The Texas Longhorns enter spring football this year with an unfamiliar sense of enthusiasm after ending the 2018 season with a promising win in the Sugar Bowl over the Georgia Bulldogs.
Building on last season’s runner-up finish in the Big 12 race starts with identifying a slew of replacements for contributors on both sides of the ball. Head coach Tom Herman and his staff have recruited well in the last two cycles, meaning there are a multitude of talented, but unproven, youngsters vying for playing time in the offseason.
Here are five of the biggest stories worth watching for the Longhorns this spring.
5 Storylines to Watch During Texas' Spring Practice
1. Hand-y work
Hiring Herb Hand paid dividends for the Longhorns right away. The well-traveled offensive line coach solidified a nagging sore spot for UT in his first year on campus. He also pitched in with some of the offensive scheme development.
UT will need Hand to put in work again this year to get the line up to speed. The Horns have to replace three starters following the departures of Calvin Anderson, Patrick Vahe, and Elijah Rodriguez. Building chemistry now will make the fall transition more seamless.
2. Quarterback depth
In a nice change of pace for the Horns, there’s no QB battle taking place in Austin this offseason. Junior Sam Ehlinger has no challengers as the starter.
The backup spots represent greater concerns for Herman. Occasional first-string QB Shane Buechele departed for SMU, while sophomore Cameron Rising left for Utah. That leaves sophomore Casey Thompson as the No. 2.
Given Ehlinger’s injury history, Herman has to prepare Thompson this spring to play right away.
3. Solidifying the defensive line
With all three starters gone, Texas is looking at fierce competition for playing time up front.
Gerald Wilbon probably has the inside track to replace Chris Nelson at nose tackle. Meanwhile, Malcolm Roach and Ta’Quon Graham will likely get first dibs at defensive end.
A number of talented linemen will get a chance to stake their claims as well. Keep an eye on prospects like Keondre Coburn, Moro Ojomo, and Marqez Bimage.
4. New receiving threats
UT got some good news when senior receiver Collin Johnson announced he’d return for another year with the Longhorns. On the other hand, Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s decision to head to the NFL leaves a big hole to fill before the start of the 2019 season.
The Longhorns will have a tough time finding anyone on the roster who can create the same matchup problems as Humphrey. They will probably settle for identifying some reliable targets to play alongside Johnson.
Youngsters such as Brennan Eagles and Jordan Whittington can state their cases in the spring.
5. Replacements in the secondary
The Longhorns saw their fair share of struggles in the defensive backfield last season. Even so, it doesn’t help to lose top contributors such as Kris Boyd, P.J. Locke III, and Davante Davis.
No team in the Big 12 can afford to go into a season with uncertainty at cornerback. Setting the pecking order there is going to be one of the top priorities on defense this spring. And given defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s heavy use of nickel and dime personnel, finding a new nickelback to replace Locke takes on major importance as well.
— 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.