A scheduled meeting between suspended junior wide receiver Daje Johnson and Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong this week could result in Johnson's reinstatement prior to Saturday's game against the Baylor Bears.
Strong mentioned that he would speak with Johnson and suspended senior offensive tackle Desmond Harrison some time this week to discuss their respective situations. Johnson has missed all four games this season due to his suspension for violating team rules, while Harrison also has not played while serving his second suspension.
Johnson has been practicing with the team for some time now and multiple reports suggest that he's been receiving more first-team reps in the last week, leading to widespread speculation that he will play for the first time this season against Baylor.
The above post by Johnson on Instagram has fueled some of that speculation. A similar post from senior safety Josh Turner prior to his reinstatement from suspension against UCLA heralded his return and was accompanied by similar rhetoric from the coaching staff during the week.
For an offense that has produced only six plays of 30 or more yards this season (tied for 95th nationally), Johnson's return could provide a major boost in a number of different areas.
The 84-yard touchdown run by Johnson against Baylor in 2012 is still the longest run by the Horns over the last three seasons and came on a simple zone play.
With better speed than either senior running back Malcolm Brown or junior running back Johnathan Gray, getting big plays out of Johnson is sometimes as simple as just handing him the football on a base play, especially outside zone and pin and pull.
He could also provide a major threat in the jet sweep game or on reverses like the one that freshman wide receiver Armanti Foreman took for 30 yards last weekend against Kansas. Against Oklahoma State in 2012, Johnson showed his escapability when he was able to break multiple tackles on multiple perimeter runs/passes to turn plays that were defended well into significant gains, something Gray and Brown are mostly incapable of doing.
Part of what makes Johnson so dangerous on push passes, jet sweeps, and reverses is that he can turn the corner without losing much speed, a truly rare quality.
In the passing game, Johnson is less of a known quantity, as he had trouble hooking up with Case McCoy last season after David Ash went down with his concussions. Of course, Johnson's speed can stretch the field vertically and he would also be effective coming out of the backfield on wheel routes matched up against much slower linebackers. The issue is that his hands sometimes let him down and his route running last season was a work in progress.
Screen passes are also an easy way to get him the football in space with big blockers like senior wide receiver John Harris helping to create seams.
And Johnson could also provide a boost to Texas special teams, which have mostly been abysmal this season with the exception of senior wide receiver Jaxon Shipley's long return in Lawrence. It was the first time that the Horns had called for a punt return and Shipley took advantage.
But again, Johnson has much better speed than Shipley, even though the senior looked more explosive last weekend than he had at any other point in the season following his hamstring injury in fall camp. The Pflugerville Hendrickson product could also see time on kickoff returns, though he hasn't ever been as effective there as he is on punt returns.
Johnson's big-play ability means that he can change a game at any time -- all it takes is one touch. If that run against Baylor wasn't evidence enough, there was also his punt return on the huge stage of the Cotton Bowl that effectively put the game out of reach.
All Johnson needs is the smallest of creases and he gone.
Some of the Baylor players know that first hand and if Johnson's reinstatement goes down like Turner's did several weeks ago, the Bears may have a chance to refresh their collective memories about Johnson's speed.
The Texas offense desperately needs a spark to keep up with the high-flying Baylor offense and Johnson could do exactly that.