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Texas Longhorns spring storylines

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Checking in on the biggest stories for the Horns as spring practice begins.

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday marks the first day of spring practice for the Texas Longhorns as the new coaching staff spends 15 sessions with their new players, leading up to the annual Orange-White game on April 19.

Here are the top stories for the Horns at the start of spring work.

1. Strong opting for hands-on approach to coaching

During the previous regime, head coach Mack Brown was nowhere to be found during offseason workouts. Now, that's understandable, since there isn't any coaching allowed during that time period, but there was also a lack of accountability in the strength and conditioning program that trickled down from Brown.

During the previous regime, Brown wasn't particularly active during practice, often spending time talking to boosters. Much less understandable from a football standpoint, though it might have made a difference in keeping him around for another season had he won the Big 12.

Under Charlie Strong, the approach is much different. Known for early-morning runs and weight-lifting sessions, Strong sets the tone for his team because he leads by example, the type of leadership normally associated with upperclassmen.

There's some serious incentivizing going on here -- how can high-level college athletes allow themselves to be beaten in a sprint by their 53-year-old head coach?

Strong can also benefit the defense quickly with the expertise that allowed him to coach Florida's defense to two national championships under Urban Meyer. Some stability there will help the team in the long term with the current group of players now working with their third defensive coordinator in well less than a year.

2. Welcome to The Pit

At Louisville, strength and conditioning coach Pat Moorer was known not only for grueling workouts for healthy players, but also The Pit, where injured players would endure difficult sessions during practice. For instance, a player with an injured shoulder would work his lower body hard, while a player with a tight hamstring would go through intense upper-body conditioning.

The Pit was created by Moorer and Strong to ensure that players don't nurse their injuries any longer than necessary. After a week off for spring break, any minor injuries from the offseason program should be gone, so the team shouldn't start with anyone working in the Pit.

But when some players inevitably make it there for the first time, they aren't likely to want to stay there long.

3. David Ash tries to shake off the rust

Texas fans shouldn't be excessively concerned about the health status of quarterback David Ash during the spring, as the prospective starter shouldn't take any hits at all during the duration of spring practice.

Quarterbacks typically wear non-contact jerseys during practice and don't get hit, even in scrimmages and spring games, but Texas did make an exception to that rule last year in the Orange-White game with Tyrone Swoopes in order to get a better look at his running ability.

The more important task, then, other than to reinforce to the defensive players that Ash should absolutely not be hit under any circumstances, is to help Ash shake off the rust left over from missing most of the 2013 season as a result of his concussion sustained against BYU

Reports out of the program suggest that Ash has recovered the strength that he lost while not able to work out last fall, but how long will it take for him to establish timing and rhythm with his receivers. Will there be any setbacks related to his accuracy or decision making?

Those questions tie into the workload for Swoopes, who got few meaningful game reps last season to help develop his own passing abilities. If Ash isn't sharp early, will that reduce the number of snaps that Swoopes gets with the first team? It would seem likely, so the development of the two quarterbacks are closely related in terms of snap allocations.

4. Joe Wickline searches for offensive tackles

Among all the position battles on the team, foremost are the contests to win the right and left tackle positions, although that billing doesn't quite address the overarching situation -- it's less about which players win those jobs as much as it's about finding two quality starters among the three players seriously in the mix.

Failing to do so could be disastrous for the offense and severely limit the ability of Wickline and company to play a wide-open brand of football.

Offensive coordinator Joe Wickline is well known for his developmental abilities and will have a challenge ahead to turn senior Desmond Harrison into a quality starter. The talent is there, but the transition to the college game was more difficult than anticipated for the junior college transfer during his first season in Austin.

Sophomore Kent Perkins hasn't seen much playing time either and may not be a strong fit at left tackle after the projections for the US Army All-American coming out of high school were as a right tackle, but his vault into playing time as a true freshman last season suggests that he has significant upside.

Then there's the only sure thing in the group, at least from the standpoint of having a proven ability to produce, and that's junior Kennedy Estelle, who may have to make the move from the right side to the left side after he started eight games in 2013 in replacement of Josh Cochran, the longtime starter who retired due to his recurring shoulder issues.

The best-case scenario features the Horns finding a fourth player to create a true two-deep at those positions, with the only serious candidate sophomore Camrhon Hughes, who still hasn't shown any ability to contribute following an ACL injury sustained prior to his freshman season.

5. Brian Jean-Mary attempts to develop the linebackers

Texas has plenty of linebackers -- right now, there will be 14 of them on the roster in the fall. But junior Jordan Hicks and senior Tevin Jackson will both miss the spring after fall injuries, senior Demarco Cobbs didn't play at all last season after his own injury late in 2012, and senior Aaron Benson is one of the prime attrition candidates after failing to contribute through his first four seasons.

Among the linebackers who did play, Texas managed to achieve reasonable production from only senior Steve Edmond and junior Dalton Santos, with junior Peter Jinkens a disappointment in terms of his own lack of development after a promising finish to his sophomore season.

Behind the contributors from 2013 are two of the more intriguing players on the defensive roster -- redshirt freshmen Deoundrei Davis and Naashon Hughes. Davis as the athleticism and striking ability to become an ideal spread linebacker in the Big 12, while Hughes has similar upside as an edge player capable of rushing the passer and dropping into coverage, but may grow into a defensive end in time with his impressive frame.

In order to avoid having situations where Edmond and Santos play together to form one of the most slow-footed duos in the conference, the Horns may need one of Hughes and Davis to become a contributor this spring.

The bottom line is that for the Texas defense to improve in 2014, the linebackers have to play at a higher level.

6. Depth at defensive tackle on Chris Rumph's to-do list

In junior Malcom Brown and senior Desmond Jackson, Texas has two defensive tackles who have contributed over the last several seasons, with former five-star prospect Brown a candidate to break out as an all-conference type of player after gaining two years of experience.

Behind Brown and Jackson, however, there is little proven depth. The major contributor from the players battling to fill out a four-man rotation that is sophomore Hassan Ridgeway, the massively talented 6'4, 305-pounder who played defensive end in high school. Blessed with as much physical talent as anyone in the program Ridgeway had moments of brilliance in 2013, but needs to develop a higher level of consistency from play to play to make an impact this season.

Battling for the other spot in the rotation are junior Marcus Hutchins and sophomores Alex Norman and Paul Boyette. Hutchins came into the program as an offensive lineman and made the move to defense prior to the 2013 season, seeing action in one game and earning defensive scout team player of the week honors going into the TCU game. Norman and Boyette both saw more action, but neither one has done anything on the field yet to suggest that they could become impact players.

7. Kicking game could be spring 2012 all over again

Two years ago, the fingers of Texas fans hovered collectively over their respective panic buttons as the place-kickers struggled mightily in open practices and the spring game to show any type of consistency.

Even the addition of Anthony Fera during the summer didn't provide Texas the necessary boost, as Fera's season was essentially lost before it began as a result of a groin injury sustained prior to his transfer. As a result, true freshman Nick Jordan was thrust into the starting role and struggled at times.

Is Jordan ready for the big stage now? Can kickoff specialist Nick Rose provide a steady presence if not?

The Horns should be in better shape this spring with Jordan essentially getting the developmental season that he needed in the first place.

8. Other position battles

Texas will have players battling at virtually ever position to impress the new coaching staff, but other than along the offensive line, there are a handful that are open due to departing players. Here's the analysis of the offensive battles, the defensive battles, and the special teams battles that will take place.