Texas Longhorns offensive spring position battles

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Which positions are open on offense entering Charlie Strong's first spring as head coach?

Texas Longhorns players are on spring break this week and will start spring practice next week upon their return, starting the month of work leading up to the spring game on April 19.

Here's a look at the open positions on offense and the players battling to fill them.

Quarterback

The contenders -- junior David Ash, sophomore Tyrone Swoopes, senior Miles Onyegbule

The departed -- Case McCoy

The take -- Let's be clear on this particular battle -- if Ash is healthy enough to go, this is his job to lose, by a wide margin and that's not because Ash deserves it. No, it's because it would take a major leap for Swoopes to acquire the type of polish as a passer in terms of overall mechanics and accuracy to pass Ash, as his advantage in athleticism with a need to scale back the quarterback run game with Ash is not going to be enough to offset Ash's significant separation through the air.

Onyegbule is working at quarterback some in an effort to build better depth at the position with Jerrod Heard the only 2014 signee set to join the group this fall, although USC graduate transfer Max Wittek is reportedly leaning towards Texas.

X receiver

The contenders -- junior Marcus Johnson, redshirt freshman Jake Oliver, redshirt freshman Montrel Meander

The departed -- Mike Davis

The take -- Speculating about which players not listed on the final depth chart of the 2013 season will end up at which particular wide receiver position is difficult, as Johnson seems like more of a Z receiver because of his ability down the sidelines and lack of ideal size for what many coaches want from the X position, but played there last season.

Compounding that equation is the fact that it's not yet clear what the new offensive brain trust is looking for from each of the wide receiver positions.

In any case, Johnson is the returning player here and the most polished and productive of the group so far as the only one to catch a pass.

The battle between Oliver and Meander, if it does happen, is a battle between ball skills and blocking ability with Oliver and pure vertical speed for Meander, who is also working with the Texas track team this spring. Replacing Davis means attempting to replace his ability to get open down the field, so if Meander can emerge as the deep threat he expected to become coming out of high school, it would provide a critical element to the 2014 Texas offense.

Left tackle

The contenders -- junior Kennedy Estelle, senior Desmond Harrison

The departed -- Donald Hawkins

The take -- Notice that there aren't a lot of names here at a critical position that Donald Hawkins held down capably in the passing game and often excelled at in the running game, production that isn't ever particularly easy to replace in college at one of the most difficult positions at which to evaluate and develop talent.

Estelle was hanging on by a thread after his academic ineligibility for the bowl game, but the increased emphasis and active monitoring by the coaching staff on the academic side may help him get through the spring. If not, the Longhorns may be in trouble, because Harrison barely played last year after the setback during fall camp with his own eligibility questions and an injury that slowed him down -- there are no guarantees that he can fulfill his significant potential at the college level.

Left guard

The contenders -- junior Sedrick Flowers, junior Taylor Doyle, redshirt sophomore Curtis Riser, redshirt freshman Rami Hammad, redshirt freshman Darius James

The departed -- Trey Hopkins

The take -- Traditionally, the guard positions are easier to fill on the line, as players recruited at that position and the failed tackles move inside to work there. Replacing Hopkins may be a little more difficult because he was the most mobile and consistent lineman on the team and all the guards fighting to replace him don't work as well in space.

Flowers was the starter at this position when Hopkins had to move to right tackle to end the season following Estelle's academic issues and is first in line. It's a critical year for Flowers, as he was expected to be an early contributor, but so far hasn't reached his potential.

The same for Riser, who was thought to be another player who could play quickly, but he also hasn't started to scratch the surface of his ability. If Hammad can make the same type of leap that he did lat win high school, he could compete for a starting spot at one of the two guard positions.

More on the other two players below.

Right guard

The contenders -- junior Taylor Doyle, redshirt sophomore Curtis Riser, redshirt freshman Rami Hammad, redshirt freshman Darius James

The departed -- Mason Walters

The take -- Unlike the left guard position, there's no clear favorite here, although Riser has long been expected to step in when a spot was available. The wildcards are Hammad and James, with Doyle an interesting player because he was written off after a leg injury his junior year in high school dealt a hit to his athleticism, but he has managed to crack the depth chart at Texas. Can he actually contribute? How much have the redshirt freshmen improved during their time on campus?

Right tackle

The contenders -- sophomore Kent Perkins, redshirt sophomore Camrhon Hughes, freshman Elijah Rodriguez

The departed -- Josh Cochran (retired due to recurring shoulder injury)

The take -- There are no departing players at this position, other than Estelle likely having to move to his better fit on the left side, giving Perkins the opportunity to step in full time as the starter, a task his strong move on the depth chart last season suggests is possible, if not probable.

In looking at the two tackle positions, it's probably best to see the two positions as being a battle between three players -- Estelle, Harrison, and Perkins.

There's a lot of pressure on Perkins, though, because Texas only has three tackles who have played before, compounded by the fact that Hughes was still moving poorly last fall a little more than a year removed from his ACL Injury. He's a guy who really needs to take advantage of the new strength and conditioning program to maximize his ability.

Rodriguez needs to redshirt.

*****

As long as David Ash can play, the skill positions should be in reasonable shape for Texas, although finding explosive plays in the running game is going to be a point of emphasis. Along the offensive line, however, there are many more question marks along the offensive line, where there are few proven tackles and not much more experience at either of the guard positions. At the latter, there is a least some highly-rated talent, but the Horns are once again in a position where any injury or attrition to the top three tackles would be a significant blow -- as has been the case for several years now, there is little margin for error.

So, who do you think wins each of these battles, Texas fans?

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