The Vince Young Era is officially over, yes, but life goes on. So how about an early look at the 2006 Longhorns? Listed below are my projected starters, with asterisks indicating returning starters.
Quarterback Colt McCoy
Running Back Jamaal Charles*
Right Tackle Justin Blalock*
Right Guard Cedric Dockery
Center Lyle Sendlein*
Left Guard Kasey Studdard*
Left Tackle Tony Hills
Flanker Quan Cosby*
Split End Limas Sweed* / Billy Pittman*
Tight End Neale Tweedie
Fullback Marcus Myers
--The elephant in the room here, of course, is how to replace Vince Young. There will be a battle among the incoming freshman and redshirt freshman Colt McCoy for the starting job, but it won't be surprising if McCoy is the early starter.
--Three-fifths of the outstanding Texas line returns, and their replacements are big and nasty. Texas will once again have an outstanding line. No worries here at all.
--The Jamaal Charles / Ramonce Taylor combo is going to be sick next year, and here's a thought I just had. How about Henry Melton at fullback? I'd love to see him clearing wide holes for the tailbacks, while remaining a carrying option himself.
--Losing David Thomas is the second biggest loss here, but the core group of receivers return. We'll need someone to be able to get the ball to them, of course.
Defensive End Tim Crowder*
Nose Tackle Frank Okam*
Tackle Brian Orakpo
Defensive End Brian Robison*
Strongside LB Sergio Kindle
Middle LB Robert Killebrew*
Weakside LB Rashad Bobino*
Right CB Aaron Ross
Free Safety Michael Griffin
Strong Safety Drew Kelson*
Left CB Tarell Brown*
--The defensive line is absolutely loaded. Sure, losing Rod Wright sucks, but there's plenty of reinforcements. This will be a nasty D-Line, for sure.
--I like Robert Killebrew to slide in for Aaron Harris, and I think he's going to be just outstanding. Given the chance to shine, he was in many ways the best linebacker on the team for the second half of this year, and I expect him to anchor what will be an experienced and speedy group of linebackers. The wildcard here is Sergio Kindle. How much will Mack Brown and Gene Chizik play the talented freshman? From all reports, he's going to be too talented to keep on the sideline much. I've revised my projection to put him in as a starter, perhaps forcing Kelson back in to the secondary.
--The secondary will have to learn to play without stars Michael Huff and Cedric Griffin, but again, there's plenty of talent and some solid experience. Tarell Brown has emerged as a very solid corner, and he should be fully healed from the broken arm by fall practices. I initially wrote that I thought Michael Griffin would slide in where Huff used to be, but we'll see. Sergio Kindle is headed to Texas, and he's going to be playing somewhere. Kindle's arrival could force Chizik to return Kelson to the secondary, where he used to play. The secondary may be a notch below this year's group, but I'm guessing that our D-Line isn't going to be giving teams much time to pass anyway.
I see no reason why this team can't win the Big 12 again next year, provided one of our three quarterback options pans out to something passable. Repeating as undefeated national champions remains a huge challenge, but it's not out of the realm of possibilities. The offense will still be geared toward racking up big yardage on the ground, and with Charles/Taylor running behind a strong O-Line, points will be scored. I'm not terribly worried about the defense slipping much, either. There's a whole lot of talent, and more experience than many realize, coming back to anchor the defense.
As always, it'll come down to the Red River Shootout in Dallas. Still think Mack can't win the big one?