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Offseason Intelligence: Texas Longhorns

After three lackluster seasons at a combined 22-16 record, the Texas Longhorns should make a play for the Big 12 championship this year with 10 starters returning on offense and nine on defense.

Offense

Last year Mack Brown finally decided on his starting quarterback, and David Ash appears be a lock to continue as the signal caller. He started 12 of 13 games a year ago and completed 67.3 percent of his passes with 19 TDs and 8 INTs. As a junior, he should have a better grasp of the offense, but the Steers are switching to a no-huddle spread offense similar to what the Sooners have been using the last six years. Ash was inconsistent in the new system in the spring. He will have fall camp to work out the kinks.

Ash will have his top two receivers back—junior Jaxon Shipley (6-1, 192) led the team with 59 receptions for 737 yards and six scores, and senior Mike Davis caught 57 balls for a team high 939 yards with 7 TDs. Greg Daniels (6-5, 258, Jr.) and M.J. McFarland (6-6, 245, Soph.) will battle for the starting tight end slot. Both played behind the graduated D.J. Grant, and they combined for 13 grabs, 215 yards and a TD.

The running game should be solid with the return of the Horns’ top three ball carriers. Sophomore Jonathan Gray (5-11, 207, Soph.), junior Joe Bergeron (6-1, 240, Jr.) and junior Malcolm Brown (6-0, 223, Jr.) combined for 1,592 yards and 23 TDs. Gray led the team with 709 yards. Bergeron led with 16 TDS.

What should make this offense be lethal in 2013 is the return of the entire front line. Guard Trey Hopkins (6-4, 300, Sr.) made the Big 12’s second team offense last year. He will be joined by guard Mason Walters (6-6, 320, Sr.), center Dominic Espinosa (6-4, 300, Jr.), and tackles Josh Cochran (6-6, 299, Jr.) and Donald Hawkins (6-5, 310, Sr.). The quintet has combined for 62 starts and totals combined experience in 139 games.

Texas Statistics, 2012

Offense (Nat'l. Rank)   Defense (Nat'l. Rank)
35.7 (23) Scoring (PPG) 29.2 (73)
171.5 (53) Rushing (YPG) 192.1 (88)
263.1 (41) Passing (YPG) 212.0 (36)
434.6 (40) Total Yards (YPG) 404.1 (67)

Defense

On defense, Jackson Jeffcoat (6-5, 245, Sr.) will start at one defensive end position. Cedric Reed (6-6, 250, Jr.) replaced Jeffcoat in the final six games of 2012 and should replace the departed Alex Okafor. Reed recorded 8 tackles for losses, including 2.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hurries. Jeffcoat had 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last year, including 4 sacks.

Tackle Brandon Moore left a vacancy on the interior when he opted for the NFL draft. Junior Desmond Jackson (6-1, 300) is entrenched at one tackle position. Last year, he had 33 stops, with 7 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. Malcom Brown (6-4, 315, Soph.), Chris Whaley (603, 292, Sr.) and Ashton Dorsey (6-2, 295, Sr.) will battle for the other slot. Brown and Whaley saw action in every game a year ago, and Dorsey played in nine games. The front wall will have to improve on stopping the run. The Texas D yielded 192 yards per game and 29 TDs on the ground last season.

The 'Horns should be strong at linebacker. Jordan Hicks (62, 235, Jr.) missed the final 10 games of 2012, but he appears to be healthy to make a run for his old weakside slot. Kendall Thompson (6-3, 239, Jr.) filled in for Hicks and made 60 tackles, eight for losses, including 2 sacks. Junior Steve Edmond (6-3, 255) will return to the middle where he was second on the team with 103 tackles. He also had a sack, an interception and forced a couple of fumbles.

Texas returns three-fourths of its secondary, but lost Kenny Vaccaro, its best defensive back last year. Quandre Diggs (5-10, 200, Jr.) and Carrington Byndom (6-0, 180, Sr.) will be back at the corners, as well as safety Adrian Phillips (5-11, 201, Sr.). They combined for 186 tackles, 10 interceptions (Diggs led with four) and broke up 24 passes.

Special Teams

Diggs will be the punt return specialist again. He returned 13 last year for an 8.6-yard average, but he never got to the end zone. A couple of sophomores named Nick will return for kicking duties. Nick Rose (6-3, 192) will be the kickoff man, and Nick Jordan (6-1, 175) will again be the placekicker. He made 31 of 32 PATs last season, but only nine of 15 field goals. He made only 1 of 6 from 40+ yards, and 40 was his longest kick. The 'Horns will need a new kickoff returner and punter.