Now entering his fourth season on campus, junior wide receiver DeSean Hales has struggled to find his way onto the field for any consistent length of time. In the last two seasons, Hales has caught only 11 passes for less than 80 and has not yet found the end zone, despite a starring role in the 2010 spring game and prodigious talent that includes excellent short-area quickness, balance, and the slipperiness to break tackles.
Freshman Jaxon Shipley's appearance on campus hasn't helped things, either. With little Shipley quickly taking over in the slot with his advanced route running and overall playmaking ability, Hales has once again found himself on the outside looking in during fall practice, now competing simply to back up Shipley and find some snaps here and there when the freshman leaves the field.
Under old offensive coordinator Greg Davis, Hales would be left simply to waste his junior year standing on the sidelines. Not so in the new Harsinwhite regime. During his time at Boise State, Harsin was noted for finding playing time even for his backups, backing up his mantra of rewarding players who practice hard with game reps, often by creating situational packages for the more unique talents.
A former star running back and kick/punt returner in high school (anyone remember The Run?), Hales is certainly a unique talent, even for a slot receiver. In an effort to get him on the field, Harsin moved Hales into the role currently occupied by DJ Monroe ($) in practice on Thursday. Whether the move is permanent is not clear at this time, but Hales could provide an insurance policy in case Monroe gets injured or could simply provide more versatility in the role as a more developed route runner with more proven hands than Monroe.
It's a role envisioned by this author for Hales two years ago, and though it never came to fruition under the unimaginative Davis, it appears that it could finally come about now. Monroe will undoubtedly receive more touches this season as Harsin and Major Applewhite actually work diligently to get the ball in the hands of playmakers. The concern with Monroe is that while his toughness is not under scrutiny, it's his willingness to fling his slight frame around that increases his risk of injury -- he's not a player willing to run out of bounds and avoid contact.
As mentioned earlier, the experience Hales brings to the table after his years in the program at the wide receiver position could give a package using Hales both in the backfield and in the slot more versatility than Monroe, who is still working on his concentration and looking the ball into his hands, a slow transition for a guy given the ball directly for most of his life.
Hales might not be as explosive as Monroe, but he's still one of the most explosive players on the team and it would be a shame for him not to see the field just because one of the most refined freshman receivers to enter the program in Jaxon Shipley showed up this fall. It looks like Bryan Harsin feels the same way and that could add another dynamic element to the 2011 Texas offense.