Late last week we took at our projected Charts of Depth on the defensive side of the ball, and now it’s the offense’s turn. As before, this aims to do away with the annoying “OR”-fest that dominates most preseason depth charts and put a stake in the ground on who’s likely to see the most snaps at each position over the course of the season.
Here’s a look:
Below are some thoughts on what Tom Herman, Tim Beck and Drew Mehringer are looking for from each position along with some Thinking Texas Football 2017 (coming soon!) excerpts to detail why each guy is placed where he is.
Herman’s prototype QB is a true dual threat who can key the run game by threatening both between the tackles and on the edge while getting through two (or maybe three) reads and delivering strong, accurate throws in the passing game. That total package doesn’t exist on the 40 just yet, and the choice of offensive emphasis to accentuate this season’s skill sets is probably the most interesting Longhorn storyline heading into 2018.
Starter: Shane Buechele
While preternatural touch on the patented Trebuechele fade is the signature component of Buechele’s game, when he’s at full strength he’s also got the zip and accuracy in the middle of the field to thrive in an offense that should do a lot more business between the numbers. His biggest growth area – outside of actual, physical growth – figures to be footwork on the run-pass option throws that are crucial to Herman’s offense since perimeter screens arrived late, low and slow when he failed to properly re-set his feet on the heels of a run fake. A game runner and sneaky-good athlete, he’ll serve as a solid constraint against hard-crashing edge defenders but won’t key the run game in the mold of previous Herman charges like J.T. Barrett and Greg Ward.
Mop Up N’ Change-Up: Sam Ehlinger
Ehlinger’s affinity for the physical – and his impressive physical attributes – fit the mold of the typical Tom Herman trigger man, but true freshman QBs are still true freshman QBs. He should be slated for spot duty this year, and the staff will hope that he can learn the ropes while avoiding any Leeeeeeroy Jenkins* moments at the end of a 30-point blowout. Those snaps will have value, but Sam will need more time to really come into his own. Be patient.
Running Back (RB)
Herman enjoyed a run of hard-charging studs like Carlos Hyde and Zeke Elliott at Ohio State and made the most of the two-way skill set of Longhorn refugee Duke Catalon at Houston in 2016. There are plenty of ways to skin a cat in this offense and a diversity of run schemes to suit multiple styles. This is a good thing, since the lack of an obvious bell cow and some guys’ injury histories make it highly likely that we’ll see a committee approach after last season’s rendition of The D’Onta Show.
Starter: Chris Warren
Warren figures to make the most hay on Outside Zone and Pin n’ Pull-type concepts where he can throttle up and pick his spot to cut upfield. A willing and powerful blocker, he should also get the chance to lead some jet sweeps and may pave the way for Sam Ehlinger when the freshman sees snaps. Warren will fit the offense well, but the jury’s still out on whether his size and frame is a long-term fit for running back. This season could be his best chance to state his case.
Hopefully More TNT than DNP: Kirk Johnson
Johnson has teased a tantalizing combination of size, speed, receiving skills and a dirty, funky but highly-effective approach to changing directions on the fly. Unfortunately his time on the 40 to date has made Chris Warren look like the love child of Cal Ripken Jr. and David Dunn. With sufficient snaps he could replicate the success that former Longhorn Duke Catalon enjoyed under Herman in Houston last season, but once you’ve amassed enough soft tissue injuries it’s hard not to project more trips to the trainer’s room.
Solid Change of Pace: Kyle Porter
A solid all-arounder who won’t wow you with any particular facet of his game, he did prove that he was capable of shouldering a heavy load as a Katy Tiger. It wouldn’t be surprising if he’s called upon to do the same at some point this season.
May Play More Than You Think: Toneil Carter
The 2017 4* and early enrollee offered plenty to like in the Spring Game, combining burst and vision on the ground and smoothly hauling in the swing passes that are crucial to creating vertical stretch in Herman’s offense. He’s slated for backup duty as of this writing, but with the injury histories ahead of him we’d take the over on 50 total touches this season.
What Is It, Would You Say, You Do Here?: Tristian Houston
Redshirt-Bound: Daniel Young
The receivers should rejoice this season, as a more experienced and healthy Buechele combined with a fuller route tree should mean plenty of chances to shine. While the 56/44 ratio of ground-to-air production that Herman enjoyed at Ohio State represents his ideal style of ball, in 2017 the Longhorn wideouts will be the focal point of the offense. Length and high-point ability are at a premium on the outside, where there’s not a ton of functional difference between the X and Z positions considering how often both align on the line of scrimmage with H-backs in the backfield and four-receiver sets. The slots are expected to do damage on the screens and RPOs linking the run and pass game while torching singled-up safeties downfield. And in the team’s deepest position, a hard-nosed approach to blocking is as sure a path as any to starter’s snaps.
X Wide Receiver (X)
Starter: Collin Johnson
Even though Johnson didn’t light up the stat sheet last year, careful observers felt their pulse quicken any time his Reed Richards-caliber length, catch radius and body control were on display. And while plenty of guys with his body type fade out when they aren’t running fade routes, his quick feet and growing mastery of stops, slants and pivot routes figure to make him a hellacious cover for corners primarily worried about staying over the top. Assuming he makes the expected strides against press coverage, Johnson will set the standard for this year’s Longhorn receivers as well as the ceiling for the pass game.
In The Mix: Lil’Jordan Humphrey
While the now-sophomore isn’t a burner, he’s a unique all-around athlete and his leaping TD grab over Kris Boyd in the Spring Game was a reminder of his potential out wide. He’ll have a tough task out-muscling guys like Collin Johnson and Dorian Leonard for significant snaps this year, but don’t be surprised if the staff schemes a few creative ways to get the ball in his hands.
Don’t You (*music sting*) Forget About Me: Lorenzo Joe
Joe had some nice moments amidst an injury-riddled season before finally succumbing to a shoulder injury against Texas Tech. He did make an appearance in the Spring Game, and his lunchpail approach to perimeter blocking could earn him snaps if his health cooperates.
Shirt and Learn: Jordan Pouncey
Z Wide Receiver (Z)
Starter: Dorian Leonard
No offensive player did more to re-open our eyes during our 2016 re-watch than Dorian Leonard. His 6’5” frame doesn’t come packed with the same superfreak skills as Collin Johnson’s, but Leonard’s long and loping stride eats up ground with deceptive speed. He plays with an edge that Tom Herman ought to find appealing, whether it’s attacking contested catches or mauling smaller corners on screens and edge runs. There’s not a ton of outward sizzle, to Leonard’s game, but it doesn’t lack for steak.
Show Me Your Hands!: John Burt
The early season saw so many balls clang off Burt’s hands that the Taco Bell marketing folks thought they had earned some make-good Godzillatron gongs from Bellmont, and Burt was utterly phased out of the offense following the Oklahoma game. He’s still got speed to burn, though, and improved focus could make for a worthy reclamation project. He got plenty of run in the Spring Game, and improved hands coupled with enthusiastic blocking will keep in in the staff’s good graces.
Coming Along Nicely: Jerrod Heard
Heard’s impressive natural grace as an athlete helps him gain separation out of breaks despite limited experience as a technical route runner and gives him electricity with the ball in his hands. Heard was feeling his way as a receiver last season, and his ability to deal with physicality at the line of scrimmage and as a blocker is very much a work in progress. As he adds strength to his frame and nuance to his game he’ll make a strong push for increased snaps in the slot and at Z receiver.
Shirt and Learn: Damion Miller
Slot Receiver (Y)
Starter: Devin Duvernay
A Translated Track Speed guy with rare acceleration and burst, Duvernay can take the top off faster than an entertainer on the Treasures main stage. His route running needs polish, and while he’s a willing lock-on blocker he needs to improve his footwork and understanding of angles to prevent corners from flying by him and making plays. If he cleans up those areas, though, his multi-faceted threat potential on go routes, screens, jet sweeps and deep digs make him this season’s premier offensive X factor.
Senior Step-Up Time: Armanti Foreman
Though Armanti was overshadowed by Little Big Bro last season, his 420 receiving yards both paced the Longhorn wideouts and drew an appreciative chuckle from Holton Hill. Foreman boasts the team’s best pure route-running fundamentals, a skill set which figures to play up a good deal more in this offense. He still has yet to really put it all together, though, and he’ll need to bring his A game to avoid ceding snaps to the young talent behind him.
Youngster On The Rise: Reggie Hemphill-Mapps
Mapps’ Spring Game performance showed that he won’t be content to dawdle at the bottom of the depth chart. Looking smooth in his routes and faster than advertised, he made plenty of hay on out and corner routes and showed a nice rapport with Shane Buechele. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him push for starter’s snaps as the season progresses.
Burner Waiting His Turn: Davion Curtis
Viewed as Consolation Devin Duvernay in the 2016 recruiting class until the Longhorns landed Actual Devin Duvernay, Curtis has the wheels to be dangerous up the seam and over the middle. His future is intriguing, but snaps could be tough to come by this season.
Tight End (TE)
When we first started writing about this position’s status as Bruce Chambers’ Island of Misfit Toys, we didn’t expect to be stuck on the island longer than the cast of Lost. But in the full decade since Jermichael Finley’s early departure to the NFL, we’re still waiting on a Texas tight end to hit the elusive 17-catch mark or draw more than cursory notice from opposing DC’s. The tight end/H-back role can key a ton of run-game diversity in this offense - something that’s particularly valuable when the QB’s ground game role figures to be carefully managed. But if we aren’t seeing A-grade H-back blocking, expect to see a heavy dose of four-wide sets.
Starter: Andrew Beck
Through the first half of the 2016 season, Beck’s ability to hit moving targets was more Ted “Theodore” Logan than John Wick and more Ted "Theodore" Logan. He did make some strides in that department down the stretch, though, and actually showed some good flat-back pad level and tenacity when asked to take on defensive ends in-line. The Longhorns are slated for at least one more season in EBS purgatory at this position, but if Beck can at least ensure that the 'E' stands for 'Extra' rather than 'Empty', 'Eccchhh' or 'Egregious' then Herman and Tim Beck’s ability to deploy diverse alignments and concepts won't be completely held hostage.
Here’s Hoping: Kendall Moore
Moore’s ceiling is probably “somewhat functional body in the box,” but his tape from the ‘Cuse showed a guy who can at least credibly line up at multiple spots with some block-down ability as an in-line TE and some willingness and tenacity when leading to the second level as an H-back. If he can manage a poor man’s Greg Daniels/Geoff Swaim-type outing then he’ll be a welcome addition at a position of major need.
Splitting Out or Sitting Down: Garrett Gray
Gray does offer a little Flex appeal when split out as he’s got some sneaky speed up the seam and at least average (for a wide receiver, mind you) blocking ability against corners on screen throws and when blindsiding a linebacker on a crackback. But when climbing to engage backers head-up he lacks the functional power to maintain his blocks, and attempting to take on a defensive end would probably see him hoisted and wielded as a club against the ball carrier.
Shirt and Eat: Reese Leitao, Cade Brewer
Tom Herman rides with his O-line on team flights and buses, and he’ll cheerfully ride them up and down the field while punishing opponents with a bruising ground game. This unit may not be ready to outright maul people, but they’re accomplished in the ground game and have the skill sets and mobility to pull off the Inside Zone/Power/Counter/Pin n’ Pull concepts foundational to Herman’s offense. Pass protection could be a bit of a stickier wicket, and they’ll need to make strides in both individual technique and collective awareness to keep Buechele hale and whole this year.
Left Tackle (LT)
Starter: Connor Williams
Williams moves at 300+ pounds as easily as he did an undersized (ha!) 250-pound high school senior, effortlessly erasing opponents. There may not have been fifteen times last season where his man had a measurable impact on a play. As a consequence, there may not be fifteen names called before his in the 2018 NFL Draft. Enjoy him while you can.
(Hopefully) Just Caddying: Jean DeLance
Battling Denzel Okafor and Lil’Jordan Humphrey for the status of 2016’s Most Maddening Shirt Burn, DeLance’s ability to successfully battle defensive ends will depend on how quickly his upper body strength and technique can catch up to his deft footwork. DeLance’s Spring Game showing was light on aggression and punch in pass protection, frequently allowing rushers to counter inside and take the shortest possible path to the QB. Since the straightest path from Williams to a viable left tackle backup runs straight to DeLance, here’s hoping he’s a quick study in case disaster strikes.
Even More Hopefully Just Caddying: J.P. Urquidez
Urquidez’ recruiting tape showed a guy more effective doing damage on the second level than mixing it up in-line. There’s potential for damage to the Longhorn passers if Urquidez is forced into significant snaps on the edge before refining significant technique issues, particularly his tendency to immediately open his hips to 90 degrees and provide edge rushers with a two-way go to the QB. Hopefully we’ll get to check back in on his development in 2018.
Shirting and Eating: Sam Cosmi
Left Guard (LG)
Starter: Jake McMillon
McMillon ended the 2015 season as an all-but forgotten cog in the DL rotation and finished 2016 as the Longhorns’ second-best offensive lineman. Baseline athleticism and a nasty demeanor are the stereotypical benefits of a DL-to-OL conversion and McMillon sported both in spades. He’s at his best as a phone-booth brawler and was Texas’ best bet for uprooting unruly DTs while also demonstrating a good feel for coming off combos and climbing to the second level. He can be a tad ponderous on the pull but can get the job done there as well and has no trouble dropping anchor to stalemate interior rushers.
First Interior OL Off The Bench: Elijah Rodriguez
Rodriguez shows some decent pop as a drive blocker, though he may be too awkward on the pull for an offense that thrives on getting its guards on the move. Like most of the Longhorns’ returning OL, Rodriguez also needs to ensure that his pass pro punch is less Glass Joe and more Super Macho Man this year to keep interior defenders from collapsing the pocket.
Not A Terrible Emergency Guy: Alex Anderson
Anderson showed well in limited 2016 action, highlighted by some crunching fill-in blocks against Notre Dame. Running with the second team OL in the Spring Game, he managed less embarrassment against Chris Nelson than some of his linemates. He’s probably your second guard off the bench this season and shouldn’t cause disaster if pressed into spot duty.
Starter If His Ankle Behaves: Zach Shackelford
While Shackelford struggled to gain vertical displacement on runs (or avoid it on some pass rushes) against guys with three- and four-year head starts in college S&C programs, he had the technique and tenacity to stay wired and prevent his man from making an easy slide-off to nab the ball carrier. The flexibility and power in his hips frequently saw him turn and seal his man entirely out of the play, and while he wasn’t overpowering on the climb he chopped his steps well to stalk linebackers and consistently keep them from getting in on tackles. His freshman trial by fire should also give him the experience to better ID and align protections to cut down on free rushers.
Hoo, Boy: Terrell Cuney
Cuney is built like a bowling ball, but he’s spent his career thusfar bouncing off the pins before careening into the gutter. He’s probably your third man up at center, which is good incentive to light a candle for the health of Zach Shackelford and Jake McMillon.
Right Guard (RG)
Starter: Patrick Vahe
Vahe is unquestionably best on the move, and Herman’s predilection for frequent Power, Counter and Pin n’ Pull blocking will be right up his alley. Keeping pass rushers from coming up the alley and into Shane Buechele’s lap will be a bigger concern.
Loads of Potential and A Lot To Learn: Patrick Hudson
Hudson made recruitniks drool with his flat backed fire-off capability combined with a national presence on the prep powerlifting charts. Technique and natural aggression are what stand between Hudson and future stardom, and as of the Spring Game both could still use some work as he had trouble translating a good get-off to good results by all too frequently sliding up and off of his target. His wingspan and light feet are the ingredients for outstanding interior pass protection, but he still has a ways to go in blitz recognition and maintaining his balance to cope with counter moves.
Guard, I Guess?: Tope Imade
Imade a thick, powerful dude with so-so movement skills whose upside may be at center in a system that likes to frequently put its guards on the move.
Right Tackle (RT)
Starter By Midseason: Denzel Okafor
Okafor’s Spring Game performance against the first-team DL was better than remembered on a re-watch – his main problem in that one was trying to cut block by just dropping into the fetal position like he was being menaced by a grizzly. His one-on-one matchups with Malcolm Roach were occasionally grisly, but he held his own when he punched aggressively and kept his head up. He’s got plus feet for the right side, and if he refines his technique and continues to bring the aggressiveness that highlighted his recruiting tape then Texas could survive with him on the right side this season and thrive in the seasons to come.
Likely To Be Supplanted By Midseason: Tristan Nickelson
Standing a sun-blotting 6’10” in his cleats, Nickelson looks ready to roll should the Game of Thrones showrunners decide to re-cast Gregor Clegane one more time. On the field, though, he hasn’t quite been ready for prime time as he’s got the kind of physique that takes a long time to grow into. A slow trigger in the run game often lets DE’s cross his face and disrupt before he cleanly engages, and his maddening tendency to sit back and try to engulf pass rushers with his body allows savvy opponents to get hands into his body and rip around him in either direction. He’ll likely start the season at right tackle, but he may be more likely to put it all together at age 26 in the CFL – or at age 28 in a World’s Strongest Man competition – than he is to fully clean up his technical issues by conference play.
Pretty Sure He’s Still In The Program Somewhere: Garrett Thomas
That’s the current guess for how snaps figure to shake out in the Longhorn offense this season - what do you think?
*H/T to the great @Sizzle_Chest for this one.