AUSTIN, Texas — As the Texas Longhorns opened preseason camp on Friday, there was a familiar face in a new position — following summer meetings about personnel, head coach Tom Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck decided to move senior wide receiver Devin Duvernay inside from his flanker position to the slot.
“We’ve got to do a better job getting him the ball schematically and from a timing standpoint at the quarterback position,” Herman said.
A few weeks ago, that potential move wasn’t even on coaching staff’s radar, but after those meetings, the staff is now experimenting with Duvernay inside.
Called the H position in Herman’s nomenclature, it’s a hybrid position that includes the featured role in the jet sweep game and could result in Duvernay’s second career carry this season. Duvernay carried the ball once for 10 yards last season.
The move serves two purposes — it puts Duvernay in a role where he’ll have more opportunities to create explosive plays, which were notably lacking in the Texas offense last season as the Horns failed to produce a play of 50 or more yards, and will allow the staff to get sophomore wide receiver Brennan Eagles on the field more often.
“Devin’s had an unbelievable offseason and so has Brennan,” Herman said.
At 6’4 and 225 pounds, Eagles has the best combination of size and speed on the roster after running a 4.43 40-yard dash and posting a 3.99 shuttle in high school. After securing a 35-yard catch against Tulsa, a hamstring injury limited Eagles for the rest of his freshman season, but now the staff believes that he’s ready to break out and become an explosive playmaker for the Longhorns.
Speaking of explosiveness, not only is Duvernay arguably the fastest player on the team, he’s also extraordinarily reliable — according to Pro Football Focus, Duvernay didn’t drop a single catchable pass in 2018.
And despite all the frustrations about Ehlinger’s inability to hit Duvernay consistently on post routes, the Sachse product did have his most productive season in burnt orange and white. In fact, his 41 catches for 546 yards and four touchdowns surpassed his career numbers entering his junior season.
Whether the experiment turns into a permanent move may depend on how much agility Duvernay can demonstrate — he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash in high school, but his 4.24 shuttle wasn’t nearly as elite as his straight-line speed. After spending three seasons at flanker, he hasn’t had many opportunities to showcase what he can do in short areas, so his ability to run crisp routes and make some defenders miss could determine whether Duvernay sticks at H.
With last season’s slot standout, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, now off to the NFL, the seven catches for 53 yards and one touchdown from Joshua Moore as a freshman represents the only returning production at the position. So while freshman speedster Jake Smith has drawn rave reviews from everyone around the program, taking advantage of the experience and maturity of Duvernay and Eagles is a clear priority for the coaching staff.
“We feel like those two younger Hs have to really prove that they deserve to be on the field for an extended period of time because if that’s the case, and Brennan and Devin are playing the same position, then one of them is going to be standing on the sideline every other snap,” Herman said.
“It will be a tough challenge to see who the three best receivers will be.”
As tough as it may be, it’s the type of challenge that coaches prefer, and the staff is already making moves to ensure that the three best receivers can get on the field together.