and had taken official visits to WSU, New Mexico, San Diego.

But Texas, seeking one more receiver for 2013, made a last-second run at Meander and stole him in a rapid five-day recruitment that included a surprise official visit. Now Meander is preparing to make the eight-hour drive south to Austin to join the program this week, and he’s ready to make a name for himself.

Montrel Meander
Courtesy of Palo Duro HSThree-star receiver signee Montrel Meander was Texas' last commit in the 2013 class.
HornsNation: When you think back, how crazy was that final week before signing day for you?

Montrel Meander: It was real crazy for me. For a long time I wasn’t thinking that Texas was going to be in my future. For them to come so late, it was a blessing to me. I was confused -- I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. It took a lot of hard thinking after the visit.

HN: What was it about Washington State that you really fell in love with? Or was it simply that they were your best option?

Meander: They were really my best option, to me. They sounded legit. Their coaches were honest men and they didn’t beat around the bush about nothing. I wanted to play for them, and they said I had a strong possibility to start when I came in.

HN: Hadn’t Texas only been talking to you for only two days when you boarded the plane for the official visit to Austin?

Meander: I took the visit on Saturday morning before signing day. I first heard from Texas on that Thursday. Coach [Darrell] Wyatt contacted my head coach and coach told me to call him. I called and Coach Wyatt told me I should come down that following day and that, most likely, I was going to be offered a scholarship. Then he offered me a scholarship and asked me to go on the visit, and I told him I would. He asked if I could come right after school Friday but I had a basketball game. So after my game was over, I called him and then I took the visit that next morning.

(Read full post)

Texas poised to take big 2014 class 

February, 14, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas A&M was the talk of the state in 2013 with its 32-man recruiting class. Don’t be shocked if Texas comes close to those numbers with its 2014 class.

As always, it’s a matter of math. Texas, by rule, can sign no more than 50 recruits in any two-year period. The Longhorns inked 15 this year, so 35 is the absolute maximum for 2014.

Texas isn’t going for 35 this year. Its 2013 team will feature 15 seniors if Jordan Hicks is granted his medical redshirt. A full class of 25 signees is likely. But don’t rule out the possibility of 30.

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Only three days after Texas coaches first contacted a Washington State commit, he has flipped his verbal pledge and will sign with the Longhorns.

Three-star Amarillo (Texas) Palo Duro receiver Montrel Meander confirmed to HornsNation in a text message that he's committed to Texas.

Meander originally committed to playing safety at Washington State on Jan. 20, but Texas receivers coach Darrell Wyatt stunned him by showing up at Palo Duro on Friday to inqure about his interest in visiting Texas.

After initially saying he was sticking with Washington State, Meander flew to Austin on Saturday for an official visit. Now he's the 15th member of Texas' 2013 recruiting class and its third receiver pledge, joining Jake Oliver (Dallas/Jesuit) and Jacorey Warrick (Houston/Cypress Falls).

As a senior at Palo Duro, Meander played safety and running back. He rushed for 572 yards and eight touchdowns this fall. Prior to committing to Washington State, Meander took official visits to San Diego State, UTSA and Colorado State.

3-star WR changes plans, visiting Texas 

February, 2, 2013
Texas hasn’t given up on its search for one more wide receiver for its 2013 class. On the final weekend of official visits, a three-star prospect is flying down to Austin to see what Texas has to offer.

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