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The strongest and the weakest

Ranking the Longhorns' positional units from our viewpoint from 9 to 1.

The projected starter at tight end, sophomore M.J. McFarland.

9. Tight ends
There is no perfect match at TE for the Horns. Projected starter MJ McFarland provides Texas with the best vertical threat but also has questionable hands. Greg Daniels may be the most imposing but has not become a dominating blocker. It’ll be interesting to see just how Texas utilizes the pieces of the tight end puzzle this season.

Projected starter
MJ McFarland, El Paso El Dorado, soph.

Key back-ups
Greg Daniels, Houston St. Pius, jr.
Geoff Swaim, Butte College, jr.
John Harris, Garland Naaman Forrest, jr.

Coach: Bruce Chambers

8. Special teams
Consistency is what coaches are looking for from this unit. Sure, Mack Brown wants a couple of big plays each year – like the blocked field goal against Texas Tech last season – but reality is if Texas drives the ball inside their opponents’ 20, the Horns want to feel that they’re going to get at least 3 points out of it. The Texas field goal kickers didn’t provide that level of comfort a year ago. Will they this season even though it’s the same cast of characters?

Projected starters
Nick Jordan, Coppell, soph. (K)
Anthony Fera, Houston St. Pius, sr. (P)
Nick Rose, Highland Park, soph. (Kick-offs)

Key back-ups
Will Russ, Shreveport (La.) Evangel, sr. (P)
Ben Pruitt, The Woodlands, jr. (K)

7. Linebackers
Texas was routinely gashed in the run game a year ago. There’s been debate whether that had to do more with the play of the linebackers, the defensive line or even the play-calling and strategy behind the run defense. Adding Jordan Hicks back to the starting line-up should provide a big help, as should a more experienced middle linebacker, whether that’s Steve Edmond or Dalton Santos.

Projected starters
Jordan Hicks, West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West, sr.
Steve Edmond, Daingerfield, jr.
Peter Jinkens, Dallas Skyline, soph.

Key back-ups
Tevin Jackson, Garland, jr.
Dalton Santos, Van, soph.
Demarco Cobbs, Tulsa (Okla.) Central, sr.
Kendall Thompson, Carthage, jr.
Aaron Benson, Cedar Hill, sr.

Coach: Manny Diaz

6. Quarterback
Consistency and resiliency are the two factors to watch for with David Ash, who was as up and down as almost any player on the Texas roster. When he was good, he was fine. But when things went south, his problems often mushroomed. He also had some poor starts in the third quarter after half-time adjustments. Behind him, Case McCoy at least has some starts under his belt.

Projected starter
David Ash, Belton, jr.

Key back-ups
Case McCoy, Graham, sr.
Connor Brewer, Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral, fr.
Tyrone Swoopes, Whitewright, fr.

Coach: Major Applewhite

5. Wide receiver
It’s hard for me to rank the wide receiver group at No. 5 but I think the position group is a little top heavy on talent. After Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis, and as good as those two can be (especially Shipley), there just isn’t any other proven commodity. And guys like Bryant Jackson may be solid but certainly aren’t high caliber Big 12 receivers. Newcomer Kendall Sanders could be a major asset if he takes the next step by the time the season rolls around.

Projected starters
Jaxon Shipley, Brownwood, jr.
Mike Davis, Dallas Skyline, sr.
Kendall Sanders, Athens, soph.

Key back-ups
Bryant Jackson, Sulphur Springs, jr.
Cayleb Jones, Austin High, soph.
Daje Johnson, Pflugerville Connally, soph.
Jake Oliver, Dallas Jesuit, fr.

Coach: Darrell Wyatt

4. Defensive line
Even with the loss of Alex Okafor to the NFL, Texas should have a quality starting rotation so long as end Jackson Jeffcoat returns from injury and can stay healthy most of the year. Cedric Reed could be the team’s next star defender if he continues on his current trajectory.

Projected starters
Cedric Reed, Cleveland, jr.
Jackson Jeffcoat, Plano West, sr.
Malcom Brown, Brenham, soph.
Desmond Jackson, Spring Westfield, jr.

Key backups
Ashton Dorsey, Tyler John Tyler, sr.
Reggie Wilson, Haltom, sr.
Hassan Ridgeway, Mansfield, fr.
Shiro Davis, Shreveport (La.) Woodlawn, soph.
Chris Whaley, Madisonville, sr.

Coaches: Oscar Giles and Bo Davis

3. Offensive line
The Horns may not have an All-American in the starting lineup but the starting five all return. While they’ve had problems establishing a ground attack the past couple of years, it’s a unit that gave up less than 20 sacks on the season. And there’s something to be said for playing together for such a long period of time.

Projected starters
Mason Walters, Wolforth Frenship, sr.
Dominic Espinosa, Cedar Park, jr.
Trey Hopkins, Houston North Shore, sr.
Josh Cochran, Hallsville, jr.
Donald Hawkins, Northwest Mississippi CC, sr.

Key back-ups
Desmond Harrison, Contra Costa CC, jr.
Kennedy Estelle, Pearland Dawson, soph.
Sedrick Flowers, Houston North Shore, jr.
Curtis Riser, DeSoto, fr.
Darius James, Killeen Harker Heights, fr.
Garrett Porter, Odessa Permian, sr.

Coach: Stacy Searels

2. Running backs
Texas has a quality group of running backs but the position really only goes three deep. Health and subsequently depth are the major question marks. Can Malcolm Brown stay out of the trainer’s room this fall?

Projected starter
Johnathan Gray, Aledo, soph.

Key back-ups
Malcolm Brown, Cibolo Steele, jr.
Joe Bergeron, North Mesquite, jr.
Daje Johnson, Pflugerville Connally, soph.
Alex De La Torre, Denton Ryan, soph.

Coach: Larry Porter

1. Secondary
Who will fill Kenny Vaccaro’s play-making role? It’s time for Quandre Diggs to take the reins. Even with Vaccaro headed to the NFL, the Horns should be better overall because of more experience amongst the other returning players.

Projected starters
Quandre Diggs, Angleton, jr.
Carrington Byndom, Lufkin, sr.
Mykkele Thompson, San Antonio Stevens, jr.
Adrian Phillips, Garland, sr.

Key back-ups
Sheroid Evans, Sugar Land Dulles, jr.
Duke Thomas, Copperas Cove, soph.
Josh Turner, Oklahoma City (Okla.) Millwood, jr.

Coach: Duane Akina

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