Hopes continue to grow for some semblance of a college football season, whether it be a complete 12-game schedule, conference-only slates or a hybrid of the two with the Longhorns allowed to play one out-of-conference game against an SEC opponent, which would be the LSU game in early September. Players from the 2020 class likely will make less of an impact as freshmen across the country without the benefits of early enrollment and spring football due to COVID-19.
Still, programs will count on a handful of freshmen to become consistent contributors in their first years. Texas is no different, specifically on defense where the Longhorns are expected to switch from a 3-3-5 defense to something resembling a 4-2-5. That requires an extra defensive lineman on the field, providing opportunities for a trio of defensive linemen signed in 2020:
Alfred Collins, defensive tackle
Collins was a borderline composite five-star, finishing the cycle ranked 62nd in the nation. He was the highest-rated defensive recruit in Texas’ class, choosing the Longhorns over Oklahoma and Alabama on signing day. Keeping the Bastrop Cedar Creek product close to home was goal No. 1 for UT defensive line coach Oscar Giles. Collins is 6-5 and should arrive on campus closing in on 300 pounds.
The Longhorns recruited for a three-man front for the past three years. That means Texas needs bodies to help build depth, and Collins is a player capable of remaining on the edge or evolving into a three-technique tackle who can play next to Keondre Coburn, Moro Ojomo or T’Vondre Sweat.
Vernon Broughton, defensive tackle
Broughton likely sees the field as a freshman for the same reasons as Collins. Texas’ transition to a four-man front requires more bodies at defensive tackle than the Longhorns recruited under the old regime. Broughton, out of Houston Cypress Ridge, is a high-upside athlete with a basketball background. He didn’t play his first season of competitive football until his sophomore year of high school. He enrolled early and hoped to get a head start on his classmates, but that didn’t happen because of the pandemic.
Prince Dorbah, outside linebacker
Dorbah possesses a certain skill set as a pass rusher that should allow him to find a role on third downs and obvious passing situations. The 6-2, 208-pound four-star played defensive end his entire career at Highland Park, but most expect him to transition to linebacker due to his lack of bulk. Even if he ends up at linebacker, that doesn’t mean he can’t line up at end or as a stand-up edge rusher in place of Joseph Ossai or on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage. Dorbah recorded more than 40 sacks in his three-year varsity career.
Bijan Robinson, running back
Robinson was the only composite five-star recruit prospect to sign with a Big 12 program until Zachary Evans, the No. 1-ranked player on the 2020 Fabulous 55, recently enrolled at TCU. Robinson didn’t need to arrive on campus ready to carry the load. The Longhorns return Keontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson to the position. Ingram is a potential NFL draft pick, while Johnson transitioned smoothly from high school quarterback to collegiate running back.
That provides Robinson, signed out of Arizona, with the perfect opportunity to grow into the college game without needing to be a focal point early. Expect his role to increase as the season goes on and Robinson better grasps the playbook and blocking assignments required to stay on the field for long periods of time.
Robinson was the No. 1-ranked running back in the nation. He didn’t sign with Texas to watch other backs play, but the modern game calls for a stable of rushers and he provides Texas with exactly that heading into the season.
Xavion Alford, defensive back
Alford was the eighth-ranked safety in the class. He missed his senior season at Alvin Shadow Creek due to a knee injury, and the four-star recruit hoped to get a head start on his classmates by enrolling early and participating in spring football. Instead, he stayed home and took college classes as the pandemic canceled on-campus schooling in the spring. The uncertainty surrounding Anthony Cook and Josh Thompson provide a versatile player like Alford a chance to earn playing time at safety or nickel back. He’ll also play on special teams.