Going into the 2016 season, expectations were high for Texas Longhorns wide receiver John Burt and cornerbacks Davante Davis and Holton Hill. If the ‘Horns are going to find success in 2017, new head coach Tom Herman would benefit tremendously from once again getting production from those three players.
Burt was seen as one of the fastest players in the country, ready to build off a strong freshman track campaign that included a berth in the national championships and a team-leading 457 yards receiving as a freshman.
Davis was a preseason first-team All-Big 12 selection who consistently made plays in practice after finishing the 2015 season as a starter and playmaking force.
Hill wasn’t far behind Davis in terms of perception — a sure tackler in the open field, he flashed his upside with an interception return for a touchdown against Oklahoma State in his own freshman season and started more games than his counterpart.
And then the season started and everything went downhill.
Burt dropped a long potential touchdown pass in the opener against Notre Dame, nearly dropped another, then battled issues with his hands all season. Thumb and hip injuries didn’t help, as the 6’3, 189-pounder sat out against Iowa State, then went four games without catching a pass.
When he did finally make another reception, he only gained four yards on two catches against West Virginia before a pass once again went through his hands and resulted in a potentially costly interception deep in Texas territory.
In the final two games, Burt didn’t even see the field, finishing the season with only 26 receiving yards in conference play and a 50-percent catch rate on 36 targets. His 201 receiving yards ranked eighth on the team.
With Burt’s confidence shot, can Herman and his as-yet unknown wide receivers coach build him back up again? If not, Texas will be without the team’s best deep threat in terms of size/speed combination, though there are certainly plenty of other options like emerging freshman Devin Duvernay, who had three touchdown catches of 63 or more yards.
Davis started the first three games of the season, then began to fall out of the rotation due to coverage busts. As a result of decreased playing time, his tackles dropped from 36 in 2015 to only 13 in 2016.
In the season opener, Hill unexpectedly gave way to senior Sheroid Evans as a starter, then sat out six games during the season. Like Davis, he also suffered from coverage busts, though he did play well against Texas Tech with six tackles. However, he didn’t play in the three final games after that performance.
It’s possible that a switch from cornerback to safety could help — Davis in particular was regarded as a candidate to play that position out of high school.
Ultimately, whether the issues for Hill and Davis were a result of their own mistakes and attitude problems or the fault of the former coaching staff, Herman’s arrival in Austin will give them a fresh start.
Jut don’t expect for Herman to go out of his way to make things easier for Davis and Hill in an attempt to correct whatever mental issues plagued their sophomore seasons — he’s going to challenge them to turn things around.
Accomplishing that would bring two potential All-Conference defensive backs into the fold once again.
Otherwise, there will be a lot more pressure on other players at the cornerback position, which doesn’t feature much proven depth beyond Kris Boyd, John Bonney, and PJ Locke.