With spring practice underway across college football, most of interest will focus on quarterback battles or incoming freshmen that enrolled early to get a jumpstart on making an impact for 2013.
However, there’s always a handful of players – outside of the quarterback position – that fly under the radar that need to have a big spring practice for their team. Whether it’s a running back replacing a 1,000-yard rusher or a lineman stepping into a starting role for an all-conference player, there’s plenty of names that will be under the spotlight this spring.
Athlon continues its spring practice previews with a look at five under-the-radar players to watch in each conference during spring practice.
5 Players to Watch in Big 12 Spring Practice
Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
The Longhorns owned one of the nation’s most disappointing defenses last season, allowing 192.2 rushing yards per game and finishing sixth in the Big 12 in points allowed. Fixing the defense starts in the trenches, especially on the interior where Texas was pushed around last season. Brown was a key part of the rotation at defensive tackle as a true freshman, and he finished 2012 with 25 tackles and two tackles for a loss. With an offseason to work in the weight room and refine his technique, Brown should be ready to take on more snaps in 2013. At 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, the sophomore has the size to be a nightmare matchup for opposing offensive lines.
Brandon Carter, WR, TCU
With Josh Boyce leaving for the NFL and Skye Dawson out of eligibility, the Horned Frogs are searching for a new No. 1 target this spring. Thanks to four consecutive top-50 recruiting classes, the cupboard is far from bare for quarterback Casey Pachall. After catching 59 passes for 942 yards and nine scores, Carter is poised to become TCU’s new go-to weapon. The Trinity High School product was the team’s top deep option last year, as he averaged 16.4 yards per catch. TCU isn’t hurting for athleticism with David Porter, Cam White and LaDarius Brown rounding out the receiving corps, but if Carter can build on his first two years in Fort Worth, look for the junior to be an All-Big 12 performer in 2013.
Related Content: TCU 2013 Spring Preview
Tyler Johnson, DE, Oklahoma State
The biggest area of concern this spring for new Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has to be at defensive end. The Cowboys are losing Cooper Bassett, Nigel Nicholas and Ryan Robinson, leaving Tyler Johnson as the team’s most experienced option. Johnson is a former walk-on but has developed into a solid player over the last three years. After recording 29 tackles in nine games in 2011, Johnson made 27 stops and registered five sacks in 2012. The Oklahoma native also had a standout performance in the bowl game, recording six tackles and two sacks against the Boilermakers. All signs point to Johnson winning one of the end spots, but he needs a big spring to ease the concerns of the coaching staff about this position. Even with Johnson’s emergence, Oklahoma State needs another end to emerge, which could be junior college recruit Sam Wren.
Related Content: 2013 Oklahoma State Spring Preview
Gabe Lynn, DB, Oklahoma
The Sooners were hit hard by departures on defense, as end David King, tackle Jamarkus McFarland, linebacker Tom Wort, cornerback Demontre Hurst and safeties Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris won’t be back for 2013. Just four starters return to Norman this year, and the defensive line is a major issue with very little depth returning. While the line is a concern, the back seven of the defense is in a little better shape. Aaron Colvin was a first-team All-Big 12 selection last season and should be the anchor for this group. Lynn has been a solid player during his career but hasn’t quite lived up to his recruiting hype. In three years with the Sooners, Lynn has recorded 56 tackles and no interceptions. To help ease the blow from the departure of Jefferson and Harris, Lynn is expected to slide to safety. However, he’s not guaranteed a starting spot, as incoming freshman Hatari Byrd could win the job in the fall. Can this former top recruit reach his potential in 2013? If he can, Lynn would help keep Oklahoma’s secondary among the best in the Big 12.
Related Content: 2013 Oklahoma Spring Preview
Jordan Thompson, WR, West Virginia
The Mountaineers are essentially starting from scratch on offense this spring. Quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin are gone, leaving a handful of inexperienced players stepping into key roles. Not only must West Virginia find a new quarterback, but it needs to find four new starting receivers. Thompson played in all 13 games last season and caught 13 passes for 85 yards. At 5-foot-7, the Texas native isn’t going to be a physical presence on the outside, but he should thrive in one of the inside spots. The Mountaineers won’t ask Thompson to be Tavon Austin. However, he needs to be a key piece of the receiving puzzle this spring.
Related Content: 2013 West Virginia Spring Preview
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