The season opener for the Texas Longhorns against the Rice Owls on Sept. 2 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium is only nine days away and that means the Texas coaching staff is close to revealing the season’s first depth chart to the players ahead of Saturday’s mock game.
“To be fair to them, they need to know who’s the first unit, who’s the second unit, who is the backup in all three phases, so that if a guy goes down, if a guy’s shoe comes off, the guy’s helmet pops off, that next guy needs to know who’s going in, and so to be fair to them, we need to continue to compete, we need to continue to find the right combination of people,” Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said on Monday.
Some position groups were still competing for starting jobs and rotations earlier this week coming out of the second scrimmage of preseason camp on Wednesday. Other positions have more certainty.
“I think that we’ve got a great rotation of safety. I think we’ve got a really good rotation at corner, really at the linebacker spot as well, and on the D-line. I think receiver-wise, there’s probably a little bit of a gap between those first three wideouts and the other guys, and that’s understandable — those guys have played a lot of football. But again, different position groups are different to where I’ve got to see what this looks like for a few more days before we really nail it down.”
Here’s a look at how Burnt Orange Nation projects the depth chart against Rice.
Depth chart vs. Rice
|QB||Quinn Ewers||3||Maalik Murphy||6||Arch Manning||16||Charles Wright||14|
|RB||Jonathon Brooks||24||CJ Baxter||4||Keilan Robinson||7||Jaydon Blue||23||Savion Red||17||Tre Wisner||26|
|WR||AD Mitchell||5||Casey Cain||88|
|WR||Jordan Whittington||4||Johntay Cook||2||Ryan Niblett||18|
|WR||Xavier Worthy||8||Isaiah Neyor||9||Deandre Moore Jr.||11|
|TE||Ja'Tavion Sanders||0||Gunnar Helm||85||Juan Davis||81||Spencer Shannon||83||Will Randle||87|
|LT||Kelvin Banks||78||Payton Kirkland||71||Trevor Goosby||74|
|LG||Hayden Conner||75||Neto Umeozulu||52||Sawyer Goram-Welch||61||Max Merril||73|
|C||Jake Majors||65||Connor Robertson||62||Jaydon Chatman||75|
|RG||DJ Campbell||52||Cole Hutson||54||Connor Stroh||79|
|RT||Christian Jones||70||Cam Williams||56||Andre Cojoe||77|
|BUCK END||Ethan Burke||91||J'Mond Tapp||17||Colton Vasek||92||Billy Walton||31||Tausili Akana||46|
|NT||T'Vondre Sweat||93||Byron Murphy||90||Sydir Mitchell||99||Aaron Bryant||53|
|DT||Aflred Collins||95||Vernon Broughton||45||Trill Carter||98||Zac Swanson||96|
|JACK END||Barryn Sorrell||88||Justice Finkley||1||Jaray Bledsoe||94||Kris Ross||97|
|SLB||Anthony Hill Jr.||0|
|MIKE||Jaylan Ford||41||Jett Bush --or--||43||Liona Lefau||18||Derion Gullette||40|
|WILL||David Gbenda||33||Anthony Hill Jr.||0||S'Maje Burrell||15|
|CB||Terrance Brooks||8||Gavin Holmes||9||X'Avion Brice||14|
|FS||Jerrin Thompson||28||Kitan Crawford||21||Warren Roberson||24||BJ Allen||27|
|BS||Jalen Catalon||11||Derek Williams||3||Michael Taaffe||36||Larry Turner-Gooden||3|
|CB||Ryan Watts||6||Malik Muhammad||5|
|STAR||Jahdae Barron||23||Jaylon Guilbeau --or--||13||Austin Jordan||4||Jelani McDonald||25|
|KO||Will Stone||15||Ryan Sanborn||27|
|PK||Bert Auburn||45||Will Stone||15|
|P||Ryan Sanborn||27||Ian Ratliff||49|
|DS||Lance St. Louis||56||Christian Rizzi||57|
|KR||Keilan Robinson||7||Jordan Whittington||4||Tre Wisner||26|
|PR||Xavier Worthy||8||Johntay Cook||2|
|Injured||Mo Blackwell (knee)||37|
- Freshman quarterback Arch Manning made up ground in the competition against redshirt freshman quarterback Maalik Murphy during camp. It’s a battle that will continue into the season, but right now, the coaches are most worried about keeping Murphy on campus for the fall.
- The running back competition may be close enough to warrant an —or— after junior Jonathon Brooks. For now, the nod goes to seniority until freshman CJ Baxter can prove himself on the field. Senior Keilan Robinson remains the change-of-pace back.
- Expect Texas to expand the wide receiver rotation from its normal four to five players in the opener so that Sarkisian and position coach Chris Jackson can determine who comes on the field after the three starters, who currently have separation from the rest of the room, according to Sarkisian.
- At the tight end position, the question is whether Sarkisian wants to use junior tight end Gunnar Helm as the preferred option in 12 personnel or whether he wants employ an offensive lineman there as he did last season.
- Expect sophomore Cole Hutson to replace any of the interior linemen if necessary with sophomore Cam Williams the next off the bench. Sarkisian also praised freshman offensive tackle Trevor Goosby recently, so he could be pushing Payton Kirland for the backup role on the left. As always, however, the backup roles are fluid — if sophomore left tackle Kelvin Banks were to leave a game, senior Christian Jones would likely switch to the left with Williams coming on at right tackle.
- The defensive line is similarly fluid with junior Byron Murphy essentially a co-starter with senior T’Vondre Sweat and senior Alfred Collins. Texas may also use heavier personnel along the defensive line at times. The X-factor is redshirt freshman Jaray Bledsoe, who is known for his flexibility and twitchiness — he could spend time at Buck end or inside as a defensive tackle and is a potential breakout candidate this season.
- In the situational pass-rush role, junior Mo Blackwell and freshman Anthony Hill Jr. are the prime candidates. Blackwell is fast and violent, but Hill is bigger and has more natural instincts at the position. Look at them as filling slightly different roles rather than playing the position interchangeably.
- At middle linebacker, the battle to watch is between senior Jett Bush, the former walk on who has always played on the edge, and freshman Liona Lefau, who has been making plays in practice. Bush is probably ahead of Lefau at this point, but the freshman is coming on fast.
- Although senior David Gbenda looks like the clear starter at Will linebacker, Texas needs him to be more disciplined or Blackwell and Hill could get more extended looks as the season moves along.
- The rotation at field cornerback could also include freshman Malik Muhammad, a playmaker in both scrimmages.
- Nickel is one of the deepest positions on the team with sophomore Jaylon Guilbeau serving as something of a co-starter with senior Jahdae Barron last season before Barron took over the role and Guilbeau went down with a season-ending knee injury. The question now is whether Guilbeau is ahead of or behind sophomore Austin Jordan. But freshman Jelani McDonald is another player who consistently receives mention from Sarkisian even though he’s just enrolled in June.
- Beyond the health of senior safety Jalen Catalon’s shoulder, the rotation behind Catalon is another storyline to watch with the release of the official depth chart. How high is freshman Derek Williams? Was senior Kitan Crawford able to build on a good spring to stay ahead of sophomore Michael Taaffe, who was more reliable last season? Has freshman Warren Roberson passed older players, as predicted here?
- Beyond Robinson serving as the primary kick returner and junior Xavier Worthy as the primary punt returner, the backup situation is less clear. Fortunately, there is much more clarity at the specialist positions compared to 2022.
Update [8/28 11:57 a.m. Central] — During Sarkisian’s Monday press conference, the Texas head coach revealed that Blackwell is out for “a couple of weeks” with an injury. Sarkisian also said that Campbell and Hutson will rotate at right guard against Rice without revealing which player will receive the start.
Update [8/31 4:25 p.m. Central] — On Thursday, Sarkisian revealed that Campbell will start over Hutson at right guard. And despite saying that practice this week would determine the backup quarterback role, Sarkisian was unwilling to name a winner between Murphy and Manning.