The junior center was named to the Rimington Award watch list, largely on the strength of his 26 career starts. Seniority and familiarity are often the basis for these watch lists - particularly for offensive linemen who don't put up easily accessible individual statistics.
While many Longhorn fans recall Espinosa's early struggles (and can point cynically to Chris Hall sharing a similar preseason watch list honor in 2009), Espinosa has taken positive strides as a starting center since being pressed into far-too-early action as a redshirt freshman.
In fact, Espinosa's developmental timeline may now actually have the chance to catch up to his expected play.
In 2011, a redshirt freshman Espinosa, pressed into play a full two years before any healthy program would play him, and unable to participate in offseason conditioning due to a shoulder injury (he missed the entire Spring and couldn't lift in the Summer), was the Longhorn opening day starting center, pushing less weight then what he could manage as a high school senior. That's not good. He struggled - as you'd expect. And the internet was vocal. Blaming the player is the easy out - I placed my ire on a program that had failed in O-line development for half a decade (see draft, National Football League).
I offered some context before last season, reminding overly critical Longhorn fans that Espinosa wouldn't be seeing the field until THIS YEAR, much less 2012, in a healthy program.
Espinosa did take significant strides from a rough 2011 to a more productive 2012. Although he still has work to do when heads-up on a shaded nose both in the running game and in pass protection, he's strong in space, he's very good working laterally to seal on the outside zone, and he's agile enough to snap the ball, pull, and lead inside. This season, he'll be particularly instrumental in holding a quick set pocket against immediate pressure inside from DL and blitzing linebackers. And should we put in some trap/draw action, he'll excel.
How his positive attributes are rewarded in our "new" offense remain to be seen. As is his ability to overcome some of his deficiencies through physical maturation, experience, and scheme. But this will be the first season where Espinosa's developmental timeline actually puts him on a level playing field against his peers.