Texas Football 2012: Spring Players to Watch

Texas softball legend Cat Osterman may have expressed her irritation on Twitter at all the attention that spring football practice receives at a school like Texas, noting that it takes away from baseball and softball, but, well, there's probably not going to be anything to change that in the near future. If ever.

After all, in Texas there are only two seasons -- football season and spring football. The rest of the time is just a battle to survive until it's one or the other, though recruiting season does help the time pass more quickly for many.

Perhaps it helps that spring is a time for hope, when the coaches are positive about offseason developments and despite the zero-sum nature of the whole thing, it's a chance for new faces to emerge and the early enrollees to make a dent on the depth chart. It's also a time when those who aren't fully invested in the program can fall behind, leading to the inevitable round of attrition that occurs every spring.

It's a time when new leaders emerge to replace those departed from the previous senior class or early entry in the NFL.

Preface aside, let's take a look at the few of the key players to watch this spring:

Horns_bullet_mediumDavid Ash, sophomore quarterback -- This is an obvious one, as the quarterback position will always be the center of discussion at a school like Texas unless there's already a Colt McCoy or Vince Young in place. Scratch that -- the quarterback position will always be at the center of discussion no matter what.

Fans will be plenty happy to parse practice reports until the open practices, when every rep Ash takes will come under scrutiny. The same with the spring game. When those opportunities for public viewing happen, Ash's decision making and accuracy will be the main focus, especially on the deep ball, where he struggled notably against Missouri and at other times throughout the season.

After taking fourth-team reps last spring, receiving no reps in the fall, and then working behind both Case McCoy and Garrett Gilbert in fall practice, the chance to receive most of the first-team snaps this spring should allow for a steep learning curve for Ash. Or at least that's the hope.

The other major factor is his leadership ability. Before the Holiday Bowl, it was noticeable that his teammates were still the ones trying to pick him up. Ash may feel that he needs to lead by example, but it's also crucial for him to step into a more vocal role with at least the offensive players, if not the entire team, if he wants to seize control of the job, as competitor Case McCoy is widely known as a confident kid not afraid to speak his mind.

Horns_bullet_mediumRyan Roberson, senior fullback -- The loss of Cody Johnson leaves a significant hole for an offense that relies heavily on the fullback. Attempting to fill that void is the Brenham product Roberson, who has failed to find the field much except for playing some special teams after he entered the program as a linebacker.

If Roberson can't hack it, the Longhorns may have to get creative or hope that Chet Moss can overcome the personal issues that slowed him down as a freshman to excel at a position at which he has little experience.

Horns_bullet_mediumMike Davis, junior wide receiver -- Davis is back with the team following a disappointing sophomore season, but whether he would stay at Teas appeared to be in serious jeopardy at one point after he reportedly let some of Darius White's noxious attitude rub off on him. But White is now gone off to Missouri and Davis is still in Austin.

Fully recovering from the hip flexor injury that head coach Mack Brown claimed limited him as a sophomore will be a strong start. None of that will matter, however, if Davis can't fix the one problem that loomed over his play on the field in 2011 -- his ability to finish plays by catching the football. It wasn't an issue that Davis experienced in the past, so it could have simply been a result of a lack of concentration -- that's probably the best-case scenario. If the drops continue this spring, it could be the sign of a larger, more fundamental issue.

Horns_bullet_mediumMJ McFarland, redshirt freshman tight end -- The sense about the El Paso native is that he looks the part and has all the tools to become the seam threat Texas has been seeking since the injury to Blaine Irby in 2008. A former high school wide receiver, McFarland has the speed, hands, and ball skills to be a receiving threat, but the question is whether he can execute the blocks co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin demands from his in-line tight ends.

If McFarland can emerge this spring, he could become the long-term answer at the position. If not, the 'Horns will once again find themselves where they've been for years -- unable to field a true dual threat at tight end.

Horns_bullet_mediumDominic Espinosa, redshirt sophomore center -- Now a redshirt sophomore, Espinosa struggled going against opponents who opted to line of a nose tackle over, especially in the Holiday Bowl victory that was nearly derailed by the dominant performance of Cal's Kimo Tipoti, about whom Espinosa surely still has nightmares. It wasn't quite David Snow versus Ndamukong Suh bad, but it was bad.

Much of the blame could fall on the fact that Espinosa missed the entire spring last year with a shoulder injury, setting back his development in the weight room. There aren't any excuses now, so if Espinosa can't clearly make a leap this spring, Stacy Searels will have to look elsewhere.

Horns_bullet_mediumReggie Wilson, junior defensive end -- A trendy late pick as the top player in the state in 2010 -- over fellow Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, among other -- Wilson has struggled to get on the field playing behind Jeffcoat and senior Alex Okafor. The sense from the coaching staff is that every time it seems like everything is set to come together for Wilson, he regresses.

Jeffcoat's shoulder injury will keep him out for the spring, giving Wilson an opportunity to receive more snaps and to make that leap. A guy who was relatively late learning football, it's understandable that Wilson hasn't been the fastest player to develop, especially since he came in with Jeffcoat, probably one of the most refined defensive ends to emerge from high school football anywhere in the country after the last several years.

The bottom line is that Wilson has now exhausted half of his eligibility at Texas without making an impact on the field. Time isn't exactly running out, but it's starting to get close.

Horns_bullet_mediumJordan Hicks, junior linebacker -- Calling the former five-star Hicks a bust at this point is hardly fair considering that he played behind two NFL-bound linebackers over his first seasons at Texas. Not to mention the fact that he missed most of the spring last year with a fractured foot, limiting his development, then was slowed a hamstring injury during the 2011 season.

Still, the hamstring injury doesn't necessarily account for the fact that he missed his run fits on two of the longer running plays Texas gave up last season against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. One of the reported leaders this spring, Hicks needs to start backing that up with stronger and more consistent play on the field during the spring to put the linebacker corps in position this fall to avoid any drop off.

The skillset is there and the mental makeup appears to be there -- now the final step for Hicks is simply putting it all together consistently.

Horns_bullet_mediumMykkele Thompson, sophomore defensive back -- Since prospective 2012 start Adrian Phillips -- known as the most versatile player in the secondary because he can play all four positions -- is out for the spring following shoulder surgery and sophomore defensive back Sheroid Evans will split some of his focus by working with the track team, Thompson has the opportunity to step into the void created by those absences and the departures of Blake Gideon and Christian Scott to solidify a spot in the rotation.

A former high school quarterback who has acquitted himself well at Texas and flashes some late in the season as a freshman, Thompson has the type of speed and range that the secondary has been missing for years with Gideon holding down a safety position for the duration of his time in Austin. The sense about Thompson is that he is capable of putting things together and it will probably happen sooner rather than later.

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