The starter at the H position for the Texas Longhorns may not be available for Saturday’s season opener against the UTEP Miners, as sophomore wide receiver Jake Smith suffered a hamstring injury in practice this week, according to a report from Chip Brown of Horns247.
The timetable for Smith’s return is not yet clear, according to Brown, which could elevate redshirt freshman wide receiver Jordan Whittington to the starting role at one of the most important positions in the offense.
Inside Texas reports that Smith is doubtful for the UTEP game.
Smith has drawn praise throughout preseason camp, including redshirt senior safety Chris Brown calling him the most difficult receiver on the team to defend.
“He’s so shifty, he can change speeds and he’s quick in and out of his cuts,” Brown said on Tuesday. “Definitely, Jake Smith is one of the tougher guys on the team to cover the slot.”
After Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Devin Duvernay led the team in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns in the last two seasons, the H position, the slot receiver for the Texas offense, has emerged as a key linchpin in the offense. Duvernay was especially effective getting open on third downs despite defenses using a variety of different coverages trying to stop him.
So if Smith experiences lingering effects from his hamstring injury — Collin Johnson missed six games and was limited against LSU due to a hamstring injury last year — it could significantly impact the Texas wide receiver corps.
As a true freshman, Smith was an impact player as the fourth-leading receiver with 25 catches for 274 yards and six touchdowns even though he hit the proverbial freshman wall following a strong start.
The concern with Whittington is that despite all of his talent, he also missed time during the offseason with a hamstring issue. Additionally, Whittington missed almost the entirety of his true freshman season, only playing in the first half of the season opener against Louisiana Tech before leaving with a re-occurring groin injury that needed two more surgeries following the surgery he underwent as a senior in high school.
On the depth chart released by Texas on Monday, there’s not a third slot receiver on the active roster with true freshman Dajon Harrison opting out this season due to coronavirus concerns.
If the Longhorns do need to add depth at the position, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich could opt to play flex tight ends like redshirt sophomore Malcolm Epps or redshirt freshman Brayden Liebrock in the slot or move redshirt sophomore Z receiver Josh Moore there.