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cloUT2020: True freshman to watch for this season

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Head coach Tom Herman expects to use most of his freshmen at some point this season.

All-American Bowl Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

As we enter this college football season amidst all the uncertainty and unpredictability happening around us, like every year in college football, the same goes for which true freshmen will play in the season opener and how they’ll make an immediate impact in their collegiate debuts.

Back in early August, Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman mentioned that he expects to use most of their scholarship players this season, “Roughly 80 to 90 percent of your scholarship roster is going to see the field at some point this year.”

He also said the team has repped the threes more than they’ve ever had leading up to a season to prepare everyone for action this year. This Saturday’s opener against UTEP will provide a glimpse of how deep into the bench Texas is willing to go.

Because of the potential threat of COVID-19 positive tests, the Longhorns are going to need all the depth they can possibly get this season. It’s reassuring that everyone’s eligibility is going to be put on hold this year because that allows players, essentially mostly freshman, to play as many games as possible without having to redshirt after four games. This is the main reason why Herman and the coaching staff have said most scholarship players will see the field at some point.

Running back Bijan Robinson and defensive tackle Alfred Collins headline this year’s freshman group as players that should contribute significantly right away.


OFFENSE

RB Bijan Robinson

Regarded as the nation’s top running back coming out of high school, Robinson could potentially be the Longhorns leading rusher as a freshman. Defenses at the highest level across the state of Arizona didn’t stand much of a chance against the two-time state player of the year. Because he was so dominant and ran through opposing defenses with ease throughout high school, Robinson suffered little wear and tear on his body compared to the average high school back.

To put that into a greater perspective, Keaontay Ingram carried the ball 292 times as a junior in high school. So far, injuries have prevented Ingram from breaking out at Texas. Robinson had a total of 296 carries throughout his past two seasons combined.

A stable running back room will help Robinson ease into the competition. Between Ingram, Robinson, and Roschon Johnson, there will be plenty of carries to go around. It’ll be interesting to see how often Texas utilizes two-back sets — this is arguably the deepest group of backs Texas has had dating back to those Colt McCoy and Vince Young teams.

During his time at Ohio State, current Texas running backs coach Stan Drayton coached up Ezekiel Elliott and Carlos Hyde to be starters in the NFL. Drayton’s got another potential great one on his roster right now in Robinson.

QB Hudson Card and Ja’Quinden Jackson

Just like the running back room, Texas is as talented and deeper than ever at the quarterback position, too. By adding the state’s top two 2020 quarterbacks, Herman did a tremendous job of solidifying the quarterback room to what the standard should be in Austin.

Now, of course, Jackson isn’t ready for game action just yet as he’s still recovering from the ACL injury that he suffered in December. It looks like he’s been participating in non-contact drills at practice, though. While it’s unclear if we’re going to see Card at any point this season, it’s worth noting that he’s listed as the third-string quarterback behind Casey Thompson.

Last summer, Card competed at the Elite 11 quarterback competition and recorded the highest velocity on throws among the nation’s best quarterbacks. He accomplished this feat while competing at the lightest weight of all participants. He sure can sling it.

Herman regarding the backup quarterback situation ahead of Saturday’s opener against UTEP, “Casey is much more game-ready right now. We’re very excited about Hudson’s potential.”

WR Kelvontay Dixon and Dajon Harrison

Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich expects to use a WR-by-committee approach this season based on competition and production. Harrison has already opted out of playing this year and Dixon suffered an ankle injury in preseason camp that slowed his development. However, Dixon was flashing at times before his injury and sophomore wide receiver Jake Smith is already dealing with a hamstring issue, so it’s possible that Dixon could move inside and earn some playing time. Or even get an opportunity outside as Yurcich seeks to figure out what he has in his wide receiver room.

OT Andrej Karic

The Southlake Carroll product received a significant amount of praise over the offseason. Former Texas offensive tackle and current lineman trainer Donald Hawkins mentioned that Karic has All-American potential on a Longhorn Republic podcast episode.

At 295 pounds, Karic will need at least another year in the weight room to reach the prototypical offensive lineman build, though. But despite not enrolling early, Karic has already put himself in position for playing time this fall. Fittingly, he will start his collegiate career as the backup left tackle to potential 2021 first-round draft pick Samuel Cosmi.

What a way for Karic to begin his career by learning behind the best.

C Jake Majors

After losing Zach Shackelford on the interior offensive line, it’s no surprise to see Majors listed as one of the backups at center. As of right now, the interior offensive line looks to be the biggest question mark for this team offensively.

On film, Majors looks nimble and quick on his feet for a lineman. He shows encouraging drive and pull-blocking ability which makes him versatile enough to play center. There’s a lot for offensive line coach Herb Hand to work with here given his athleticism. He’s only going to build and grow from here as a lineman.


DEFENSE

Jack Prince Dorbah

Recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery in July, Darboh recently returned to fall camp. It may take a while to get him back up to speed, but the defense is going to need all the contributors they can possibly get at the outside linebacker position. The two-time state champion from Highland Park may be needed if depth becomes a problem this season.

DT Alfred Collins

As the state’s top defensive lineman out of Cedar Creek high school, Collins is expected to play more than any other true freshman on the defensive side of the ball. He’s listed as the backup defensive tackle to senior Ta’Quon Graham, so it’s quite likely that Collins will be rotated in regularly along the four-man defensive front.

Listed at a massive 6’5, 305 pounds, there’s plenty of reason for why it was so crucial for Texas to land him over Oklahoma and Alabama. Besides preventing Collins from wreaking havoc against Texas’ offensive line every year, he’s an important part of remodeling the defensive unit, which starts with dominant line play.

NT Sawyer Goram-Welch

Slotted behind Keondre Coburn and T’Vondre Sweat on the three-deep at nose tackle, Goram-Welch earned himself a spot on the depth chart as an early enrollee. Texas benefited from not filling up the 2020 class too quickly and was able to flip the in-state Longview product from Oklahoma State back in early December. He could see the field as early as Saturday versus UTEP if all goes well for Texas.

DE Vernon Broughton

After spending the spring putting in work in his backyard, the Cypress Ridge product is up to 290 pounds and is listed as a third-string defensive end on the depth chart.

Like Collins, Broughton was a vital addition to what now is a rather loaded defensive line group for new defensive coordinator Chris Ash. Big bodies that can move as well as Collins and Broughton do can be a scary sight for most quarterbacks. It sure sounds like they have the potential to be a dominant duo in the near future.

“When you stand next to Alfred Collins and Vernon Broughton, it’s like, ‘Whoa!... They don’t know whether the ball is pumped or stuffed right now, but they’ll figure it out.” — Herman

OLB Jaylan Ford and Jaden Hullaby

Listed as the third-string weakside linebacker on the depth chart, former Utah commit Jaylan Ford could be one to step up among a position group that needs to get up to speed quickly. Ford became the first high school summer enrollee to lose the red stripe on his helmet. The Frisco product is considered to be more of a typical linebacker than what Texas was used to recruiting under Todd Orlando. He’s shown that he has a knack for the football.

“I think our two young linebackers are going to be really good players here someday, Jaylan Ford and Jaden Hullaby.” — Herman

At 6’2, 215 pounds, it was initially unclear where Hullaby would play at Texas. Given the Longhorns desperate need for linebacker depth, he’s emerged as a potential backup option at outside linebacker this season.

Ford and Hullaby may also be on the kickoff and punt return coverage units.

CB Jahdae Barron and Kitan Crawford

Slotted behind D’Shawn Jamison and Jalen Green at one cornerback position, Barron has made a name for himself at practice competing against big-body receivers in front of new defensive backs coach Jay Valai. He’s known for being very fluid and quick with his feet. Remember Barron was the last high school addition to the 2020 class back in late April. He initially signed to Baylor, but backed out due to Matt Rhule leaving Baylor for the NFL.

John Tyler product Kitan Crawford was the lone 2020 cornerback signee before Barron flipped. Crawford is in line to back up Kenyatta Watson, who’s currently behind fourth-year junior Josh Thompson on the depth chart.

Like Ford and Hullaby, each of these guys could also see action on special teams coverage.

Spur Xavien Alford

The versatile defending state champion defensive back is currently listed as the team’s third-string player at the Spur position, defensive coordinator Chris Ash’s version of the nickel. Dubbed as the 100-yard Landlord, Alford has speed and range that could develop him into a hybrid defensive back or safety given his ability to tackle well.

FS Jerrin “Bugg” Thompson

The Lufkin product was the first early enrollee and member of the 2020 class to lose the red stripe on his helmet. At 6’0, 190 pounds, Thompson plays bigger than his size and has a lot of range as a free safety. Thompson could be a playmaker someday in Ash’s quarters coverage scheme once he refines his coverage skills and learns the free safety position more.


‘Level Up - Stripe Off’ Freshmen

  • Jerrin Thompson, Jaylan Ford, Bijan Robinson, Jake Majors

INJURED

  • Wide receiver Troy Omeire is out for the season after he suffered a torn ACL in practice a few weeks ago. Omeire was emerging as one of the team’s top underclassmen receivers before the injury. He was even taking reps with Ehlinger and the first-team offense. At 6’3, 230 pounds, Omeire is a great fit for how offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich wants to attack defenses through the air. Vertical speed remains the question mark for him at the collegiate level, but his physical frame and hands check all the boxes, as he displayed in several practice clips. And that was without an offseason in the weight room with strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight.