Texas wide receiver Devin Duvernay (6) scores a touchdown against West Virginia at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Nov. 3, 2018. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

Brian Davis

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Eyes on Texas: Ten Longhorns who need to shine as the curtain rises on Friday’s first practice

Longhorns hit the practice field on Friday with high expectations, just don't expect anyone to talk about that Sugar Bowl

Posted August 1st, 2019

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Come Friday, if anyone is still talking about the Sugar Bowl, tread lightly around Tom Herman. Better yet, if you’re still interested in talking about last season, avoid the Texas coach altogether.

This year’s team “has nothing to do with last year’s team,” Herman is apt to say. And he’s right, obviously.

But when the curtain officially rises on the 2019 season — Friday marks the first day of fall practice — there are plenty of pieces of last year’s team still intact.

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Asked what he liked about the offense during Big 12 media days, Herman didn’t hesitate. “I think, our offensive line, if we stay healthy, has as good of a chance to be as good as we have here in our three years here,” he said.

He’s energized about the running game with Keaontay Ingram’s added muscle weight. The sophomore is into that 215-220 pound range. “And then the emergence of Jordan Whittington has been remarkable,” Herman said of the talented freshman.

The receiving corps is deep, and Cade Brewer returns at tight end. Oh, and there’s the quarterback, too. Ol’ what’s-his-name. Runs hard with a hard G.

“Tomorrow can’t get here soon enough. Camp season,” quarterback Sam Ehlinger tweeted on Thursday.

Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando didn’t hold back, either. “I think you’re going to see speed that’s at probably a different level than what we’ve had around here,” he said at the annual Texas high school coaches convention.

Drilling down into the 2019 roster, there’s a slew of names fans need to know. There’s also a handful of players that coaches need to answer the bell during August practices:

Casey Thompson, quarterback: Backup Shane Buechele transferred to SMU and third-stringer Cam Rising left for Utah. That means Thompson, who was fourth on the depth chart last year, is now Ehlinger’s backup. He has no reason to breathe easy. Freshman Roschon Johnson will be itching to make his mark and, as we saw with Ehlinger, Herman has no qualms about giving a freshman a shot.

Parker Braun, guard: There were rumblings before he arrived that the Georgia Tech graduate transfer would redshirt this season to gain more strength. He started 32 of the last 36 games in Atlanta and was twice a first-team All-ACC lineman. If he’s not a plug-and-play starter on an offensive line that lost starting guards Patrick Vahe and Elijah Rodriguez, something has gone wrong.

Ta’Quon Graham, defensive end: Coaches know what to expect from Malcolm Roach, who bounced back from a mid-season injury and had a strong finish in 2018. Graham is the one who needs to have a strong August. He’s got 1.5 sacks having played in 26 games over the last two seasons.

Texas defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham (49) sacks Texas Tech quarterback McLane Carter (6) during their game at Royal-Memorial Stadium in 2017. (Nick Wagner/American-Statesman)

Keondre Coburn, defensive tackle: Coburn was the highly-touted member of the 2018 signing class who ended up playing in only three games last season, thereby protecting his redshirt. Orlando all but said last week that Coburn is the likely starter in the middle.

There’s no way this happens without defensive line coach Oscar Giles’ blessing. After watching Poona Ford and Chris Nelson the last two years, UT fans should have one thought: In Giles we trust.

Caleb Johnson, linebacker: If you haven’t heard his name, that’s understandable. Johnson transferred from Fullerton Community College and was ranked the 28th-best junior college prospect in the nation by 247Sports. In losing seniors Gary Johnson and Anthony Wheeler, Orlando needed someone who could step in and play immediately. This defense needs Johnson to contribute so the overall depth numbers work out. Watch him the first two weeks in camp.

Caden Sterns, safety: “The Wolf” has sure gotten his fair share of preseason hype, and for good reason. Sterns had four interceptions, one sack and 62 tackles in a breakthrough freshman campaign. This year, he’ll be on everyone’s radar. That’s why it appears the real breakthrough star this season needs to be …

B.J. Foster, nickel back: One bone-rattling hit against USC lifted Foster’s stock among the fan base. And that’s OK. He’ll likely get the chance to size up plenty of slot receivers and running backs that slip through the zone. P.J. Locke III was under-appreciated in that position during his time at Texas. But looking over his entire career, Locke made a bunch of plays that fans forgot. Foster’s speed and hitting ability should serve him well all over the field.

Texas defensive back B.J. Foster (25) celebrates his sack with defensive lineman Malcolm Roach (32) during the Longhorns’ win over Iowa State in November 2018. (Nick Wagner/American-Statesman)

Devin Duvernay, receiver: Speaking of running all over the field, why hasn’t Duvernay gotten more attention during the offseason? All this guy does is run down the field and catch the football (70 career receptions, 1,082 yards, seven touchdowns).

That’s not meant as a slight to Collin Johnson. Duvernay’s blazing-fast 48-yard touchdown catch against West Virginia is still one of the most impressive plays of last season. It was soon forgotten when Will Grier started throwing the Horns Down. Oh, well. Someone tell offensive coordinator Tim Beck, more Duvernay, please.

Daniel Young, running back: All this talk about Ingram and Whittington would give one the impression they are the only two running backs on the roster. Young, aka “The Closer,” averaged 4.6 yards per carry as a freshman. Then he averaged 3.6 yards per attempt last season playing behind the now-departed Tre Watson and Ingram.

Fifth-year senior Kirk Johnson is also angling for carries, so Young needs to make a good impression early. Otherwise the running game will coalesce around Ingram, Whittington and Ehlinger.

Cade Brewer, tight end: Does anyone remember how Brewer initially made his mark in 2017? It was his run-blocking. Herman couldn’t stop raving about it. That’s how Brewer got onto the field prior to USC, and he was rewarded with a touchdown play in overtime. Senior Andrew Beck had a career year in 2018 because of his consistency. Brewer could make a similar impact this season.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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