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Return of Jahleel Billingsley gives Texas offense another weapon

The Alabama transfer tight end is coming off a six-game suspension.

NCAA Football: Texas Spring Game Austin American-Statesman-USA TODAY NETWORK

A Texas Longhorns offense boosted by the return of starting quarterback Quinn Ewers in Saturday’s 49-0 win over the Oklahoma Sooners at the Cotton Bowl will receive another boost this weekend against the Iowa State Cyclones when senior tight end Jahleel Billingsley returns from a six-game suspension.

“Yeah, it’s great to have Jahleel back,” Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday. “It’s just another addition for us.”

Having the Alabama transfer available for the first time this season bolsters a position group that has seen sophomore Ja’Tavion Sanders emerge as an every-down, breakout player, but hasn’t received major contributions from sophomore Gunnar Helm (four catches for 25 yards) with offensive tackle Andrej Karic serving as a blocking tight end in certain packages.

Nickel back Jahdae Barron called Billingsley a “cheat code” in practice — the 6’4, 220-pounder is built like a big-bodied wide receiver and moves like one, providing a flex option who can create height mismatches against smaller defensive backs and speed mismatches against slower linebackers, exactly the type of matchups that Sarkisian likes to hunt.

“I’ve said this all along that we’re at our best offensively when we can do a lot of really good things, because that makes us harder to defend, and so the more things we can do well, the harder we are to defend. Another weapon to be able to put on the field hopefully that makes us more difficult to defend. Again, we’ve got a multitude of personnel groupings, formations, motions, shifts, things of that nature.”

With Texas receiving extremely limited contributions from the wide receiver corps beyond sophomore Xavier Worthy and junior Jordan Whittington, Billingley’s pass-catching ability will allow Sarkisian to employ 12 personnel packages that are more capable in the passing game — Billingsley had 35 total catches for 543 yards and six touchdowns over his last two seasons with the Crimson Tide. The seven scholarship wide receivers other than Worthy and Whittington only have eight total catches this season.

And using Billingsley’s skill set shouldn’t result in less playing time away for Sanders, either, especially with his ability to beat man or zone coverage on deep crossing routes.

“I think Julio can just add to that — it should not take away from JT at all,” Sarkisian said. “JT is a fantastic player who has earned the opportunities that he’s getting in our offense. But again, week in and week out, you never know the matchups that are favorable to you, and we’re always in search of those things from a coaching staff perspective. But it’s great to get Jahleel back out there and again, it’s just another weapon for us that hopefully we can integrate into our offense to make us more difficult to defend.”

With Billingsley back, a 12 personnel package featuring Worthy and Whittington at the two wide receiver spots should be one of the best and most-used personnel groupings for the Longhorns moving forward.