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Will Roschon Johnson’s move to RB be permanent?

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The Longhorns are getting healthy again at the position, but the former quarterback may be too good to switch back to his old role.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The sigh of relief from the Texas Longhorns football offices is almost audible across Austin. Just listen hard enough.

On Monday, head coach Tom Herman revealed that senior running back Kirk Johnson is on track to receive clearance for the road game against West Virginia following the bye week after missing the first four games due to a shoulder injury suffered in preseason camp. Junior Daniel Young has been available for the last two games. And freshman Jordan Whittington should return from his sports hernia surgery by mid-October.

With the return to health for a running back room that is likely to send David Gbenda back to defense to play linebacker, one of the decisions facing the coaching staff is what to do about freshman Roschon Johnson.

The former quarterback was originally on track for a redshirt season as the third-string player at his position, but has adjusted remarkably quickly to his new position and earned the backup role behind sophomore starter Keaontay Ingram.

He’s rushed 34 times now for 147 yards and a touchdown, while adding nine catches for 76 yards and a touchdown through the air. He’s already the best proven pass protector among the running backs after spending the spring learning the schemes at quarterback as an early enrollee.

As a runner, the coaches told color analyst Aaron Taylor before the Rice game that they want him to be more patient with his carries, but Johnson’s decisiveness has been refreshing at times in contrast to Ingram thinking too much on the field through the first three games.

Capable of hitting 21 miles per hour in practice, according to offensive coordinator Tim Beck, Johnson has plenty of burst to eventually produce explosive plays for the Texas offense and he’s strong enough to break arm tackles. He always falls forward for extra yards and drives his legs hard into and through contact. He clearly takes the demands of ball security from the coaching staff seriously.

Like Ingram, Johnson has also been an asset in the passing game — his hands look sure and he’s as natural catching passes as he is running the football.

In other words, it looks like the Longhorns have something with Johnson at running back.

However, if Johnson plays against West Virginia, he’ll lose any chance of redshirting this season, so the staff will have to decide during the bye week how it wants to proceed.

Whittington could return for the Oklahoma game and the Kansas game the following week represents the far end of his timetable for a return.

Could Young handle the backup carries adequately enough to keep Johnson out and maintain his season of eligibility?

How much will Johnson play once Whittington returns and presumably takes over the backup role that he earned through the spring and into preseason camp?

And what happens with Johnson once the season is over? Will he remain at running back or move back to quarterback?

If Texas does secure a signature from consensus five-star running back Bijan Robinson, the running back room will have some depth again, especially if 2019 signee Derrian Brown is able to play football again.

Position coach Stan Drayton likes to alternate running backs to reduce the workload, but as Young’s career has evidenced, there’s not a lot of playing time for the No. 3 back. That could be a major factor in determining Johnson’s future.

The Longhorns are also rebuilding depth at the quarterback position following the two offseason transfers — Hudson Card is the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, and Ja’Quinden Jackson has plenty of upside, but could also end up playing multiple other positions. In the 2021 class, Jalen Milroe is ranked similarly to Card.

At quarterback, however, Johnson would be able to compete for the starting job after next season, at the latest, but will arguably face more difficult competition at running back once Whittington gets healthy and Robinson arrives.

Some of the decision may be up to Johnson, whose decision to do whatever the team needed was called “sefless” by senior center Zach Shackelford, one of the team’s captains. Junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger, also a captain, echoed that sentiment.

Based on the start to Johnson’s career, then, from a maturity standpoint and a physical ability standpoint, it looks like it will be successful no matter which position he ends up playing.