Long-time readers of this site know that my annual "My Guys" post is among my favorite to write each year. Even so, despite the part of me that wants to hog this column for myself, this year we're going to do it a little differently. Instead of me announcing my five guys, Big Roy and I are teaming up to name our ten breakout players for the 2011 season, and we're going to do it draft style.
As a reminder: the "My Guys" column is a concept I borrowed from the outstanding baseball writer Joe Sheehan, who used to pen the column annually for Baseball Prospectus. The idea is to name the five players who you think are poised to exceed expectations with big years on the field. Note the distinction between this mission and trying to name the five best players, or most productive players, or most important players to the team. Here we're simply naming the five players we might love a little bit more than most.
As noted, this year Big Roy and I are teaming up to do this together, so we're going to select our five players in draft style, alternately selecting Our Guys one by one. We want to hear who Your Guys are for this season in the comments.
PB's Guys: Alex Okafor -- This name won't surprise everyone, but I don't get the sense that most UT fans are expecting the big time season I think DE Alex Okafor is going to produce. Okafor gained valuable experience during his 2009 freshman year as a part-time player, then last season delivered an admirable effort when a desperate Will Muschamp asked him to play on the interior of the line. Heading into 2011, new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has moved Okafor back to the edge, where he'll play at 6'4" and 260 lbs -- the same measurements as one Brian Orakpo. Although he isn't as quick as Orakpo and has room to improve in his footwork (particularly his first step and exploding off the line), Okafor is ahead of where Orakpo was at the same age in terms of filling out his frame, and Okafor has Go-Go-Gadget arms that any defensive end would envy. Okafor may not stand out on the stat sheet as much as the smaller, quicker speed rushers often do, but I like him to be an MVP-caliber player for the defense, providing match up nightmares for opposing tackles, killing it in run support (a crucial improvement to watch for with this year's defense), and bullying his way to a lot of pressure that may not show up on the stat sheet but absolutely will show up in the effectiveness of our defense.
GoBR's Guys: Trey Hopkins -- Nice opening salvo there. Definitely expect Oak to be put some roots down on the strongside and turn in an all-conference type of season. Don't sleep on Oak, Longhorn fans. I'm going to move over to the other side of the line and pick a kid who may already be the best lineman on the team. Stacy Searels is having to reach into his bag of tricks here to pull this offensive line together, but it won't take any conjuring to turn RT Trey Hopkins into a a linchpin along the line -- Searels could just leave him alone and Hopkins is smart enough to turn himself into a top-notch lineman. A natural who draws comparisons to former Texas star Justin Blalock, Hopkins could play any line position other than center if injuries strikes, which should help Mack Brown sleep easily at night. So what do you have for me, PB, the re-ignition of a long-time love affair, perhaps?
PB's Guys: Fozzy Whittaker -- Why how ever did you guess? For the third straight year I'm tabbing Fozzy Whittaker one of My Guys, if only because this season Whittaker will actually get a chance to run in a scheme in which his skills can shine. If he can stay healthy -- and with Fozzy that's obviously been an issue at times -- I like this season to be the one in which we see some of that production that I hoped for after watching his tapes from high school. I should note that Texas is in great shape at the tailback position and I think we'll see carries get distributed amongst a number of guys, so while I hardly think Whittaker's going to be a 25 carries-per-game kind of back, I do hope that running in a better system he makes the most of his opportunities. He's a great kid and deserves this chance to find some success; hopefully this is his year. Now who you got next, Big Roy?
GoBR's Guys: Jaxon Shipley -- Of course you would take Fozzy, PB. I mean, you're the founding member of the Fozzy Fan Club and after break-out predictions the last three years, this is the last opportunity. Not to sound harsh there, though, as there's every reason to expect the Mythical Fozzy Creature to make a starring appearance at the Longhorn zoo this season. I'll jump on the bandwagon if he can survive the non-conference schedule. My pick has a familiar last name for Longhorn fans -- Shipley. That's right, Jordan's lil bro strolled onto campus this fall as a true freshman and he's already a starter with some serious expectations on his shoulders. Thing is, Jaxon has been working with his brother towards this moment for most of his life and the combination of hard work and good genes has resulted in perhaps the most polished wide receiver to enter the program. Ever. And hey, for those fans who hate to give up the past, what could be better than having another no. 8 catching passes in a Texas uniform? That's right, nothing. Except maybe having another Shipley back to catch punts -- yes, actually catch -- after the 2010 punt-fielding debacle. Hey, and did you know that....oh, never mind. I'll just stop to preserve everyone's sanity. You're up, PB, blow us away with the fifth pick.
PB's Guys, DJ Grant -- Well, the last time I named DJ Grant one of My Guys in 2009 he blew out his knee three days later, so... uh... yeah. I don't know that Grant will be thrilled to find himself on this list, and really, I'm probably a fool for feeling hopeful about any tight end. But what the hell, I'm nothing if not stubborn, or persisent -- or something, I'm not sure, but for better or worse I'm looking for this to be a breakout year for Grant at tight end. Now, I think we're going to see Bryan Harsin run the hell out of the ball this season, and any tight end who wants playing time had better be executing their blocks if they want to see snaps, so Grant will need to be crisp in that regard or his opportunities will be limited. Under Harsin's approach, technique and spacing are more important than brute strength, so Grant will have his chances to get it done. If he does, I love Grant's potential to be the first viable tight end weapon in the passing game since Jermichael Finley moved on. A natural receiver with nice agility and good hands, I'll be pulling for the local Austin kid to emerge as a valuable contributor this fall.
GoBR's Guys: Jackson Jeffcoat -- I guess I had forgotten that the tight end position still exists, much less in the Longhorn offense. A position at which Texas has actually had a lot of talent contributing on the field instead of just taking up virtually half the alloted 85 scholarships is defensive end, a veritable revolving door of NFL talent. One of the cherries on top of the wonderful 2010 Texas recruiting class, there's no debate about whether or not DE Jackson Jeffcoat will break out this season -- he's is going to be phenomenal -- the only question is whether he's actually human. There's a train of thought out there (perhaps started by Aggies trying to undermine the Texas program) that Jeffcoat isn't really human. After all, how could a freshman come into the program with the technical abilities of an NFL defensive end? It just doesn't seem possible and certainly boggled the minds of some rivals. Point out the high ankle sprain that kept Jeffcoat from breaking out last season and watch the flash of irrationality when Farmer Fred points out that Texas is just trying to cover its tracks by faking an injury. I'm here to put this all to rest -- Jeffcoat isn't a pass-rushing robot designed in a state-of-the-art facility to destroy opposing quarterbacks, it just seems that way. Still, feel free to draw your own conclusions in the great Jeffcoat, robot or mortal man debate after he racks up 10 sacks and 15 tackles for loss this season.
PB's Guys: Jordan Hicks -- Speaking of outrageously talented sophomores who showed tremendous promise last year and are poised to have big-time, breakout seasons, Jordan Hicks is as pure a linebacker prospect as we've had at Texas. He's got it all, and though the two seniors who will start alongside him are more established studs, this year Texas will have three of them. He's got all the attributes you'd want at the position, great instincts, good hands, everything -- he's the full package, and he is going to love playing in Manny Diaz's scheme. And I'm going to love watching him. Who's up next?
GoBR's Guys: Kenny Vaccaro -- Since we're out of Five Star Friday options, I suppose there's nowhere to go but forward. Fortunately for me, that won't be difficult because I absolutely love S Kenny Vaccaro. Ask me about the guy and I'll start gushing like a teenage girl who just finished watching Twilight for the first time. When the Human Missile steps onto the field for the first time this season against Rice, the belief here is that he's already going to be the best defensive back on the team -- strong against the run game and versatile and athletic enough to step up into coverage and not miss a beat. With the news that a special, advanced version of Vaccaro will be available for the use of Manny Diaz this season -- Kenny Vaccaro, now with fewer mental malfunctions! -- the only reason Texas fans had cause hold back that love for Vaccaro that inevitably bubbled to the surface after every crushing hit sounds like it could be a thing of the past. Just keep the man out of Gregory and away from law students and everything should be fine. Most likely. And please know that dropping a #freekennyvaccaro on Twitter without context can freak people out. I mean, maybe Vaccaro wasn't kept away from Gregory and law students. Lesson learned.
PB's Guys: Joe Bergeron -- All I can say is that it's going to take about 30 seconds for Joe Bergeron to become a fan favorite. The kid is an absolute beast, arriving on campus as a true freshman with the body and agility that folks were hoping for Cody Johnson. Bergeron's strong, he runs with power, he has a nasty disposition, he's an absolute pain in the ass to tackle, and he is going to be useful to Texas in so many wonderful ways. I suspect this will be my only chance to name him one of My Guys, because after this season every Texas fan's going to love him and expect great things.
GoBR's Guys: Mason Walters -- Before Bergeron can truck opponents at the second or third level of the defense, RG Mason Walters is going to be pulling through and clearing the way from the interior of the Texas line. Running that Power O that Bryan Harsin loves, Walters is gonna be the guy barreling into the hole and putting linebackers on their backside. In fact, Walters might be the first Texas linemen in years Kasey Studdard wouldn't want to beat up if they hung out. Two of a kind, those two -- nasty in the way that offensive linemen are meant to be. Yes, Texas has at least one mean offensive lineman on the team. Just revel in that for a moment, inhale it like the smell of roses on a spring afternoon. Or maybe more like a fine whiskey. Yeah, that's a little more apt considering we're talking about someone with an intent to maim linebackers. A solid contributor last season after putting his foot issues behind him, Walters won't be the left tackle so many expected, but the big West Texas mauler seems perfectly fine doing the dirty work on the inside, thank you very much.
And that's a wrap. Falll camp is over, game day is tomorrow, and an interesting and exciting season is about to get under way. Tell us: who are Your Guys for 2011?