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Second wave of Texas youth movement began against Kansas

Given more playing time, multiple young players stepped up against the Jayhawks to promise bright futures.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Longhorns play caller Jay Norvell and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford both promised that more young players would see the field against the Kansas Jayhawks last Saturday.

Though some of the resulting substitution patterns contributed to the poor second quarter that nearly allowed Kansas to tie or take the lead heading into halftime, numerous young players stepped up to make important plays during the game.

And that's not even counting freshman wide receiver John Burt, sophomore running back D'Onta Foreman, and other players who have been contributors throughout the year -- this were guys who had made an impact on special teams or in spot roles finally getting a chance to receive meaningful snaps.

Freshman safety DeShon Elliott -- Slowed by a toe injury sustained early in fall camp, Elliott didn't even see the field at all until the Oklahoma game and promptly forced a fumble and added another big hit on kickoff coverage. After Bedford teased more playing time at safety for Elliott over the course of two weeks, it finally happened against Kansas.

The Under Armour All-American responded with two interceptions, showing a remarkable ability to put himself around the football and finish plays, not coincidentally the same attributes that he showed on special teams. Elliott also added three solo tackles.

After the Kansas game, Strong indicated that he wanted to avoid playing both freshman safeties at the same time to avoid the potential for a catastrophic coverage bust and added on Monday that the playing time for Locke and Elliott will depend on game flow moving forward.

So the opportunities over the last several games may remain limited for Elliott, but he did provide concrete evidence that the playmaking ability he showed in high school and on special teams can quickly translate to playing the safety position at the college level.

Freshman running back Kirk Johnson -- The Longhorns legacy is another member of the 2015 class who was slowed by an early injury. Like Elliott, he didn't burn his redshirt until the upset in the Cotton Bowl, recovering the fumble that Elliott forced. On Saturday, Johnson once again recovered a fumble as a gunner on the punt coverage unit.

Johnson also saw his first action at running back in the blowout, carrying the ball five times for 12 yards. The overall numbers weren't particularly impressive, but he was able to break off a 14-yarder that saw Johnson run every bit as hard as he did in high school. Though the 5'11, 205-pounder isn't faster than Foreman, he does already look like a guy who could break more tackles and more consistently move more piles than senior Johnathan Gray.

The area of emphasis for this week will be ball security, as he fumbled once against Kansas.

Freshman wide receiver Ryan Newsome -- The outspoken late addition to the 2015 class on National Signing Day entered the game without a catch in extremely limited action, but that changed with a nice grab over the middle to convert a 3rd and 6. Newsome was hardly afraid to show his excitement despite a big lead and though the celebration didn't quite match the significance of the play, the reaction was because Newsome cares deeply about playing the game of football.

With three catches for 21 yards, Newsome officially started the process of cementing his role as the replacement to Daje Johnson in 2016. A willingness to catch the ball over the middle and strong hands should help ensure that he wins that job.

Sophomore offensive tackle Tristan Nickelson -- The first major, non-injury related change along the offensive line this year happened on Saturday, as junior Kent Perkins move from right tackle to left guard displaced senior Sedrick Flowers and resulted in another start for the junior college transfer.

For the first time, Nickelson was playing not because Perkins was out with an injury and there weren't any other experienced options there, but because he clearly earned the snaps with strong play in practice.

Regarded as a raw prospect with questionable mobility out of Navarro College in 2015, Nickelson was actually better in pass protection against Kansas than he was as a run blocker. In all, that's a positive development because the strength gains and technique improvement that will occur during this offseason could position him as a two-year starter moving forward.

He could face some competition from redshirt freshman Elijah Rodriguez, however, as the 2014 signee continued to block well as a tight end in goal-line packages and even played well in a brief appearance at right tackle.

However, since Nickelson is listed at 6'9 and Rodriguez is listed at 6'3, Nickelson's advantage in height and reach could be the difference between the two, as Rodriguez is much more likely to eventually settle in at guard.