The Next Step: Five Players Who Need To Take It This Spring

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Spring is a time for renewal, for hope, for growth—meaning it’s an especially crucial time for the Texas Longhorns, who are looking to break the trend of long, cold winters and return to national prominence. Just over a week into spring practice, we take a look at the five players—or hybrid, mashed-together combinations of players—who need to take the biggest steps forward over these 15 workouts in order for the Horns to harvest the fruits of their labor this upcoming fall…

(Dis?)Honorable Mentions
(Because having potential means you haven’t fulfilled it yet)

Malcolm Brown, Cedric Reed, Reggie Wilson, Shiro Davis, the entire linebacking unit, Mykelle Thompson, Josh Turner, Sheroid Evans, Jalen Overstreet, Anthony Fera, Nick Jordan, the entire starting offensive line, the rest of the offensive linemen whose names haven’t been heard since their Signing Day

M.J. McFarland, Sophomore, Tight End

Developing quarterbacks are a lot like Linus from Charlie Brown (minus the thinning, sweep-across hair style, but we’ll get to that)—they need their security blanket, a role that’s typically filled by a team’s tight end. And few things would bolster David Ash’s development more than the emergence of sophomore M.J. McFarland. Possessing all the attributes needed to thrive at the position—sure hands, too big-for-safeties size, too-fast-for-linebackers speed—McFarland has the potential to be a game-changer, giving the offense the versatility to pound away with the run or open it up with the pass, all without changing personnel (a key considering the chatter of going more up-tempo). While he flashed some as a receiver in 2012 (mostly in mop-up duty), McFarland’s lack of consistency as a blocker is what’s held him back, but the hope is that another offseason of technique training and a whole lotta gym time with Bennie Wylie will finally take care of that.

Duke Thomas, Sophomore, Cornerback

Arguably the biggest loss this offseason off a defense that couldn’t afford any key losses was Kenny Vaccaro, a playmaking safety who was equally effective playing centerfield as he was around the line of scrimmage in run support. Word on the street is that junior Quandre Diggs is the leading candidate to fill that void, but that’s contingent on there being a viable replacement for Diggs at corner. Enter Thomas. An early enrollee last year whose name consistently surfaced in message board practice reports, Thomas ended up seeing the field less than expected as a freshman, which makes this spring that much more important if he’s to contribute heavily as a sophomore. If Thomas can lock down the corner spot opposite Carrington Byndom, Diggs can slide over to safety, and secondary coach Duane Akina and his mustache could then have the freedom to get his best personnel combinations on the field in order to match up with the diverse passing attacks that UT struggled with last year in conference play.

Cay-Marken Jonesderson, Sophomore, Wide Receiver
AKA: Cayleb Jones, Kendall Sanders, Marcus Johnson

The departure of Marquise Goodwin has left the Longhorns’ receiving corps a two-man operation, with Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley as the only established contributors on the roster. But the three-headed conglomerate from the 2012 recruiting class could fill out the rotation nicely, as each individual possesses their own diverse skill set. Jones is a big-bodied receiver, with Stick ‘Em-coated hands and the potential to be a third-down-conversion machine. Sanders can flat out fly and could slide nicely into Goodwin’s role on jet sweeps and stretch-the-field “9” routes. Johnson could be the most well-rounded of all, with the ability to do a little bit of everything and a tireless work ethic to see it through. The trio played sparingly during their freshman season, but with Offensive Coordinator’s Majell Applewyatt’s (Major Applewhite + Darrell Wyatt) transition to a more wide-open, spread-based attack, the need for receiver development is crucial, meaning these three need to find the light switch, and quickly.


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