As strange as it sounds, Texas’ top two wide receivers spending the first week of fall camp sidelined ended up proving beneficial for the Longhorns offense. Their absence created opportunity for a receivers group full of unproven talent.
Davis had surgery for a hernia and Shipley underwent a procedure to address a hip injury. Neither ailment is serious, and both wideouts were in pads and catching passes by the end of the week.
Their absence is more precautionary than anything, and at some point in the next two weeks they’ll get back into team drills and 11-on-11 work.
But the point is this: Neither truly needed the practice reps. Their younger backups most definitely did.
“With Mike and Jaxon being limited early, that’s going to force the guys to be out there with David [Ash] and see how they can do with pressure on them,” Texas coach Mack Brown said before camp began.
How’d they fare? Sophomores Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson slid into the spots held down by Davis and Shipley last week. They combined for two receptions in 2012. One of them will likely have to start this fall.
That guy might not be Johnson, who suffered a sprained MCL in his right knee during practice Monday. There's no timetable for his return, but UT head athletic trainer Kenny Boyd is hoping Johnson will be back "before the end of camp or soon after."
That’s not necessarily a damning blow for the Texas receiving corps, but Johnson made a good impression during his week with the first-team offense.
“I think Marcus has been making huge strides from where he was in the spring,” Ash said. “I'm really excited just because with the nature of the offense and what we're doing now, he will have to be a big part of it. He’s got to make plays for us and understand that when some of our primary receivers are covered or doubled, he's going to be the guy that gets the ball.”
There’s no doubt Sanders is ready for a larger role after recording two catches for 15 yards in 11 games as a true freshman. The 6-foot, 187-pound wideout is as well-rounded a target as the Longhorns have when Davis and Shipley aren’t on the field and appears to be the favorite to become Texas’ No. 3 receiver.
But they weren’t the only beneficiaries at receiver last week. Take the top two guys out of the equation and everyone gets bumped up the totem poll, including the newcomers.
“It’s really helped us to be forced to look at the freshmen,” Brown said. “Jacorey Warrick has done some good things, and it’s been fun to watch him. All of those young ones have shown ability, but we probably wouldn’t have got them many snaps if Jaxon and Mike were out there.”
That Warrick is earning early praise is impressive considering his rapid recovery, as he missed most of his senior season at Houston Cypress Falls after suffering a torn meniscus in his right knee in October.
The former ESPN 150 recruit looks as speedy as ever and hasn’t lost a step since that injury. He and freshman Montrel Meander worked with the No. 2 offense last week while Jake Oliver and Chevoski Collins started off with the third-string receivers.
Those four fresh faces will continue to be evaluated in the next two weeks, and several could see the field on Aug. 31 against New Mexico State. But what would that mean for Bryant Jackson and John Harris?
Both are fourth-year players seeking to finally break through and establish their roles. Harris has experimented at tight end but spent the week as one of Case McCoy’s favorite targets as an outside receiver. Jackson moved over from defensive back and played in the slot with Daje Johnson and the No. 1 offense.
“The guys brag on Bryant Jackson a lot,” Brown said. “He’s an older guy who’s been around, a blocker and special teams guy that’s making some good plays for us.”
With those freshmen on the rise, it’s practically now or never for those juniors. They benefitted from Davis and Shipley sitting as much as anyone.
And yet, you could make a case no Longhorn is affected more than Ash. The starting quarterback didn’t mind one bit, as he enjoyed working on his rapport with a variety of receivers.
“There is a silver lining to it,” Ash said. “Obviously, we want Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley out there getting work, but there is a silver lining that we are going to develop some depth with these young wideouts. They’re going to get some experience now and there’s no doubt it’ll pay off, because you never know what’s going to happen in the season.”
If either of Ash’ top two targets go down at some point this fall, that will likely mean trouble. But a full week of preparing for that possibility can’t hurt.