When Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman met with the media on Tuesday afternoon for the first time since the Alamo Bowl, Herman announced a number of position changes on his roster and one player who will at the same position as last season.
One of the most-anticipated moves was redshirt freshman Jordan Whittington from running back to slot receiver, the position at which the Longhorns recruited him out of Cuero. Known as the H position in Herman’s offense, Whittington will likely still see time at running back in the hybrid role that produced 10 carries and a touchdown for Devin Duvernay last season.
Wide receivers coach Andre Coleman, who spent last season as an analyst before moving into that role for the Alamo Bowl, made it clear on Tuesday that he plans on cross-training his receivers, so it’s possible that Whittington and sophomore Jake Smith could play together, too — offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich plans on getting the top 11 players on the field.
With Whittington changing positions, sophomore Roschon Johnson changed his plans to return to quarterback, though Herman didn’t specifically link the two decisions. In his anticipated offseason conversation with Herman, Johnson expressed his desire to make the most significant contributions to the team in 2020, as well as make the right decision for his long-term future. The Texas staff and Johnson believe that playing running back accomplishes both of those goals, so he’ll remain there “for the foreseeable future.”
“We’re excited about his growth and development there,” Herman said.
The final move on offense is redshirt sophomore wide receiver Malcolm Epps to the Y position, increasing depth at a spot that has — Texas now has five players on the roster at the tight end position, where Epps was originally recruited. Epps had 20 catches for 232 yards and two touchdowns last season at wide receiver with Collin Johnson missing significant time due to injuries, but the Longhorns have more dynamic players at the position than the 6’6, 245-pounder, who struggled at times to create separation.
“What his role is right now, we don’t really know,” Herman said. “We just feel like he’s going to add a lot of value with that size and wingspan across the middle. What he can do at the line of scrimmage at this point, not quite sure, but we’re going to start training him there.”
Expect Epps to spend the rest of winter conditioning adding mass to aid his transition.
On defense, junior Anthony Cook is moving from cornerback to nickel back with classmate BJ Foster out for the spring due to his shoulder surgery. Cook missed two games late in the season with a knee injury, but returned for the Alamo Bowl and made six tackles. He finished the season with 24 tackles, one tackle for loss, two passes broken up, and a forced fumble.
While Cook has the requisite physicality to play the position, the major questions are with his speed and quickness — defensive coordinator Chris Ash noted that playing in man coverage is a requirement of the nickel position and Cook’s lack of elite athleticism is what kept him from ending the recruiting process as a five-star prospect.
With Cook sliding inside to nickel, redshirt junior Josh Thompson will move back outside to cornerback. Thompson redshirted after suffering a broken foot against Oklahoma State, ending his season with 12 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Thompson was one of the players who stood out to new defensive coordinator Chris Ash on film due to his toughness, ability to get to the ball, tackling ability, and overall energy, so Ash likes him already. However, Thompson has struggled some in coverage, notably allowing a 45-yard reception against Rice.
The biggest news on defense is the move of junior DeMarvion Overshown to weakside linebacker. Overshown went to the coaching staff searching for the fastest way to get on the field, so the combination of limited depth at that position, a crowded secondary, and input from scouts who believe that Overshown’s future is at linebacker led to the move.
When discussing the linebacking corps, Ash expressed his preference for sideline-to-sideline speed and Overshown immediately becomes the rangiest linebacker on the roster, though redshirt freshman David Gbenda may perhaps come close.
Herman also revealed the switch of junior Joseph Ossai and redshirt sophomore Byron Vaughns from Todd Orlando’s B-backer position to what Ash calls the Jack position. It’s still a hybrid role, but with Texas “majoring in the four-man front,” as Herman put it, they will spend significantly more time at the line of scrimmage.
Ash is high on Ossai as a player, but noted that he needs to improve his fundamentals as a pass rusher. That’s an area where defensive ends coach Oscar Giles should be able to help Ossai in the coming months.
What position change do you think will have the biggest impact on the 2020 Longhorns team?