The Big 12 race appears wide open in 2018, which will undoubtedly raise speculation that this is indeed the year that Texas is officially back. On the other hand, the Longhorns were still a 7-6 team last season. They have more than a few holes to fill this offseason.
Heading into his second season as head coach, Tom Herman will look in the coming months for ways to inject some life into an offense that was listless in year one. On the other side of the ball, coordinator Todd Orlando must replace stars like Malik Jefferson and Poona Ford on a defense that carried the team as the 2017 season wore on.
Here are five players to watch this spring as Texas tries to a build a team that can compete for a conference title.
Sam Ehlinger, QB
Ehlinger and Shane Buechele may start spring practice as co-starters. After a season of watching the two at the wheel, though, it seems evident that Ehlinger has the better set of skills to run the Longhorns’ offense.
Goals for Ehlinger this spring should include continuing to develop chemistry with his receiving corps. He also needs to work on learning how to protect himself better to avoid the concussion concerns and the other wear and tear that plagued him during his freshman season.
Ayodele Adeoye, LB
Texas will most likely head into the fall with seniors Gary Johnson and Anthony Wheeler and junior Jeffrey McCulloch holding down the starting spots at linebacker. That shouldn’t stop Adeoye from competing for time right away as a freshman. Wheeler is the most likely candidate to be feeling the heat from the rookie out of IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida), who has already enrolled at UT.
Josh Thompson, DB
Texas has shifted to feature more personnel packages with five and six defensive backs, a wise move in light of the secondary talent at coordinator Todd Orlando’s disposal. With Holton Hill and DeShon Elliott leaving early for the NFL, that creates even more opportunities for players such as Thompson to get on the field.
The rising sophomore primarily saw action on special teams a year ago. As the season wore on, he received more reps on defense, putting him in position to move up to the first string when fall camp opens.
Reese Leitao, TE
After some off-the-field trouble prior to his enrollment at Texas, Leitao ended up redshirting during his freshman year in 2017. This spring, he’ll be one of only three healthy tight ends on the team as returning starter Cade Brewer rehabs from a knee injury suffered in UT’s Texas Bowl win over Missouri.
Leitao will compete for time this spring with senior Andrew Beck, who missed the entire ‘17 season with an injury, and converted defensive end Max Cummins. It sets up well for the redshirt freshman to position himself as a contributor in the fall.
Caden Sterns, DB
One of the top recruits in the country in the 2018 class, Sterns enrolled early at Texas to go through spring drills with the Longhorns. The emphasis on defensive backs in Orlando’s defensive scheme means he will have a chance to crack the two-deep right away. Even if Sterns doesn’t find his way into the rotation, he will still push the returnees on the roster to up their game.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.