March 18, 2012

Auditing the two-deep: A look at the offense

As the Longhorns prepare for the second-half of spring workouts this week, I thought it might be interesting to take an internal audit of the team in all phases. As I go position-by-position throughout the line-up, I hope to provide a pretty clear picture of where the strengths in the roster truly exist and which areas need the most improvement between now and the time the season begins in September.

Before we get started, I kept the metrics on this pretty easy.

10.0: All-American/First round-type NFL prospect
9.0: Consensus All-Conference/Solid NFL prospect
8.0: Borderline All-Conference
7.0: Solid Major BCS program starter
6.0: Borderline Major BCS program starter
5.0: Solid Major BCS program reserve
4.0: Borderline Major BCS program reserve
3.0: Below average Major BCS program reserve
2.0: Non Major BCS talent
1.0: Might as well be you and I out there

Quarterbacks

Projected starter: David Ash
Current rating: 6.5
2012 rating ceiling: 8.5
Overall thoughts: Ash has already made enough progress this spring to my naked eyes and ears that I'm willing to bump him up a couple of points from where he resided most of last season. The question that begs asking now is whether Bryan Harsin can turn Ash's upside into reality. If so, Ash has the talent and potential supporting cast to emerge as one of the guys you'd rate among the top half in the conference at his position.

Projected back-up: Case McCoy
Current rating: 5.0
2012 rating ceiling: 6.5
Overall thoughts: McCoy has some limitations athletically, but he's a gamer with experience and he still possesses the ability to make some gradual improvement with a second-year in the HarsinWhite system. The team is in better hands with McCoy as the back-up than it was in other seasons in the Mack Brown era. When push comes to shove, he'll rank as one of the better Big 12 back-ups if you need him in a pinch.

Running back

Projected starter: Joe Bergeron
Current rating: 7.5
2012 rating ceiling: 8.5
Overall thoughts: It's possible I'm getting a little too far ahead of myself in naming Bergeron the starter, but I had to pick someone and he's had the best spring thus far. All the guy did when he was healthy last season was rush for 6.4 yards per carry, which is an incredible number if continued over 150+ carries and not just 72. There's no question that if he's healthy and getting the carries, he'll have a chance to post a 1,000-yard season and rank as one of the league's best backs.

Projected back-ups: Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray
Current rating: 7.0
2012 rating ceiling: 9.0
Overall thoughts: Either of these two could emerge as the top guy in the backfield and each, at the very least, should carve out big roles in an offense that should possess a nasty three-headed tandem. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better trio of backs that perfectly complements each other more so than the group Texas projects to carry into the season.

Flanker (Z receiver)

Projected starter: Mike Davis
Current rating: 7.5
2012 rating ceiling: 9.0
Overall thoughts: The junior had an up and down season in 2011, but he's been the best receiver on campus this spring and he seems due (again) for a major breakout campaign. By the end of the season, he absolutely could stand among the top Big 12 wide receivers list.

Projected back-up: John Harris
Current rating: 5.0
2012 rating ceiling: 7.0
Overall thoughts: When healthy last season, the Longhorn coaching staff had him pegged as a guy that would have been a definite factor for the offense. Injuries have stunted his development, but he's expected back in the second half of spring workouts and has a chance to emerge as a sleeper impact performer for the offense.

Split end (X receiver)

Projected starter: Jaxon Shipley
Current rating: 7.0
2012 rating ceiling: 8.5
Overall thoughts: Shipley was an offensive MVP candidate last season when healthy and he should emerge as one of the best No. 2 receivers in the Big 12 this season.

Projected back-up: Marquise Goodwin
Current rating: 7.0
2012 rating ceiling: 8.0
Overall thoughts: The 2012 Olympics make it next to impossible to properly grade his impact on the field this season because of all the time he'll miss in training. Regardless of when he reports, he'll provide the team with speed, depth and occasional big-play potential.

Slot (H receiver)

Projected starter: Desean Hales
Current rating: 6.0
2012 rating ceiling: 7.0
Overall thoughts: This kid has flashed potential throughout his career, but he's making more noise this spring than ever and he seems to have developed a nice little chemistry with Ash, which is pretty important. It's always possible and perhaps likely that they simply move one of the X or Z receivers into the H sot in the offense on passing downs, but Hales is the guy I think is ahead right now among those on campus.

Projected back-up: Miles Onyegbule
Current rating: 5.0
2012 rating ceiling: 7.0
Overall thoughts: This second-year player simply needs more reps and experience because the talent is there to become a quality college player, but I'm not sure how much progress is made this season.

Tight end

Projected starter: D.J. Grant
Current rating: 6.0
2012 rating ceiling: 7.5
Overall thoughts: Of the guys competing for the starting job, Grant is the name that I selected from the pack at this point. Yes, his blocking must continue to improve, but there's a nice ceiling on Grant that I think many are sleeping on. When you consider that he's a year removed from rehabbing his major injuries and the quarterback position is upgrading itself, his athleticism and pass-catching ability make him a guy that could emerge with a decent season if the light switch comes on.

Projected back-up: M.J. McFarland/Darius Terrell/Barrett Matthews/Dominique Jones
Current rating: 5.5
2012 rating ceiling: 8.0
Overall thoughts: We're talking about a group of players that currently possess half of the shares needed to be a top-end tight end at this level. Of this group, McFarland and Terrell give its upside. You'd love to have a top-end player but if this team can produce three of four players with 6.0-7.0 ratings going into the season, it'll represent a major upgrade of the position from where it has been the last few seasons.

Left tackle

Projected starter: Donald Hawkins
Current rating: 6.5
2012 rating ceiling: 8.5
Overall thoughts: Don't worry too much about what he is at this moment and let's look forward to what he'll look like when he truly gets comfortable and has an entire off-season off of which to build. For now, he looks like a possible solid starter with a chance to be better than that, if not this year than next.

Projected back-up: Paden Kelley
Current rating: 4.5
2012 rating ceiling: 6.0
Overall thoughts: Kelley has shown some flashes of being a quality member of the two-deep, but they are in consistent doses. At this point, if something happened to Hawkins in-season, the Longhorns would likely juggle some pieces rather than depend on Kelley to hold down the fort for an extended time.

Left guard

Projected starter: Trey Hopkins
Current rating: 7.0
2012 rating ceiling: 8.5
Overall thoughts: A move inside is just what the doctor ordered for Hopkins. He's a solid starter at this point with a chance to emerge as something better. The question I have is whether he's going to remain at 7.0 or finally reach his upside, which is much higher.

Projected back-up: Sedrick Flowers
Current rating: 6.0
2012 rating ceiling: 8.0
Overall thoughts: Flowers has emerged as a player to whom the coaches are giving serious consideration because it's possible that he's one of their five best linemen and it's even more possible that he'll definitely be one of those guys by September. As it stands, he's close, but not quite there. By the end of this season, he could represent an upgrade in quality somewhere inside on this line.

Center

Projected starter: Dominic Espinosa
Current rating: 6.0
2012 rating ceiling: 7.0
Overall thoughts: Espinosa is young and behind the curve in terms of his development because of injuries in 2010-11. He's currently in the starting line-up, but the Longhorns need more from him and his spot in the top five could hinge on the type of off-season he has after spring workouts are completed. He simply must get stronger and more powerful at the point of attack. When the strength and power arrive, he's got a chance to be a standout.

Projected back-up: Garrett Porter
Current rating: 4.5
2012 rating ceiling: 5.0
Overall thoughts: The depth at the center position is a concern because of Espinosa's youth and Porter's inability to take the next step as a player. It's season No. 4 for Porter and there still isn't a sense that a surge has or will take place.

Right guard

Projected starter: Mason Walters
Current rating: 7.0
2012 rating ceiling: 9.0
Overall thoughts: There's a lot of hope that Walters is going to take a big step this season on the field. Consistency is all that is needed and if it arrives, he has a chance to rank among the elite guards in the Big 12. His fingers seem to be on the light switch or very close to it.

Projected back-up: Thomas Ashcraft
Current rating: 5.0
2012 rating ceiling: 5.5
Overall thoughts: Another member of the 2009 recruiting class up-front that hasn't been able to really get it going. He gives the team some depth as its No. 4 tackle, but I'm not sure where the ceiling exists at this point.

Right tackle

Projected starter: Josh Cochran
Current rating: 8.0
2012 rating ceiling: 9.0
Overall thoughts: Cochran is the best lineman on the team in my estimation and after a terrific freshman campaign, I don't see it taking long before he's regarded as one of the best in the Big 12.

Projected back-up: Luke Poehlmann
Current rating: 5.5
2012 rating ceiling: 6.5
Overall thoughts: Poehlmann will work as much as an extra tight end as much as anything this fall, but his ability in the running game has improved to the point where he can be a serviceable player up-front in the two-deep.

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