As a reminder, I’m posting one thought per day in a series of 15 posts over the course of 15 days until we get to game day.
With 11 days left until kickoff, this is the fifth post of the series.
If you missed the other posts, the links are below
Some of the clearer memories I have as a kid and from my early teenage years growing up watching Texas Longhorns football (I’ll be 26 in December... woah, time flies...) are from the early 2000’s of my favorite trio of wide receivers to ever play together in burnt orange.
I remember those Saturday’s, sitting, standing, and even jumping in my parent’s living room while watching B.J. Johnson, Sloan Thomas, and my favorite player of the three, Roy Williams, fly all over the field making plays.
From the time I was nine years old, I knew wide receiver was my favorite position on the football field. And that hasn’t changed.
As we get closer to kickoff, I’m looking forward to seeing what the Texas wide receivers can do this season. It’s a group loaded with depth and talent, but very much unproven at the moment as well.
Really, the entire supporting cast on offense is loaded with talent and depth, albeit raw or young in some areas, to a degree we haven’t seen in the past few years and maybe even longer than that.
Struggles at quarterback and across the offensive line have absolutely played into the lack of production from the skill positions. But at the very least, this supporting cast has a chance to be one of the more balanced groups, between running backs and receivers, that we’ve seen in a while.
Stats collected from Sports-Reference.com
At running back, Texas will lean on the two-headed monster of D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren. Though their overall production was on the lower end to what we’ve seen in the past at the position, their averages per carry were high. And the production is 2016 in expected to skyrocket.
Behind those two, sophomore Kirk Johnson’s speed and quickness will get him on the field in some capacity each game. And freshman Kyle Porter has quickly established himself as a key reserve at the very least. (We could add a fifth name to the group, redshirt freshman Tristian Houston, as a reserve that could see the field here and there if needed.)
We also can’t talk about the ground game without mentioning the impact that Swoopes could have as a rusher from the quarterback position and out of the 18-wheeler package. In 2015, he averaged 6.1 yards-per-carry rushing for 451 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was near unstoppable running the ball around the end zone.
On the outside, the wide receiver position could see the biggest overhaul of any position group on roster.
Heading into the 2016 season, the only returning receivers with any sort of legitimate production are John Burt and Armanti Foreman. Fortunately for Texas, wide receiver has quickly become one of the deeper positions on roster.
Think about this for a second. At the moment, Texas has 11 (ELEVEN) guys at wide receiver that could potentially contribute this season.
Sophomore John Burt, junior Armanti Foreman, senior Jacorey Warrick, junior Lorenzo Joe, junior Dorian Leonard, junior Jake Oliver, freshman Collin Johnson, freshman Devin Duvernay, and freshman Lil’Jordan Humphrey are nine guys that have all been competing for roles this season.
And with the recent developments of both Jerrod Heard and Kai Locksley hanging up their black quarterback jerseys for burnt orange receiver jerseys, that caps off the group at eleven guys that are in the competition for playing time this season. (Locksley may be on the bubble right now at receiver but he’s recently gotten time as a returner on special teams and could find a role there).
There are also a couple other freshmen that could step in in a bind.
To put this depth in perspective, here are key members of the supporting casts from the last six seasons dating back to Colt McCoy’s last season in 2009 along with the 2005 national championship team. The players listed either caught 20 passes or had at least 20 rushing attempts during the season.
(Stats collected from Sports-Reference.com)
RB (3): Johnathan Gray (123), D’Onta Foreman (94), Chris Warren (71)
WR (4*): Daje Johnson (37), John Burt (28) Armanti Foreman/Marcus Johnson (combined for 23 receptions)
RB (2): Malcolm Brown (183), Johnathan Gray (146)
WR (3): John Harris (68), Jaxon Shipley (59), Marcus Johnson (27)
RB (3): Malcolm Brown (214), Johnathan Gray (159), Joe Bergeron (73)
WR (5): Jaxon Shipley (56), Mike Davis (51), Kendall Sanders (37), Daje Johnson (24 rec, 24 car), Marcus Johnson (22)
RB (5): Johnathan Gray (149), Joe Bergeron (127), Malcolm Brown (61), Daje Johnson (27), D.J. Monroe (19, 1 shy of 20)
WR (3): Jaxon Shipley (59), Mike Davis (57), Marquise Goodwin (36)
RB (6): Malcolm Brown (172), Joe Bergeron (72), Fozzy Whittaker (66), D.J. Monroe (48), Cody Johnson (48), Jeremy Hills (36)
WR (3): Mike Davis (45), Jaxon Shipley (44), Marquise Goodwin (33 rec, 22 car)
RB (4): Cody Johnson (134), Fozzy Whittaker (80), Tre Newton (64), D.J. Monroe (23)
WR (5): James Kirkendoll (52), Mike Davis (47), Marquis Goodwin (31), John Chiles (29), Malcolm Williams (24),
RB (5): Tre’ Newton (116), Cody Johnson (87), Vondrell McGee (56), Fozzy Whittaker (53), D.J Monroe (23)
WR (6): Jordan Shipley (116), James Kirkendoll (48), Dan Buckner (45), Malcolm Williams (39), John Chiles (34), Marquis Goodwin (30)
RB (5): Jamaal Charles (119), Selvin Young (96), Henry Melton (87), Ramonce Taylor (76 car, 27 rec), Chris Ogbonnaya (22)
WR (5*): Limas Sweed (36), Billy Pittman (34), Brian Carter/Quan Cosby (33), David Thomas (tight end-50)
Looking back at those seasons, there’s no question that quarterback and offensive line play are absolutely factors to consider when looking at each supporting cast. Vince Young was super man in 2005, and Colt McCoy was about as efficient and productive as you can be in 2009. From 2010 on, the quarterback position has been a roller coast with more downs than ups.
But the quality and depth of a supporting cast matters. And that’s become more true in the Big 12 given how many points are scored each week in this conference.
With the question marks at quarterback right now, this group won’t reach its potential this season. 2017 may be the year to look forward to for that. But even with the unknowns at quarterback, I’d still argue this supporting cast Texas has heading into the season has a chance to be one of the more explosive groups we’ve seen in burnt orange in a long time.
Where’s the tight end?
Since Jermichael Finley left early for the NFL in 2007, Texas has yet to have any sort of consistent receiving option at tight end emerge. And that’s still a mystery heading into the 2016 season.
To avoid rewriting too much about this, I’ll instead point you over to this good write up about the tight end position another BON contributor, Robert Larkin, wrote back in June.
If I were to choose any tight end on roster as a guy to watch, it would absolutely be 5th-year senior Caleb Bluiett.
After making the switch to tight end from the defensive line before last season began, Bluiett has settled in well as a tough-nosed, physical force at the position. He’s the type of athletic football player that looks like he enjoys running into people. And he’ll be instrumental in power running formations in this new spread attack.
Where he really could make an impact this season is as a receiver out of the 18-wheeler package with Swoopes or the wildcat package with Heard. If you need to visualize that, go back and watch the touchdown pass he caught from Swoopes against Oklahoma out of the 18-wheeler package.
Just something to think about...
Thoughts on specific players
John Burt - Texas really needs at least one receiver to step up as the go-to guy. Right now it’s Burt’s job to lose.
Collin Johnson - He’ll eventually be a monster. He’s built like Calvin Johnson.
Armanti Foreman - I’ll be rooting for Armanti to have a productive season. He has the athleticism but hasn’t been able to string it together. He could find a key role in this new offense.
Devin Duvernay - Dare I say Percy Harvin 2.0? Hey, Strong was on that staff...
Jerrod Heard - He chose to switch to receiver. It will pay off as a receiver and out of the Wildcat.
Lorenzo Joe/Dorian Leonard/Jake Oliver/Jacorey Warrick - At least one of these guys could surprise us with their involvement.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey - Very interested to see what he looks like as a WR.
Kai Locksley - I doubt he’ll get too much action at WR this season. But he apparently could make waves on special teams.
D’Onta Foreman/Chris Warren - They really just need more carries. Both should have over 100 each.
Kirk Johnson - As one of the few guys with good quickness of the group, he’ll be a big part of the offense. Staying healthy is the key.
Kyle Porter - Injuries happen at running back. We’ll get a good look at him this season.
The upcoming season
I expect the running backs to build off what they did last season and put up good numbers in this new scheme. And sure, the offensive line has to play well and stay healthy. But there should be more space and better match-ups for the backs in this new scheme.
The receivers’ production will largely be tied to the guy, or guys, responsible for getting them the ball. Regardless, this group should also still see a rise in production even if the quarterback play is average. That’s at least the idea and reason why a new offensive coordinator was brought in.
The production at quarterback, along with youth and learning a new scheme will all be factors that hold this group back some in 2016. But to get to eight wins, a team has to have at least a few play-makers. Texas should have that and then some.