Senior offensive tackle Marcus Hutchins is trying to cement a leadership role on the Texas Longhorns team this year, but he's in danger of losing his starting job because of the emergence of freshman offensive guard Patrick Vahe.
Alex Dunlap of Orangebloods reports that the 6'2, 319-pounder out of Euless Trinity has already passed older players on the depth chart and spent Wednesday and Thursday working with the first-team offensive line at right guard.
A consensus four-star prospect and the No. 2 offensive center nationally according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Vahe was the only member of Mack Brown's 2015 offensive line class to stick through the recruiting process even though his cousins, the Teuhema brothers, ended up signing with LSU in the 2014 and 2015 classes, respectively.
Having played in the run-based Trinity offense, he's a a mauler in the ground game because of his natural punch and mobility pulling and working to the second level, with the latter skill influencing his ultimate ranking as a center. To stick in the starting lineup, he'll have to show that he can pass block, too, but since the offense will run so many run-pass options this year, that ability will be at less of a premium than it was in 2014.
The tinkering means that the offensive line now has freshman Connor Williams working at left tackle and junior Kent Perkins pushed out to right tackle to make room for Vahe at right guard. However, Perkins struggled at right tackle last year when he started there against BYU, UCLA, and Kansas. Did dropping five pounds or so from last season help him with his mobility enough to play there? Did some bumps and bruises help result in some of those struggles for Perkins at right tackle? Will the new offense help enable him to play outside?
The answer to those questions will help determine whether moving Vahe into the starting lineup is really a viable option at this point. As for Hutchins, even if he does drop out of the starting lineup, he'll still likely be the first offensive tackle off the bench as offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Wickline goes a little bit deeper into his rotation this year since he has more options.
The fact that Perkins is giving right tackle provides supporting evidence for that position -- it seems clear that none of the other options at tackle are ready, from junior college prospects Brandon Hodges and Tristan Nickelson to early enrollee Garrett Thomas, who is now listed at a lean 274 pounds, well down from his weight as a junior in high school.
In fact, Vahe passing Hodges for the right guard position is pretty significant news since Hodges spent time playing guard and tackle during the spring.
The key in all of this? Competition.
"The thing with that is we have people that push us," Hutchins said on Tuesday. "Each day it's a competition. I don't want to give up my spot, and I'm pretty sure nobody else wants to give it up. I'm pretty sure the guys behind us want to take our spot, so all we've got to do is keep going and keep pushing and keep getting better. If we keep doing that it's going to be a heck of a season for us."
Regardless of whether Vahe earns a starting nod or becomes a valuable reserve, the fact that there are now legitimate position battles for the Longhorns along the offensive line despite some significant attrition over the last year is big news for the program.