March 18, 2008

10 Longhorns that need to make a move

Spring break is over for the Texas football team and it's time to get back to work. With the Longhorns returning to the field this week for the final practice sessions of the spring camp, Orangebloods.com takes a look at ten players that everyone will be watching closely to see if they play at a high enough level to cement their status for the fall. Will the Longhorns have enough depth at defensive tackle? Will anyone step up at flanker?

Here's a look at ten players that have a chance to become major pieces of the fall game-plans with a strong to finish in the next two weeks.

1. Dan Buckner - Wide receiver

Why is he important? - The Longhorns need a big receiver to step up at flanker that can provide a vertical threat for the offense, while allowing senior Quan Cosby to move back to split end.

What has he done thus far? - Buckner has had a good camp thus far and has shown flashes of star ability. The players and coaches know that he's going to be good, but the question is when that star power will start to equate to success on the field in games.

What does he need to do? - Buckner just needs more reps and he needs to take advantage of the opportunities he gets to go against the first-team caliber players. The general feeling with those in the program is that Buckner will really be one to watch after he goes through these next two weeks in the spring and then an entire summer to improve his chemistry with Colt McCoy. Buckner does something every day that catches everyone's attention and as the consistency starts to come, so will the success.

2. Michael Wilcoxon - Defensive tackle

Why is he important? - Everyone knows that the Longhorns lack depth at defensive tackle and of all the young players in the program, Wilcoxon is the leading candidate thus far to get on the field as a 2008 contributor.

What has he done thus far? - It was initially believed that Wilcoxon might need a few years to develop before being ready to play at a high level, but he's proven to be ahead of that curve. There's nothing flashy about his game, but he's a rock inside and he can be an excellent run-stuffer. He does a great job of fighting through blocks and being a disrupter along the line of scrimmage.

What does he need to do? - Wilcoxon has been a pleasant surprise, but there's still a long way to go in his development. Like with most of the young players, the staff just wants to see Wilcoxon put longer stretches of good player together. At this point he definitely appears to be a player that can provide some depth for next year, which is probably more than enough for this redshirt freshman, but if he wants to be a major contributor, he's got to take his level of play to the next step.

3. Russell Carter - Defensive End

Why is he important? - This is another kid from that 2007 recruiting class that's started to flash some real potential in practices. With Lamarr Houston moving inside to play some defensive tackle means that the Longhorns need a pick-me-up at end and with Eddie Jones out with another injury, someone needs to step up at the position and fill the void.

What has he done thus far? - Carter has been another camp surprise and has played extensively with the second-team defense throughout the spring. Carter has pass-rush abilities, but he plays very well at the point of attack and appears to be someone that the Longhorn staff can start to feel confident about for the fall.

What does he need to do? - Bottom line - guys that can get to the quarterback are going to be on the field. Carter is already a good player against the run, but if he wants to start taking time away from front-line players like Brian Orakpo, Jones and Sam Acho, he's going to need to prove that he get to the quarterback as well or better than those players. He's shown the ability to be that kind of player, but it's still a process and the next two weeks are part of it.

4. John Chiles, Sherrod Harris and G.J. Kinne - The back-up quarterbacks

Why are they important? - The back-up quarterback position has been a bugaboo issue since Chance Mock departed the program in 2004. As this team heads into the final two weeks of the spring, the team is still in a position where the entire season could go down the drain if something were to happen to Colt McCoy because none of these players have done enough to win the No.2 job.

What have they done thus far? - Struggle. All three players have separate issues, but the common thread between them all is a lack of consistency. Chiles is getting the most reps at this point and the threat that he brings with his feet has probably been the sexiest element that any of three players are bringing to the table at the moment.

What do they need to do? - Someone, anyone needs to step and give someone a reason to believe that the No.2 quarterback spot is going to be held by someone that can give the team a lift when they are needed. With so few practices left before the end of spring, a true No.2 likely is going to be decided any time soon, but it would be a good sign if we some separation before the end of March.

5. Chykie Brown - Cornerback

Why is he important? - There might not be a more physically talented player in the Texas secondary, so if the green light can go off for Brown, the Longhorns could have a superstar talent that they can insert into the line-up.

What has he done thus far? - I've talked to a number of people this spring that aren't so sure that Brown hasn't had the best open to the spring of any player on the team. He's playing with confidence against the front-line Texas players and he's making plays on the ball. He has gone from being a player that can't get on the field to a player the staff doesn't seem to want to take off of it.

What does he need to do? - Keep it up. Brown gets better with each practice and if he keeps playing at this level and building off of it, the decision the coaches will need to make will be made for them.

6. Michael Huey - Guard

Why is he important? - He's the best young guard in the program and the team needs an upgrade at the position from last year, which makes him the top candidate to get it done.

What has he done thus far? - In what has to be considered a bit of a mild surprise, Huey hasn't yet taken control of a starting guard position. While those expectations might be totally out of whack for such a young player, but in order for this team to be a championship team, the play up-front has top be better. All reports have Huey giving a solid effort this spring, but I haven't heard from anyone that he's done enough to knock an upper-classman off the field.

What does he need to do? - It's unfair to expect a second-year player to perform better than a much older one, but that's what this team needs from Huey. He doesn't need to be that player by the end of the next two weeks, but you'd like to start seeing more signs of it before the spring game.

7. Christian Scott - Safety

Why is he important? - He might be to the safety position what Chykie Brown is to the cornerback spot. With both starting safety spots open, the Longhorns need some of their young players at the position to step up.

What has he done thus far? - From the very day that Scott showed up after sitting out the first three days for academic purposes, he's been a difference maker and he immediately began running with the first-team defense. Bottom line - when he's on the field, he makes things happen.

What does he need to do? - Stay eligible. Honestly, after missing the first three days of the spring, the red flag went up and everyone's nerves are just a little on edge, especially after seeing J'Marcus Webb and Roy Watts drop out of the program after one year. Scott looks like a budding star and a potential NFL player down the road, so his importance to the program cannot be stressed enough.

8. Keenan Robinson - Linebacker

Why is he important? - He's the best young linebacker in the program and with his speed and athleticism, he has the talent to give the team an added weapon at linebacker this season.

What has he done thus far? - Robinson has shown flashes of great ability throughout the first two weeks of practice and he has himself right there in the mix for playing time at linebacker.

What does he need to do? - There are three veteran linebackers ahead of him on the depth chart and that doesn't even include Sergio Kindle, who hopes to return to the line-up in the fall, so Robinson has to be better than those ahead of him if he's going to push for heavy, heavy playing time. He's not going to get there in the next two weeks, but if he finishes strong, he'll leave the staff something to think about for the next five months.

9. Rashad Bobino - Linebacker

Why is he important? - Bobino started on the 2005 national championship team, but he lost his starting job in the Holiday Bowl and as he enters his senior season, his role on the defense would appear to be up in the air.

What has he done thus far? - With Kindle out of the line-up, Bobino has been working with the first-team linebacker and new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp has been forced to move his pieces around to figure out exactly what he has to work with. During that time, Bobino has played very well and at a strong enough level that Kindle will probably have some work to do to budge the top three players from this spring off the field.

What does he need to do? - Apply the hammer to the nail. By the time August rolls around, Muschamp is going to know Bobino, Jared Norton, Roddrick Muckelroy and Robinson. He won't know much about Kindle at that point, which puts the pressure on Kindle to perform right out of the gate because everyone is playing well here during the spring. Bobino has proven to be a steady hand for the defense this spring and that probably will be something that Muschamp keeps in mind.

10. Josh Marshall - Tight end

Why is he important? - Outside of sophomore Blaine Irby, the Longhorns don't have any proven parts at tight end. They need someone to step into that role and Marshall is the first in line.

What has he done thus far? - Marshall has had a good camp and some have even suggested that he's played at a level that's on par with that of Irby thus far this month. However, that seemed to indicate that both players still have a ways to go rather than Marshall reaching an elite-level. He's made progress, but he's a work in progress.

What does he need to do? - Baby steps. Just keep getting better every day and putting together consecutive solid practices. Marshall has the ability to catch the football and he's definitely showing that, but it's the nuances of the position that he's still trying to master and that just comes with repetitions and the knowledge that he hasn't yet mastered his trade. Marshall is a hard worker and he seems to get it. He could be a player that makes big strides during the next two weeks and into the summer.

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