By John Luke McCord
In a bit of a surprise, Tom Herman’s defense was the highlight of his first team in Austin. Texas managed the second best defense in the Big 12 in 2017, capped of course by a 33-16 win over SEC foe Missouri in the Texas Bowl. That side of the ball will certainly have to rebound from all they lose to the draft, but there’s plenty of talent returning to be strong again.
The real question for the Longhorns in 2018, at least for now, is who will be the quarterback. Both Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buchele played in nine games last season, and both have shown at times they deserve the job. To end the suspense, and for the purposes of this analysis, I’ll say Ehlinger wins the job. As a freshman last fall he showed both exciting highs and frustrating lows. I’m betting he’s more consistent in 2018, plus his ability to run plays huge with how much uncertainty looms over the running back position. In fact, Ehlinger was the team’s leading rusher in 2017.
Chris Warren is headed to the NFL, so that leaves behind Toneil Carter and Daniel Young to step up in the Longhorns’ running back room. Carter has looked impressive this offseason, while Young started the final five games of teh 2017 campaign. There will be young talent available at this spot, as well, but the hope is one of those two take the position by the Horns (no pun intended) and the other compliment.
Should Herman figure out the running game, and again Ehlinger would help there, the Texas offense has a chance to be special. Obviously there are two serviceable QBs, but the receiving corps is absolutely loaded down with talent. Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey offer UT QBs elite size to throw to, while Reggie Hemphill-Mapps, John Burt, Jerrod Heard and Devin Duvernay also bring major playmaking ability to the table. Others will contribute, as well, so expect this group to elevate the play of whoever wins the QB battle. Additionally, the OL should be improved to help everything else get off the ground this season.
As previously mentioned, there are plenty of productive players departing the Longhorn defense for the NFL. However, the group that returns is talented enough to pick up and keep tugging on the rope. There’s a wealth of experience at linebacker in Anthony Wheeler, Gary Johnson, Malcolm Roach (who moved over from DE) and Edwin Freeman. In the secondary, there is more depth at corner but it doesn’t get any better than Brandon Jones at safety. Along the defensive line, the are playmakers at each spot with Ta’Quon Graham, D’Andre Christmas and Chris Nelson inside plus Charles Omenihu and Breckyn Hager on the edge.