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Texas WR Preview: How will Sarkisian unlock the Longhorn wideouts?

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With depth at the position, the new Texas head coach has plenty of pass-catching options.

NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Texas vs Colorado Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the most underwhelming position for the Texas Longhorns over the past decade has been at the wide receiver group. Since 2010, only four wideouts have been drafted and that includes Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay, both of whom were taken in the 2020 NFL Draft.

But that could all change under new head coach Steve Sarkisian, who oversaw DeVonta Smith becoming the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since Desmond Howard in 1991.

While it would be a tall tale to expect that out of the Sarkisian era Longhorns right out of the gate, you can expect to see a jump in production at receiver under Texas’ new head coach.

Let’s preview the position for the 2021-2022 season.

More out of Moore?

The only senior at the wideout position is Yoakum product Joshua Moore, who’s coming off his best season in burnt orange. While his numbers don’t jump off the page (30 receptions, 472 yards, 9 touchdowns), his performance against Colorado left most Texas fans encouraged.

Moore caught two touchdowns to go along with five receptions and 85 yards in what was arguably his best game all-season since starting the year by accumulated four touchdowns and 200 yards in the first two games against UTEP and Texas Tech.

But outside of an eight-reception effort against Oklahoma — a career-high — Moore largely disappeared from the Texas offense. In the final five regular-season games, Moore only caught six passes.

But the good news for Texas fans is the answer for Moore’s lack of production can be blamed for the offense he was playing in, rather than on him.

Tom Herman’s offense was rigid and lacked the imagination that can be found in Steve Sarkisian’s offense. Another reason to be excited? Like Smith, expect Moore to play the X wide receiver position, but Sarkisian doesn’t like to limit receivers to just one position and will move them around on the field constantly.

During a recent interview on the Dan Patrick Show, Sarkisian said he would start every play asking if Smith “is one of the first two reads.” Whether he was involved in the play or not, Smith was a focal point. In fact, under Sarkisian’s scheme, defenses made him a focal point.

It seems as though Sarkisian will try and make Moore the Smith of his Texas offense. Both have been used in a similar manner, and both have similar frames.

Try paying less attention to the blocking and focus, instead, on the play’s design. Sarkisian is challenging the Notre Dame defensive backs to make a play. Neither of the corners can get off their blocks and it's up to the safety to chase down Smith. It’s a simple play and Alabama makes it look so simple because they execute it well. Texas, on the other hand...

This time Sark puts Smith in the slot and uses him in the RPO game. All the linebackers crash the line thinking it’s a run when it's not, and Smith takes it to the house. We haven’t seen a lot out of Moore in the slot at Texas, but I would expect Sark to move him around and try to exploit the defense.

Moore has great hands and is phenomenal at high-pointing the ball in the air, a trait that gets you paid on Sundays.

We’ve seen flashes out of Moore, but don’t be surprised if he can turn into a consistent threat under Sark’s offense, as long as he can stay on the field and out of trouble.

Jordan Whittington

Outside of Bijan Robinson, junior wideout Jordan Whittington may be the most exciting player on the Texas roster. Part of that is because the Cuero standout has only played six career games in his two seasons on the Forty Acres. Whittington’s best performance came as Sam Ehlinger’s safety valve during the Longhorns double-overtime loss to Oklahoma, catching 10 passes for 65 yards.

Whittington also showed his promise with three catches for 35 yards, as well as a 20-yard rush, against Colorado.

It feels like every pass to Whittington comes on a five-yard route across the middle, or on some sort of trick play.

Outside of Robinson, I’m most excited to see how Sark uses Whittington in his offense. Like Jaylan Waddle at Alabama, Whittington played the H receiver role last year, but Sarkisian also had the future first-rounder Waddle lining up all over the field. I would be shocked if we don’t see the same thing with Whittington, even if both are different types of playmakers.

Of course, the biggest concern with Whittington is his injury history. If he’s able to stay on the field, he’ll most certainly open up the field for Joshua Moore and other wideouts.

Jake Smith

Another injury, another setback for the junior wideout. Jake Smith reportedly broke his foot during the first day of spring practice, with no timetable for his return yet, according to Sarkisian.

Smith missed three games last season due to a hamstring injury that occurred when he tried to transition to an outside receiver role during fall camp. His role in the offense was reduced and he didn’t see a single target in the Longhorns Alamo Bowl victory over Colorado.

Now, Smith will almost assuredly lose out in the competition against the other Texas inside receivers, including Whittington, Kelvontay Dixon, and Dajon Harrison.

If all goes well with the healing process, Smith should be all good to go by the time fall camp rolls around, but undoubtedly he will have to fight his way back into the rotation.

Battle in the slot

Sarkisian will have plenty of options for the inside receiver role on offense with Jake Smith, Kelvontay Dixon, Dajon Harrison, and incoming freshman Jaden Alexis on the roster.

Dixon only had three catches last year, but his last one got every Texas fan excited for the potential of the Carthage product.

Dixon has elite speed reminiscent of Waddle, and if you watched any Alabama football, Sarkisian took advantage of that.

Harrison did not play last season but is expected to see his role expanded, especially with Smith’s injury.

Harrison possesses excellent speed and isn’t just a linear receiver as seen above. If Sarkisian can establish the RPO game, Harrison is going to deadly provided the game-time opportunity.

Another inside wideout to watch is Alexis, who’s brimming with potential. Alexis played slot receiver in high school at Monarch HS in Pompano, Fla., but he can be moved to the outside if, and when, needed. Alexis is very shifty and can stop on a dime, but he also has a big enough build to break through tackles. Alexis is a wideout who could easily have a breakout camp and skyrocket up to the top of the 2021 depth chart.

There’s also Kai Money and Montrell Estell, who moves from defensive back to offense this season. “Money Time” was one of the few good moments in Texas Twitter last season, with the former walk-on exploding on the scene against UTEP. Despite the great story, it could be hard for Money to find playing time with all the depth at receiver.

Forgotten, but not gone

With a lot of the focus on the slot receivers, it seems as if Troy Omeire is now flying under the radar. The redshirt freshman was having himself a standout fall camp in 2020 when he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Omeire should be in line to back-up Joshua Moore this season at the X wide receiver, although if Omeire plays like he did during preseason camp last year, Moore could move back to the Z position.

Texas also returns junior wideouts Al’Vonte Woodard and Marcus Washington. Woodard has seen most of his action on special teams during his tenure in Austin, but ended the 2020 season on a high note with a promising game against Colorado, catching all three targets for 28 yards, a career-high in both receptions and yards in a single game.

Washington is another receiver who didn’t see significant playing time either, with his best game coming in last year's season-opener against UTEP. The Missouri product didn’t play in the Alamo Bowl, but the departure of Brennan Eagles should allow Washington and Woodard to try and impress the coaches this spring.

Don’t forget about 6’3 wideout Kennedy Lewis either. Lewis didn’t play last season after appearing in two games in 2019.

Spring practice will be flowing with competition at the wide receiver position and we’ll know where things stack up after.