As we continue our look at 20 players to watch in the spring, we next take a look at linebacker Jared Norton. Talk about a lot of questions ... there's still some debate on whether or not Norton will even be able to go this year after sitting out most of the 2009 season due to shoulder surgery. If he's available, Norton will look to regain his starting job in the middle, but there are a lot of issues that could affect this one.
Note: In this series, we're counting down the top 20 players to watch in the spring season. Don't go looking for guys like Aaron Williams or Sam Acho on this list - they're proven commodities and everyone knows what they bring to the table. Instead, we focus on a combination of 20 veterans and newcomers that have the most to prove.
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align="right" border="1" hspace="0" width="85" height="100">Position: Linebacker
Size: 6-3, 237
Rowlett High School
- 2009 season: Appeared in one game at linebacker, recording six tackles, including four solos, against Louisiana-Monroe. In late September, it was announced that Norton needed shoulder surgery and would miss the remainder of the season.
- Why he makes the list: This one's tough to call, and we went back and forth on whether or not to even include Norton on the list. After missing all most all of last season with a shoulder injury, there's been no official word from UT official on Norton's availability this spring. Behind the scenes, there's been some chatter that he may not be available or will be brought back into action very slowly, so putting him on the list of players to watch did come with some internal debate.
All that being said, we decided to go ahead and include Norton on the list just in case he is active this spring, with the thinking that when he does return to action he'll be one of the key contributors for Will Muschamp's defense. Norton was the starter in the middle last year before getting hurt and he'll be the odds on favorite to regain that spot once he's at full strength. But the job won't just be given to him.
Dustin Earnest played very well last year when his number was called last fall and if Norton is slow to return to form, he'll get a strong challenge from Earnest.
If Norton's available to go this spring, he'll give Texas a physical presence in the middle that has shown he has a good nose for finding the football. For a middle linebacker, Norton possesses good athleticism and quick feet, and he's one of the team's best at filling running lanes and making
- Best case scenario: Obviously, the best case situation involves having Norton's surgically repaired right shoulder returning to full strength and Norton being able to go through the full run of spring workouts. Again, Texas officials have not issued official word, but the thought of Norton being 100 percent healthy and able to go through the full gamut of spring drills seems a bit unrealistic based on information we've collected.
Whatever his role, the hope for Longhorn fans is that Norton makes a smooth transition when he does return, quickly shaking off the rust that comes from missing six months of action.
When Norton is back to full strength, be it this spring or over the off-season, the best case scenario for him and the Texas defense is that he quickly rounds back into pre-injury form, when he was considered one of the team leaders on the defensive side of the ball. If Norton can get back on track quickly, he'll provide some leadership to a linebacker position that should be among the Big 12's best next season.
- Questions to be answered: In limited action over the course of his UT career, Norton has performed well. But how much can Texas count on him for the 2010 season? Shoulder injuries are always frightening, but for a physical player like Norton, one has to wonder if his shoulder will be able to take the daily pounding that comes with playing the middle linebacker position, a spot that sees as much contact as any position on the field.
Staying healthy is an obvious question. Other issues that will need to be addressed are how quickly he can round back into form, and how Muschamp decides to use Norton in a league where so many teams rely heavily on the pass. Will Texas continue to run a lot of nickel next year and if so, will Norton be on the field in those situations?
- Best guess: Hate to keep saying it, but Norton's status for this spring is still very much unconfirmed so any estimations on his impact this spring are little more than an educated guess. We keep hearing that his shoulder's ability to hold up this spring is very much touch and go, so the guess here is that he's brought along very slowly and his work in contact drills is limited.
There's been no word by the school officially ruling him out of the spring season as there has been with a couple other players, so you have to figure there is still hope that he'll be able to give it a go. But Norton's experienced enough that there's no real need to force the issue and if there's any doubt you have to figure the coaches and trainers will be extra cautious.