Consider the immense responsibility Garrett Gilbert shoulders at quarterback for Texas. Mack Brown summarized it perfectly following the Longhorns' spring game:
"The team trusts him. They think he is the guy, he is the starter," Brown said. "And at his age, having not started a game, that's pretty impressive."
But then, so was the second-half performance by Gilbert in the national championship game, which he played in as a true freshman replacing invaluable Colt McCoy. Although Texas lost to Alabama, the vast improvement Gilbert made just in that game not only prevented a blowout but almost resulted in a stunning comeback.
Texas emphasized its rushing attack in the spring game, yet Gilbert capitalized on the opportunities that presented for play-action passes by completing 10 of 13 throws for 165 yards and three touchdowns.
Unfortunately for Gilbert, the run game could place pressure on him to deliver. The Longhorns' never-ending search for a primary rusher didn't end with the spring game, though a freshman, Chris Whaley, did gain the most yards with 70 on 14 carries. Unfortunately for him, his 259-pound frame drew criticism from Brown and will require some offseason dieting if Whaley is to seriously challenge Fozzy Whittaker and Tre' Newton.
Although the Texas defense lost numerous playmakers on defense, the Longhorns look capable of reloading after allowing 251.1 yards and 15.2 points last season while sweeping through Big 12 play before finishing 13-1.
The secondary, in particular, is immensely talented, despite the loss of safety Earl Thomas, a sophomore who declared for the NFL. Brown cited three returnees, Curtis and Chykie Brown, and Aaron Williams, as potential NFL prospects as well. In addition, Blake Gideon returns at safety, while Kenny Vaccaro and Nolan Brewster had impressive spring camps.
The defensive line must be revamped, though tackle Kheeston Randall is a solid player to build around.
While the Longhorns won't be the preseason pick to win the Big 12 because of the departure of top players like Thomas and linebacker Sergio Kindle, as well as the playmaking tandem of McCoy and wide receiver Jordan Shipley, they won't be lacking talent. Those recruiting analysts put Texas' signing classes near the top nationally each season and it's that talent the Longhorns will rely on to reload after a fruitful spring camp.NOTES, QUOTES
--Although RB Chris Whaley led all rushers with 70 yards on 14 carries in the Texas spring game, Longhorns coach Mack Brown doesn't want the redshirt freshman playing at 259 pounds. A modest goal was set, requesting that Whaley trim down to 240 pounds by the start of fall camp. That reduction could make the most of Whaley's impressive moves, while still giving him enough mass to move a pile.
--A fifth-year senior to watch is DE Eddie Jones, who enjoyed an impressive spring camp yet is a somewhat forgotten figure at Texas after undergoing 10 surgical procedures to repair knee, shoulder, wrist and ankle injuries. Half those procedures came while he starred for Kilgore (Texas) High School, but his career at Texas has been checkered, to say the least, with 7.5 career sacks.
DT Calvin Howell -- Lacked consistency during spring drills but was impressive in the spring game with four tackles, including one for loss, while keeping blockers from reaching the linebackers.
S Christian Scott -- Could be the player who takes over the opening created by Earl Thomas' decision to turn pro. Scott missed the 2009 season because of academic issues. He is capable of making big hits.
OG Tray Allen -- One of the most highly-regarded signees in UT's 2007 recruiting class, Allen has not yet panned out but got a chance to impress coaches in spring camp with Mason Walters out with an injured foot.
S Kenny Vaccaro -- The sophomore is emerging as one of the Longhorns' hardest hitters. He blew up a short pass in the flat during the spring game. Look for him to play the nickel and potentially star on kick coverage.
WR DeSean Hales -- Provided some breakaway capability with three catches for 77 yards in the spring, with one touchdown.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We may be a different team. We'll run the ball more. We're going to have to kick it differently and play defense more. It may not be a team that runs out there and runs up and down the field and scores as quickly as we have." -- Texas coach Mack Brown.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: This could be a season when observers dismiss Texas somewhat because of all the key contributors -- QB Colt McCoy, WR Jordan Shipley, C Chris Hall, DT Lamarr Houston, LB Sergio Kindle, LB Roddrick Muckelroy and S Earl Thomas just to name some -- the Longhorns lost off a 2009 team that sailed undefeated through the Big 12 and eventually lost to Alabama for the national championship. QB Garrett Gilbert has shown incredible promise, though the pressure placed on him to emerge as a leader must be minimized with the development of a consistent rushing attack. The line must materialize on defense to both limit rushers and pressure quarterbacks. This rebuilding, err, reloading, process will be a nice test for coach Mack Brown and his staff.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Brown praised Gilbert for his ability to project confidence, not only within himself, but among teammates during spring drills. The transition from a four-year starter, McCoy, who became the all-time winningest quarterback in FBS history, may be smoother than expected. Still, there figures to be some rough edges for Gilbert to sort through, especially if the Longhorns need to rely exclusively on his arm in catch-up situations. A strong rushing attack can prevent that, though a featured back was not identified during spring game and Texas could again use a committee of rushers. Capable targets exist among the receivers, despite the loss of Shipley. Breakaway threats also exist, though WR James Kirkendoll and WR Marquise Goodwin must become more consistent. OG Mason Walters (foot) missed spring camp but will help anchor the line.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Developing depth, as well as consistently, at the tackle positions will be key if Texas is to stuff the run like it did in 2009 when allowed 62.2 rushing yards per game. DT Kheeston Randall is a legitimate talent, but others must step up at the other tackle position. DE Sam Acho and DE Alex Okafor are two talented rush ends capable of big seasons. Holes must be filled at linebacker, with the Longhorns uncertain of the potential of Jared Norton, who is coming off shoulder surgery. Emmanuel Acho, Dustin Earnest and Keenan Robinson will play bigger roles. The secondary could be as good as any the Longhorns have fielded under Brown, with impressive cover corners in Curtis Brown, Chykie Brown and Aaron Williams.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: After the spring game, Brown vowed to continue using the rugby punt in 2010 despite some problems that created once opponents schemed properly against it. Justin Tucker is capable of a big season handling both the punting and kicking chores. Expect the Longhorns to capitalize on their athleticism and bust some returns, with Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Tucker two of the leading candidates.
QB Connor Wood -- Although senior Sherrod Harris will get the first opportunity to be the backup for Garrett Gilbert, Wood is the most promising newcomer at the position with the prototypical size (6-4, 209) for the position.
RB Chris Whaley -- Provides a different look as a 250-pounder and the changeup Texas wants to compliment veterans Tre' Newton and D.J. Monroe. Whaley needs to show he can break tackles with his size.
CB A.J. White -- A starting berth is probably unlikely for the incoming freshman, though he might be part of the nickel package after displaying some confidence in early drills.
--RB Tre' Newton was bothered by a sprained ankle he suffered late in camp, which limited his effectiveness in the spring game.
--LB Jared Norton, who required shoulder surgery and was lost during nonconference play last season, was limited during spring drills along with WR D.J. Monroe (hamstring), TE D.J. Grant (knee) and CB Eryon Barnett (shoulder).
--Those who missed spring drills entirely were S Nolan Brewster (shoulder), OL Mason Walters (foot) and LB Emmanuel Acho (sports hernia).
--TE Blaine Irby probably won't return while tending to an injured knee he suffered in the third game of the 2008 season. No final decision, however, has been made on Irby's status for 2010.
--WR/KR D.J. Monroe pulled his hamstring on the first return he attempted in the spring game and was withheld from the remainder of the scrimmage. WR John Chiles also pulled a hamstring in practice just prior to the spring game.
--RB Vondrell McGee (shoulder) and RB Cody Johnson (hamstring) were not available in the spring game, preventing Texas from looking at all its running backs.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010