Texas Notebook: Look on the bright side

By Kevin Flannery

While the season hasn’t gone Texas’s way to this point, here are three pleasant surprises that the Longhorns have seen through the first five games of the year. On Friday, we’ll take a look at three unpleasant surprises Texas has had so far this season.

Mike Davis and Jackson Jeffcoat
Both were five-star recruits: Jeffcoat was Scout.com’s No. 2 rated defensive end in the class of 2010, while Davis was rated as the No. 3 receiver. But even with those rankings, I’m not sure a lot of people expected the true freshmen to come in and become such important pieces to Texas’s team.

Davis, a lanky receiver from Dallas Skyline High School, infused the Longhorns with speed and playmaking ability, necessary traits for a receiver unit packed with good players but without a requisite great player to scare a defense.

Davis missed most of the second half of the UCLA game and the entire Oklahoma game with a knee injury. He also didn’t catch any passes in the Longhorns’ season-opening win over Rice. But in-between, he was arguably Texas’s greatest offensive weapon, putting up a 100-yard game against Wyoming, making a touchdown catch against Texas Tech and leading the Longhorns in receiving in the first half against Wyoming.

At one point, Davis, who has 16 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns, was on pace to shatter Texas’s season record for receptions, while he also had a shot at Roy Williams’s freshman mark for receiving yards. Now, because of the injury, both of those are in wait-and-see mode.

Jeffcoat has also been an immediate contributor. He earned his first career start against Texas Tech and has proven himself to be an invaluable part of the Longhorn defense for his ability to rush the passer. Jeffcoat has five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks among his 13 tackles, while he is tied for the team lead with six quarterback hurries. He has also recovered a fumble.

Jeffcoat had another sack and strip called off on Saturday, when the officials cited defensive end Eddie Jones for lining up offsides on a play that ended with Jeffcoat forcing a Landry Jones fumble, one that was recovered by the Longhorn defense.

Both players could stand to add weight and strength, but have displayed enough ability to be playmakers early on in their college careers.

Alex Okafor
This one is as much for the future as it is for the present. The Longhorns knew that they were probably going to be strong at three of the four defensive line positions. Defensive end Sam Acho and defensive tackle Kheeston Randall are All-Big 12 type talents. Defensive end Eddie Jones was finally healthy and had already displayed big-time pass-rush ability.

The lone question mark came at the other defensive tackle spot, with the early contenders ranging from junior Tyrell Higgins to redshirt freshman Calvin Howell and true freshman Ashton Dorsey. But while Higgins served as the early starter, Alex Okafor, a sophomore and converted defensive end, took his spot in the Oklahoma game, earning his first start.

In that game, Okafor made four tackles including half a sack. For the year, he has nine tackles, two for loss and a sack. But more than that, he’s impressed the coaches with his ability as an interior pass-rusher despite his current lack of ideal size. Okafor is still built like a defensive end at 6-foot-5 and 258 pounds, and the coaches have said they’re excited to see his impact when he gets his weight into the 270-280 range.

Okafor is still learning the position, but his ability gives the Longhorns something to look forward to in the future.

D.J. Monroe
The Longhorns started off the year trying the power running game. When that didn’t work, Texas looked for players who could consistently generate rushing yardage. In that vein, D.J. Monroe, oh hero of the wide receiver end-around, was moved back to running back.

Monroe struggled to pick up the nuances of the wide receiver position, so he was only typically employed there as a threat on the jet sweep. But with injuries to two of Texas’s top three running backs, Monroe moved back to the position he played in high school.

Blessed with outstanding speed, quickness and big-play ability, Monroe has rushed just 10 times since switching positions. But those 10 carries have gone for 116 yards and a touchdown.

Monroe will probably continue to see more time as he improves his blocking, but for now, the shifty sophomore gives Texas a big-time change of pace back in the running game.