So here it is -- the culmination of these heady days of spring, the third and final look at the 2010 Texas Longhorns before the long and arduous off-season. A chance to endlessly dissect whether that incredible play by the defense was the best thing to ever happen or just a sign that the offense will be terrible. On a more positive note, it's a change for hope to spring eternal, for the future stars of too-distant Saturdays to provide that tantalizing glimpse at their potential for future glory.
On that note, here's a position-by-position breakdown of what to watch when the Longhorns take the field at 4 pm CT at DKR:
The news from spring practice concerning Gilbert has been overwhelmingly positive and his performance during the second open practice was the stuff of legends, featuring throws I'll be telling my grandchildren about. Gilbert has looked comfortable under center, particularly with his three-step drops. Will Muschamp has said that the defense hasn't been holding anything back in trying to throw different look at the young quarterback.
The coaching staff believes that Sherrod Harris has distanced himself from the freshman quarterbacks, most likely for no other reason than his immense advantage in experience. Harris struggled at times in practice making quick decisions and getting the football out on time. Will he be able to make faster reads? H
At this point, Tre' Newton is as proven a commodity as there is at the position and Fozzy Whittaker has stepped firmly into the back-up role, so the coaching staff may use the spring game as an opportunity to seek separation from the other three healthy backs -- Chris Whaley, Jeremy Hills, and Vondrell McGee. There's been virtually no buzz around McGee as he enters his senior season, somewhat striking since a move back to a more downhill style would seem the most likely path towards a re-emergence of The Bulldozer, McGee's nickname from his hard-charging Longview days.
It could be a big day for Whaley, a player who needs to find a position before he wastes several years in the program, as did John Chiles and Henry Melton. The coaching staff clearly prefers for him to stay at running back and will give him every opportunity to do so. While Whaley has neither excellent speed or great feet, he does look like a load to bring down in the open field once he reaches full speed, a process that takes several steps.
Unlike McGee, there actually has been some buzz around Jeremy Hills amid some talk that he is challenging for playing time. Hills may be the fastest of all the running backs and broke off several long runs in the second open practice. At this point, if Hills doesn't begin to crack the rotation, he may take advantage of his two seasons of eligibility and head somewhere with a greater possibility of playing time.
The story of the spring has been the emergence of John Chiles, as the senior wide receiver has lost some of the weight he added during his time at quarterback and grown more comfortable running routes. Gilbert seems to trust Chiles and their growing rapport could be of great benefit to the Longhorn offense in the fall.
Malcolm Williams continues to look like one of the most talented athletes on the team, but still experiences struggles catching the football. However, a big play or two in the spring game will help allay concerns that he won't ever turn his potential into the big-time product on the field Texas fans have been expecting for some time now.
The game is most important for the young receivers -- DeSean Hales, Greg Timmons, and Brock Fitzhenry -- as they seek to establish themselves on the depth chart before the talented group of freshman receivers join the team in the fall. Hales is the big-play threat of the group
Is there any place in the passing game for EBS? With the offense moving towards a more downhill running style, there should be more opportunities for misdirection and play-action passing, which could mean more chances for the former offensive lineman catching throwback passes or otherwise leaking out on plays.
In addition, Barrett Matthews needs to show some progress as a receiver, as he hasn't always looked natural running routes or catching passes. In the new offense, he will be expected to be a threat to the defense both outside on occasion and inside stretching the seam.
Watch out here for Dominique Jones, a player who has received practice reps at both tight end and H-back. As the only viable back-up at this point for Matthews at the position, Jones could end up playing a valuable role there this season, but the major upside exists for him as a tight end, as he possesses more athleticism than Smith and has the potential
Can the offensive line show of their new-found physicality at the point of attack? Will Britt Mitchell and Kyle HIx survive a tough test on the outside from the pass-rushing ends of the Texas defense? Which of the young linemen steps up and earns a spot in the rotation as the first and second linemen off the bench?
All told, this is probably the most secure position on the entire team. The major question is how much progress Alex Okafor has made with more than a year in the Texas program already. Is he ready to step into a major role on the defense and start becoming the star predicted when he made the short trip down 35 to Austin?
It's all about the young players at this position -- can Calvin Howell or Derek Johnson step up enough to earn a starting job next to Kheeston Randall? What about Tyrell Higgins, Kyle Kriegel, or Tevin MIms, three slightly undersized players in the middle? The coaching staff clearly doesn't want to play Sam Acho extensive snaps inside, but will do so if the younger players don't earn some playing time. Speaking of Acho, how does he hold up on the interior on running plays?
Emmanuel Acho is finally back from his hernia surgery, but he and Keenan Robinson have little to prove in the game -- they are the unquestioned starters at the position. What does Dravannti Johnson bring to the table? The redshirt sophomore has drawn praise as an edge rusher this spring. How will Muschamp use him in the game? Will Tariq Allen or Patrick Nkwopara be able to contribute this season? Ryan Roberson looked impressive in brief apperances last season. How has he built on that during the spring?
The three starters at cornerback are known commodities at this point -- Chykie Brown, Curtis Brown, and Aaron Williams. While there exists the potential that Chykie Brown could mature this season and limit the mental mistakes that have plagued him throughout his career, but the major storyline for the spring game revolves around the 2011 season. Namely, can redshirt freshman Eryon Barnett completely recover from his shoulder injury and gain needed experience in preparation for possibly becoming a starter next season? Is he really a cornerback?
LIkewise, Adrian White has drawn praise at times for transitioning quickly to the speed of the college game. Can he avoid the inconsistency and mental lapses that plagued him in high school and cost him a four-star ranking by Rivals? Fortunately for him, Mike Davis isn't enrolled yet...
This position is going to be all about the bigger hitters on Sunday -- Christian Scott and Kenny Vaccaro. Mack Brown pointedly made reference to their desire to come up quickly in run support, an attribute that has positives and negatives. The positive is that there is no questioning their physicality and toughness as player. The negative is, well, remember the 2007 season? Scott and Vaccaro need to show an ability to quickly read their keys and properly diagnose plays to have the type of impact this season that the secondary needs to recover from the loss of Earl Thomas. In terms of the secondary, the worst-case scenario here is that Blake Gideon and Nolan Brewster spend significant time together at safety this season.