Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Collin Johnson reveal themselves as big-time Texas threats

Posted April 22nd, 2018

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Story highlights
  • Lil' Jordan Humphrey is so versatile, he can play inside, outside, slot receiver as well as running back and kick returner.
  • Texas coach Tom Herman calls Humphrey "a difference-maker without a doubt."
  • Collin Johnson and Humphrey could be the Big 12's best receivers tandem.

Lil’ Jordan Humphrey was everywhere Saturday night.

The junior-to-be wide receiver was outside catching passes. He was inside catching passes. He was catching balls over the middle and in the seams. And when he wasn’t doing that, he was running the ball out of the Texas backfield like the two-time all-state running back he was at Southlake Carroll.

Oh, he also fielded a punt.

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He did not throw a pass in the Orange-White game that concluded spring football drills. But he can. He threw one in last year’s season-opener against Maryland and another one in the finale against Texas Tech.

Yeah, Humphrey was everywhere Saturday night.

Except, of course, in the interview room since Texas brought only three players to meet the press. The school did make a receiver available, and a good one at that.

Collin Johnson takes part in The University of Texas at Austin spring practice at the Denius practice fields on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Austin, TX. AMANDA VOISARD / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Collin Johnson, the Longhorns’ leading receiver last season, did talk after a showcase game of his own at Royal-Memorial Stadium where his considerable talents were again on display. It was sort of USC revisited as Johnson reprised his role as one of the nation’s top receivers when he had six catches for 91 yards and a touchdown on a scramble and throw by Shane Buechele. And he was impressed with Humphrey.

“LJ’s a baller,” Johnson said. “You can put him anywhere on the field and he’ll figure out a way to make plays. He and Devin (Duvernay) had phenomenal springs.”

The 6-6, 215-pound Johnson and 6-4, 220-pound Humphrey very possibly could blow up as one of the top tandems in college football. They’re that good although Humphrey was under-utilized last season with only 37 catches for 431 yards and a single score. They just need a reliable quarterback to get them the ball.

And they’ve got help with the athletic Jerrod Heard and speedy pair of Devin Duvernay and John Burt unless Buechele’s badly overthrowing the latter downfield as he did twice in the game. But it starts with Humphrey, who just may be the best player on the team and the most electrifying. He showed what he can do, grabbing seven balls for an even 100 yards in the first half alone to excite an estimated crowd of 35,000.

“A difference maker, without a doubt,” head coach Tom Herman said of Humphrey. “You want to talk about a guy that can catch the ball on third and medium, third and long, and get you a first down. There’s no secret quarterbacks throw the ball to guys they have confidence in. I felt like he had 30 catches out there. When you see a guy like him and Collin have the amount of catches that they do, that means the quarterbacks believe in them.”

Texas defensive back Kris Boyd (2) deflects a pass intended for wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey (84) during the Texas Orange-White spring football game in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, April 21, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Now whether anyone believes in the quarterbacks, that’ll show in September. But entering next season, Texas should have as good a receivers as any team in the league.

They just have to prove it after an erratic 2017 season when the Longhorns produced just three 100-yard games out of their receivers, two from Johnson and one from Humphrey. None was more impressive than Johnson’s standout 191-yard performance versus the Trojans.

With so many marquee wideouts gone like Oklahoma State’s James Washington, Texas Tech’s Keke Coutee and Iowa State’s Allen Lazard, Humphrey and Johnson should step in for their share of acclaim and contest headliners like West Virginia’s Gary Jennings and David Sills V, Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown and Baylor’s Denzel Mims.

Johnson’s skill set is “so unique,” head coach Tom Herman said, “he can defeat one-on-one coverage. That’s what he’s great at.”

So good, in fact, that Herman has instructed his quarterbacks if they make a pre-snap read and see Johnson isolated with a single defensive back to check to a go route every time. It’s good advice. Johnson, who often channels his inner Roy Williams with acrobatic, leaping catches near the sidelines, can be as good as there is in beating man coverage.

And when he’s covered up, Sam Ehlinger and Buechele shouldn’t have to look far to find an open Humphrey. Getting open isn’t hard for Humphrey, who’s slithery as a running back and sure-handed and quick as a receiver.

“LJ’s about as versatile an offensive skill player as I’ve ever been around,” Herman said. “He can play outside. He can play in the slot. He can carry the football. He’s got unbelievable ball skills. Really, really football smart, and really proud of his development.”

Herman’s hesitant to predict just how much Texas fans will see Humphrey line up at running back. But he did carry the ball four times and scored two of the game’s four touchdowns out of the backfield Saturday.

Unless Carthage freshman Keaontay Ingram comes to school as a reincarnation of Ricky Williams, Humphrey might even be Texas’ best bet at running back. Don’t expect that even though the Longhorns don’t have a dynamic back on their roster at this point.

Hey, when the team’s leading rusher is a quarterback with only 381 yards, that position needs help. Of course, a stronger offensive line has plenty to do with it as well, and the wide receivers room is the most crowded of any of the offensive positions from talent and experience categories.

“I don’t know at running back,” Herman said of Humphrey’s use there. “I think there’s definitely going to be some situations. I think you’ll see some wildcat stuff with him, absolutely.”

He’ll move around a lot, the better to confuse and torment defenses. His teammates know it.

“He’s a matchup nightmare,” said linebacker Malcolm Roach. “His versatility is what’s so good for us. We might need to put him at outside linebacker, he’s so big.”

Why not? He lines up everywhere else.

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