• September 15, 2014

Texas set for season of transition

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Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2014 4:30 am

Some Texans see bluebonnets on the highway and know spring is here.

But this 2009 University of Texas graduate sees white helmets clashing into each other and burnt orange uniforms piling up on each other to come to the same conclusion.

Spring is in the air when the Texas Longhorns begin spring football practice on campus, and that came last week.

This spring holds a bit of a mystery as Texas has a new head coach for the first time since 1998.

Charlie Strong takes over for Mack Brown this season and attempts to reinvigorate a program that has fallen since making it to the 2009 BCS National Championship Game.

The Longhorns will host the annual spring football game Apr. 19 and open the 2014 season Aug. 30 when they host North Texas.

Here are five things to keep an eye on this spring with the Longhorns.

Cedric Reed’s senior season

Cedric Reed could have left school early and seen what the NFL had in store for him, but the junior decided to stay and could make a bigger name for himself.

Texas, once a running back hotbed, has developed into a strong defensive end university after producing players like Brian Orakpo (Redskins), Alex Okafor (Cardinals) and Sam Acho (Cardinals) who started in the NFL.

Reed will be the man on the line next year as Jackson Jeffcoat has graduated.

He put together a strong junior season in which he started in all 13 games, led the team with five forced fumbles, had 10 sacks and 16 quarterback hurries.

Reed, a strong side end, could also draw attention away from the buck end position and lead to a big season for Shiro Davis or Bryce Cottrell. The two, who are vying for the starting spot at buck, saw action in most games last season but have not started.

Dominic Espinosa: The brains of the operation

Though the quarterback gets the glory, the center is the commander of the most important unit on the offense.

Espinosa, a junior from Cedar Park, really grew into the role last year.

Espinosa did a good job identifying blitz schemes, stunts and helping with pre-snap adjustments. He did his job, but like with most linemen, it went unnoticed.

New offensive coordinator Joe Wickline is also the offensive line coach and a good one. He trades out the bright orange of Oklahoma State to come to Texas after his OSU offensive line paved the way for six consecutive first-team all-Big 12 running backs to break the 1,000-yard barrier.

Espinosa’s ability to grasp the new offense will be a big key for the Longhorns this year.

Is David Ash back?

The 2013 season turned from one in which the former Belton Tiger appeared to be on the verge of breaking into the national spotlight to one spent mostly as a spectator.

Ash played in only three games before concussions forced him to sit the rest of the year.

He threw for more than 2,600 yards in 2012 to go along with 18 touchdowns as a sophomore.

Ash likely won’t face any contact until the North Texas game in which more than 100,000 Longhorn fans will hold their breath the first time he gets tackled.

Despite the injuries, he’s the likely starter because Case McCoy played his final game for the Longhorns last year and star recruit Jerrod Heard won’t be on campus until the summer.

Heard not coming to campus until the summer will be a detriment to him starting next year, and he may redshirt.

But unlike Brown, Strong is putting together a backup plan in case Ash isn’t the same. Though Tyrone Swoopes is listed as the backup on the depth chart, the Longhorns have been pursuing former USC quarterback Max Wittek.

Wittek is scheduled to graduate this spring and would be eligible to play for Texas in the fall.

We’re going to Jaxon

Jaxon Shipley had a bit of a junior slump last season after catching 59 passes for 737 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore in 2012. He caught 59 passes for 589 yards and one touchdown last year.

Shipley will be looked upon to be the No. 1 receiver with Mike Davis hoping to get into the NFL this coming season.

The junior is the son of Belton head football coach Bob Shipley and younger brother of former UT wide receiver Jordan Shipley.

Jaxon Shipley will be the anchor of a talented receiving corps that includes Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson, each of whom gained more than 350 receiving yards last year.

New chance for Johnson and Overstreet

Daje Johnson and Jalen Overstreet have not been utilized enough at UT, but some of it was their own doing.

With a new head coach, the two get a chance to start fresh this season.

Johnson is listed at running back and wide receiver, but he has the ability to line up anywhere on the field and score on offense and special teams.

Johnson has not gotten more than nine touches in any game and has not rushed for more than 90 or caught for more than 85 yards in any game. He did provide the dagger with a punt return for a touchdown against Oklahoma in the 36-20 upset win last year.

But Johnson has run into some trouble. He’s been suspended twice in two years for violation of team rules and was academically ineligible for the Alamo Bowl last season.

Overstreet, a redshirt sophomore from Tatum, had an impressive showing against New Mexico as he carried the ball nine times for 92 yards and two touchdowns after being put into the game once the outcome was decided.

After that, Overstreet was a recluse, carrying the ball only 11 times for 10 yards and playing in only three more games. He was also ineligible for the Alamo Bowl.

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