Depth at key positions gives UT pause

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas guard David Snow rarely came off the field in 2011.

The same goes for guard Mason Walters, defensive end Alex Okafor, defensive tackle Kheeston Randall and so many others on the first line of Texas’ depth chart. That’s because Texas had no depth, except, as every fan painfully remembers, at quarterback.

Nothing has changed with the quarterback situation. But when it comes to the other 21 spots, Texas is no longer and all-hat-no-cattle organization. It has depth, not everywhere, but there is enough to allow for a sigh of relief from those who had nowhere to turn or sideline to sit on in 2011.

“Right now there are three to four guys who can come in there and with [offensive line coach Stacy] Searels, you never know where any of them might play,” Walters said. “But you know they will be ready.”

Ready is one thing, able is the key when it comes to depth.

Clearly Texas is more than able at multiple positions.

At running back the Longhorns have Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron returning and add Johnathan Gray.

Along the offensive line Texas has four starters back, added Donald Hawkins at tackle and has Sedrick Flowers (guard), Luke Poehlmann (tackle), Garrett Porter (center) and Thomas Ashcraft (guard/tackle).

“Those guys are ready to step up,” Mack Brown said.

Texas is also secure on the defensive line where it could go as many as 10 deep with five tackles -- Ashton Dorsey, Brandon More, Desmond Jackson, Chris Whaley and Malcom Brown -- and five defensive ends -- Okafor, Jackson Jeffcoat, Reggie Wilson, Cedric Reed and Shiro Davis.

The return of John Harris will help the depth at receiver, but Texas will still have to rely on some freshmen in Cayleb Jones, Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson. Hybrid backs such as Daje Johnson and D.J. Monroe should also help out the receivers.

There are a few questions marks at tight end, defensive backs and linebacker. The last of those three might be the most pressing where Texas is even still questioning its starting three.

“The question mark about our defense will be: Can a Steve Edmond replace a Keenan Robinson and will Jordan [Hicks] take that leadership role of Emmanuel Acho?” Brown said.

There is not much question in Hicks’ mind, at least not when it comes to the starting trio.

“Steve is big, run-stopping defender,” he said. “Just a big guy. Fast though. Very fast for his weight. He is very deceptive. I’m 100 percent comfortable having him next to me, he is somebody that you can depend on.

“Demarco is faster than ever,” Hicks continued. “He may be one of the fastest on the team. Both are smart kids who love to play the game of football and passionate.”

Given that Hicks and Cobbs have had a history of injuries, Texas will need to quickly develop some depth at linebacker. Kendall Thompson is back. So too is Tevin Jackson. But the general consensus is one of the freshman, like Tim Cole or Dalton Santos, will have a shot at playing time. To get that playing time, they have to learn defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s complex schemes.

“[The freshmen] are already picking it up some,” Hicks said. “We have been meeting and we’ve been able to teach them a little bit, mostly the basic stuff. But you got to be able to get that down to move on.”

Texas has even more of a quandary at tight end. M.J. McFarland appears to be the apparent starter. But D.J. Grant, Greg Daniels, Caleb Bluiett and Barrett Matthews all remain in the mix. Daniels and Bluiett have been pulled over from the defensive side of the ball.

At defensive back, the backups are adequate, if unproven, and Mykkele Thompson might be the best backup at safety. He played all of the spring due to an injury to Adrian Phillips. Sheroid Evans, when he wasn’t in track, also got some time.

Defensive back coach Duane Akina cross-trained both players, but they are more natural at safety. Phillips, on the other hand, could move to corner if there were an injury and Thompson could start at safety.

Duke Thomas, a freshman, and Leroy Scott also provide depth at corner.

“Those guys had more opportunities in the spring,” defensive back Carrington Byndom said. “That helped them tremendously.”

Just as having more guys at every position should help Texas tremendously as it goes through the 12-game regular season.