The next few weeks will mark the most crucial stretch of Joshua Moore’s young tenure with the Texas Longhorns. Perhaps even his entire football career thus far.
On Saturday, the Longhorns will begin spring practice and Moore is among the trio of former highly-touted talents set to contend for the Texas vacancy in the slot following Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s early departure to the NFL. Moore, however, maybe more than any other former high school All-American currently — or soon to be — calling the Texas wide receiver room home, is faced with pressure to make the most of the newly-opened opportunity as the slot receiver.
This isn’t to say Moore must solidify a starting role and take complete control of the position ahead of his sophomore season and certainly not in the same capacity Humphrey did in 2018. Texas simply has too much raw talent requiring reps, like top-ranked 2019 athlete and 2018 MaxPreps National Player of the Year Bru McCoy (pending eligibility, of course) and reigning Gatorade National Player of the Yeah Jake Smith. Former five-star athlete Jordan Whittington may push for some playing time there, as well, though most of his reps this spring likely come at running back.
That said, it’s worth bearing in mind that Moore, too, was a top-100 talent in his class and an Under Armour All-American so long ago, yet it seems as if he’s largely become an afterthought in regards to the available slot receiver role.
To an extent, that is understandable, as the two freshmen may technically be better fits.
Smith, a dynamic top-50 prospect out of Scottsdale (Az.) Notre Dame Preparatory, is a speedster and a seemingly ideal fit in the slot, while McCoy is quite likely the closest thing Texas has to Humphrey on its 2019 roster, as wide receivers coach Drew Mehringer detailed to 247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong. This isn’t to imply that Moore can’t excel in the slot, because he certainly can courtesy of his impressive burst and ability to create separation as a pristine route-runner.
"JOSHUA MOORE. SAM EHLINGER. PUT THE BISCUIT IN THE BASKET."— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) September 16, 2018
Everyone get on Gus Johnson's level. pic.twitter.com/FUmi3Bpuq6
But what Moore has that the other options don’t is at least some semblance of college experience, and that may be his most notable edge at this point. The same won’t remain true by this time next spring, though, which makes this brief window of opportunity an especially important one for Moore.
After appearing in six games last season, hauling in seven receptions for 53 yards and one touchdown along the way, Moore missed the Baylor game due to Illness before missing the final seven games of his freshman slate as a result of a sprained shoulder. Consequently, Moore’s health, or the lack thereof, forced him to miss more than half of his freshman season, and more importantly, the development that comes along with being active throughout that span.
Now healthy entering the spring, Moore is no longer the freshman simply trying to find his footing. He’s a sophomore tasked with fending off a pair of slot prospects who are equally or more promising. Either McCoy or Smith or possibly even Whittington will quite likely own the starting job entering next spring, as Moore’s prototypical skill set for a Z receiver may warrant a move outside in 2020.
And that’s yet another reason why Moore securing his fair share of playing time in the slot for the 2019 campaign is essential.
An elite-level athlete with solid size at 6’1, Moore boasts the pure track speed necessary to blow the top off of a secondary, which is exactly what Texas looks for from the Z receiver, as evident by Devin Duvernay and John Burt occupying the two-deep depth chart. Texas will graduate both Duvernay and Burt following the 2019 season, but their presence between now and then likely means that few, if any reps will remain at the Z.
In the meantime, as Duvernay and Burt exhaust their eligibility, Moore securing his place within the slot receiver rotation — preferably a considerable one — may not be much more than a means to his end. Call it an opportunity to prove how productive he can be in an increased role.
If Moore can showcase his skill set this spring and into the 2019 season, he could become the shoo-in starter as the Z receiver entering the spring of 2020. But that, of course, is dependent upon Moore’s ability to showcase his skill set, which, of course, is dependent upon Moore’s ability to fend off McCoy and Smith for his fair share of reps.
If Moore fails to do so and finds himself on the sidelines far more often than the field in 2019, then a potential move to the Z in 2020 — or even remaining in the slot — will come with increased difficulty given how hyper-competitive the Texas wide receiver room is set to become.