Poised to Break Out

Here are the 10 Longhorns we expect to break out in 2011.

“Break out” can have different meanings. Some of the players are already expected to be starters with big-time potential. Others may be a tad under the radar, but we think they will eventually play a larger role for the team.

We did not list any true freshman, instead we focused on the players who have been in the program at least an entire year.

Breakout players for 2011

TE, DJ Grant, Rs. Jr. – I really liked what I saw of Grant in the spring - in the running game and passing game. Of all of the tight ends on the roster, he’s the one who has the versatility Bryan Harsin desires most. He’s strong enough of a blocker to help seal the edge, he’s quick enough to get open underneath, fast enough to beat a linebacker out in the flat and he has soft hands. While Dominique Jones may do most of the heavy-sledding as a blocker, look for Grant to have the breakout year.

LB, DeMarco Cobbs, Soph. – Cobbs has a little more suddenness than any of the other first-string linebackers, including Jordan Hicks, Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. Cobbs is going to find a way onto the field, probably in passing situations. Even though the first three linebackers look pretty salty, there’s always room for a guy who can make off-schedule plays.

LB, Jordan Hicks, Soph. – Word from inside the program is that Hicks may be the best linebacker on the team. Some think he might even be the best player on the team. Those are tall words for a player who did not see a ton of snaps a year ago. If he’s as good as advertised, then 2011 will be the breakout year for Hicks.

CB, Adrian Phillips/Carrington Byndom, Soph. – Putting these two together makes a lot of sense because it’s likely they will be mentioned in the same breath all year long. They’ll either be the young guys making plays or they’ll be at the other end of a butt-whipping from some Big 12 quarterback. I think both players are high-caliber Big 12 starters over the long term. By the end of the year, you should be looking at two young guys who have blossomed into quality starters.

DE, Reggie Wilson, Soph. – He got nicked up early in the season, but you could tell the speed off of the edge was there. This year, he’ll need to put it all together to give Texas that edge speed rush defensive coordinator Manny Diaz covets. As talented as he is, Wilson was extremely raw as a freshman. But coaches say the light-bulb started coming on for him early in the spring. It’s not inconceivable that Wilson registers 7-10 sacks even in a back-up role if Texas can score points and get teams in catch-up situations.

WR, Darius White, Soph. – Maybe it was the mentorship of new receiver coach Darrell Wyatt, or perhaps it was White’s competitive nature starting to shine through (or a combination of both). Whatever happened, it got the attention of his coaches and teammates. He’s no longer the loafer and the last one back to the huddle who relies on his immense athletic ability. He’s starting to turn the corner. He wants to become a great athlete and realizes that it takes maximum effort to get there. If he stays healthy, I’m looking for a breakout year for White.

DE, Alex Okafor, Jr. – Okafor has seen plenty of snaps during his career. He has split time at defensive end and tackle in two years. But the move back to defensive end full-time really seemed to take this spring. Okafor looks like he’s starting to round his body into Orakpo-like shape, becoming a weight-room warrior and a leader. Look for Okafor to have a breakout year from a production standpoint.

C, Dominic Espinosa, Rs-Frosh – If any of the starting five OL goes down, it’s going to be a mix-and-match mentality from OL coach Stacy Searels to find the best group he can put on the field. If Espinosa’s shoulder heals, he could be the center of the future - which would allow David Snow to kick out to guard and Tray Hopkins or Mason Walters out to tackle. We expect Espinosa to emerge as a key backup on the OL this season.

RB, Jeremy Hills, Rs. Jr. – For the first two years on campus, many insiders thought Hills was just trying to keep up with the gang, to be an average player on a very good team. But something seemingly clicked a year ago. He asked to redshirt, and he used that redshirt year to redefine his lower body and reinforce his determination. I don’t know how or who Hills is going to take carries away from this fall, but I bet he finds a way to have a breakout year.

DB, Kenny Vacarro, Jr. - "Vacarro is a nice player. He's decent." But no one uses the term "special" when they're describing his talents. This year is the year that changes, where Vacarro goes from one of several talented DBs in a secondary to the most talented, where all eyes are on him to make plays. He had a tremendous spring and seems like he has all off-field issues in check. All signs point to Vacarro having a break out year in 2011. Anything other than becoming an all-conference selection would be a disappointment.

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