With the arrival of Charlie Strong to the Forty Acres, one thing quickly became clear: this was no longer the same old Texas Longhorns program. It's a new day. Strong has proved the clout and accountability behind his words, dismissing running backs Joe Bergeron and Jalen Overstreet -- as well as sophomore defensive back Chevoski Collins -- from the team permanently for various reasons. This was preceded by the dismissal of wideouts Montrel Meander and Kendall Sanders for their roles in an alleged sexual assault on the Texas campus in July.
Others (including senior safety Josh Turner, oft-troubled junior running back Daje Johnson, and rising senior OT Desmond Harrison) are set to miss an undisclosed number of games due to the usual garden variety violations of team rules. For Turner and Johnson, the violations are not the first, while Harrison has worked his way onto a UT coach's bad side for the first time.
At least as far as we know.
Regardless of when this trio returns to good graces, it's obvious unproven players will need to rise to the occasion and produce at a higher level than once thought necessary. Given this exceptional opportunity to make a difference for a storied program like Texas, it's a solid exercise to consider who the potential X-Factor guys could be, and what elements make them reasonable candidates to not only play more minutes, but play productive minutes.
First, on offense.
Houston Eisenhower true freshman Donald Catalon was recruited to Texas under the assumption he would be easily redshirt-able and wouldn't see substantial action until at least 2015, if not later. However, with the departures of Bergeron and Overstreet and the always present possibility Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray could miss at least some time due to their collective lingering injuries, Catalon's importance to the Texas run game has quickly escalated.
The 6'0, 190-pound Catalon ran for 2,899 yards and 21 touchdowns in his three-year career at Eisenhower, and was an early Texas commit, giving his pledge back in 2012. Catalon's solid center of gravity, quick feet/lateral burst, and plus straight-line speed could at a minimum allow him to share some carries with Gray and Brown, to keep a tough non-conference grind (and a tougher one than in seasons past) from taking its toll too early.
Look for Catalon to see his share of action against North Texas on August 30th and against Kansas in the Big 12 opener, in particular, given the need for Brown and Gray to carry the load in two tough early-season contests against BYU and UCLA. If Catalon takes advantage of the carries he's sure to see in these two games, his role could quickly expand as the Big 12 slate really starts to become a grind in October.
Tempering factor: The return, and behavior of Daje Johnson.
When you subtract the combined 2013 receiving production of Daje Johnson, Mike Davis, and Kendall Sanders from the picture, 112 receptions for 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns is what's left on the table. Granted, this type of production can on occasion be replicated by one All-American caliber receiver, but Texas hasn't had that luxury since Jordan Shipley was running routes in the burnt orange and white.
With Jordan's brother Jaxon recently sidelined (for an undetermined period of time) with a hamstring injury, and questions surrounding how productive Marcus Johnson can be when asked to be a part of a greater volume of plays, eyes are turning to sophomore wideout Jacorey Warrick as a potential solution to a murky situation.
Warrick didn't see the field in 2013, but he will hardly be alone in that respect this season. The 5'11, 172-pound Cy Falls product has flashed some impressive lateral quickness and breakaway speed in spring practice, and so far in camp this August. Warrick has a golden opportunity waiting for him to become the No. 3 Texas wideout this season.
Warrick, to a degree, will be in competition with senior John Harris -- who never has reached his potential -- and fellow sophomore Jake Oliver, who is more of a possession receiver and shouldn't pose a threat to Warrick's playing time. The bigger question is whether Marcus Johnson can be productive enough to keep Warrick on the sideline rather than on the field. That's yet to be seen.
Tempering factor: A highly productive run game and/or Marcus Johnson reaching his potential.
The Horns will be without the luxury of an experienced front line under first year O-Line coach Joe Wickline given the departure of stalwarts Mason Walters, Trey Hopkins, Donald Hawkins and Josh Cochran from the 2013 squad. In particular, there's been an increased emphasis from Wickline and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson on the tackles looking not only athletic but technically sound.
Given this, sophomore Kent Perkins could be one to watch. As suggested by Blake Borron (Longhorns In the Huddle magazine), Perkins is the best choice to start at right tackle to form the most athletic tandem with left tackle Kennedy Estelle, if indeed athleticism is the prime concern. Perkins will be fighting for playing time with guys like Jake Raulerson, and Camhron Hughes, but should have plenty of opportunity to make an impact.
Obviously, this scenario only holds validity if Desmond Harrison's suspension becomes prolonged. Harrison will get the nod over Perkins in an equitable race 9.9 times out of 10.
Tempering Factor: The duration of Desmond Harrison's absence.
In short, there's no lack of opportunity for these players -- and others who might surprise all of us -- to show they can be a productive part of Texas Football in 2014.