Charlie Strong probably feels like he cleared one hurdle in his first season at Texas.
He reestablished a physicality and toughness in the Longhorns that had been long missing under the previous regime.
But entering his second season, there are still many questions about key positions — like quarterback — and now he has to fill massive holes left in the defensive front seven and at wide receiver.
Texas still has the best roster in the Big 12 and has the right man leading the program, but there is tons of work to be done on the 40 Acres this spring.
5 Storylines to Watch in Texas’ Spring Practice:
1. Develop Tyrone Swoopes
Charlie Strong likely won’t have a better option under center than Swoopes unless Jerrod Heard takes major strides forward. The talented athlete had his moments last year (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or Iowa State) but didn’t do much to prove he could be the long-term solution in Austin. But Texas may be stuck with him, so getting him as many reps as possible this spring is critical.
2. Rebuild defensive line
Malcom Brown was arguably the most dominant defensive player in the league last year. Cedric Reed is as physically imposing as any defensive end in the land. Both were All-Big 12 selections last year and both need to be replaced. This is Strong’s wheelhouse so he should be able to find star power here. Look for names like Hassan Ridgeway, Caleb Bluiett, Shiro Davis and even Desmond Jackson to take steps forward.
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3. Plug voids at linebacker
Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks posted 278 total tackles last fall. Both were All-Big 12 picks and both are gone. Peter Jinkens and Dalton Santos are the only two linebackers who return with any experience, which could open the door for true freshman prodigy Malik Jefferson to start. Jefferson is already enrolled and could be starting from day one. Finding experienced leaders at linebacker is huge this spring for the Horns.
4. Find playmakers on the outside
John Harris and Jaxon Shipley were both All-Big 12 picks last year and both need to be replaced at wide receiver. There is no better way to help a struggling quarterback than with star power on the outside in space. This roster has plenty of talented names filling the depth chart and someone needs to step into the No. 1 (and No. 2) role this spring. Keep an eye on Daje Johnson, Marcus Johnson, Armanti Foreman and Jacorey Warrick to compete for reps.
5. See what the early enrollees can do
Clearly, there are big voids to fill along the defensive line, at linebacker, at wide receiver and behind Johnathan Gray at tailback. Six early enrollees are already practicing for the Burnt Orange and many may be asked to contribute right away. Jefferson could be a starter while junior college end Quincy Vasser may be asked to play early as well. The O-line also gets a big boost with four early enrollees.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Texas:
Texas is very talented and will be extremely well coached. However, there are major concerns at two critical areas of importance: quarterback and defensive front. Strong can work miracles with a defensive front, but offensive issues stemming from inconsistent QB play keeps this team from being a preseason Big 12 contender. Swoopes could prove all doubters wrong but his development could be the difference between six or 10 wins.