Count this as an official warning to Texas Longhorns sophomore wide receivers Dorian Leonard and Lorenzo Joe -- freshman John Burt wants the starting job on the outside this fall.
Actually, Leonard and Joe are already on notice and have been for some time, as Burt has reportedly taken first-team reps through the first part of fall camp.
With 6'2 John Harris and his team-leading 1,051 receiving yards now departed, head coach Charlie Strong is looking for another big-body to replace that production. Leonard had his opportunity as the starter during the Orange-White game, but his performance was marred by numerous drops, including the game's first play and a would-be touchdown catch later. And his hands have continued to give him problems this fall.
Joe turned in a much better Orange-White game, flashing after halftime with several nice catches and runs. However, the sense is that he's just not quite there yet after spending his last two years in high school playing quarterbackn and receiving spotty playing time last season.
Strong recently described Burt as a long athlete with great hands who will only get better as he continues to get stronger. Perhaps the best athlete of the three after winning the 110m high hurdles and high jump in Florida this spring, the Tallahassee product's ability to consistently catch the football is what's helping him reach a favorable position on the depth chart. Plus, Strong always mentions that he wants receivers with the ability to catch a hitch and turn the short pass into a long gain. Burt could be that guy.
But the outside receiver position isn't the only one where there's healthy competition ongoing -- freshman wide receiver Ryan Newsome and freshman tight end DeAndre McNeal are two guys who are challenging older players wtih their practice production.
"Those guys have done a great job to begin with," assistant head coach for offense/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson said on Friday. "Just like all of the rooms, when you add to a room, you add competition. We've really upped the ante there."
Newsome probably isn't especially close to serious reps in the slot as he attempts to catch senior Daje Johnson and junior Jacorey Warrick, but he remains in the mix for the punt return job and has as much or more upside there as anyone on the team, including Johnson.
Now at tight end, McNeal is adjusting quickly if some limited practice video is any indication and could immediately become the best pass-catching tight end on the roster if Devonaire Clarington doesn't make it in due to his ongoing eligibility issues. If the shoulder injury that limited sophomore Blake Whiteley early in practice continues, then McNeal could be in line for early playing time and could conceivably pass Whiteley even if he's healthy.
"I love what I see in John Burt," said Watson. "I love what I see in Ryan Newsome. I love what I see in DeAndre [McNeal]. Those guys have all added to their rooms that they're in."
Even if the three freshmen don't make an impact early, they're raising the level of play from guys like Marcus Johnson and Daje Johnson because of the competition they're providing. And they're also positioning themselves for future success by putting in the necessary work and possessing the type of off-field attributes that make a difference.
"Again, it goes back to and I really believe this, is what happens in recruiting -- you get lost in all of the star stuff," Watson said. "Pretty soon a kid starts thinking it's about all of the stars and loses their character. Those kids are great kids that didn't do that in the process. They come from great homes, and they're high character guys. When they're that, they're very competitive. In that room, the ante has been up."