Oct 29, 2016; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns quarterback Shane Buechele (7) hands off to running back D’Onta Foreman (33) against the Baylor Bears at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Texas beat Baylor 35-34. Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports
National Signing Day is in the books, but speculation about which Texas freshmen will win starting jobs has just begun.
Will freshman Sam Ehlinger take the QB spot from Shane Buechele? Does RB Toneil Carter have a chance to start in September? There are so many intriguing storylines from National Signing Day for Texas Football.
Tom Herman, offensive coordinator Tim Beck, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, and the rest of the Longhorns coaching staff will make key evaluations during the off-season. This will include determining key spots like QB, RB, and WR.
Plus, Texas will also need their “QB on defense” from the LB position. With that in mind, let’s examine the Top 5 position battles for the 2017 Texas Football roster…
Key Position Battle #1 – Texas QB
Sophomore QB Shane Buechele is suddenly in the opposite role as last year.
Highly touted high school senior. Check. Early enrollee at Texas. Check. High praise on National Signing Day. Check. New offense installed. Check. QB battle for opening day slot in September. We shall see.
The list described Shane Buechele in 2016 and now Sam Ehlinger in 2017. Last year, Buechele won the starting job over senior Tyrone Swoopes, then proved himself on opening night against Notre Dame.
Now, Ehlinger is competing for the starting job in the same situation. Texas fans believe Buechele will keep the starting QB spot when Texas opens against Maryland in September, but Ehlinger appears to be a very good fit for Tom Herman’s offense.
At the University of Houston, Herman utilized dual threat QB Gred Ward, Jr. for two seasons. Ehlinger doesn’t have Ward’s speed, but he is the #4 ranked dual-threat QB prospect in the 2017 recruiting class.
Buechele also has speed, but he seldom used it during his freshman season at Texas. Buechele was asked to quickly release the ball on the perimeter and let the WRs do the running. Perhaps in the new offense, we’ll see Buechele use more of his baseball speed and quickness. Of course, if he retains the starting job over Ehlinger.
Toneil Carter is going to push hard for the starting RB spot in 2017. Carter, like Ehlinger, enrolled early at Texas and will be on even footing in the eyes of a new coaching staff.
Carter will also have to fend off returning RBs Kyle Porter and Kirk Johnson. Both will have a chance to flourish in Herman’s new offense.
Plus, Texas signed Daniel Young, who is another RB with great upside from the 2017 recruiting class. It gives Texas five solid RBs to evaluate in the off-season.
Ultimately, it will come down to Warren vs. Carter to see who starts for Texas against Maryland on September 2. Finding the replacement D’Onta Foreman will be a big position battle in 2017.
Key Position Battle #3 – Tight Ends
The Tight End position is perhaps the most intriguing battle in 2017. Texas fans have been waiting years for a stand-out TE to help the offense. Under Herman and Tim Beck, Horns shouldn’t have to wait any longer.
The only major TE contributor left on the Texas roster is senior Andrew Beck. This will open the door for two prized recruits from National Signing Day to battle Beck for playing time.
Cade Brewer and Reese Leitao have been identified as impact players in Tom Herman’s first Texas recruiting class. During his press conference, Coach Herman stressed their versatility to line up in different positions and make plays down the field.
Herman has a long history of using the TE position to keep defenses off-balance and spread the field. Most recent was Houston Cougars TE Tyler McCloskey, who was a big factor in 2015 and 2016.
At Texas, the trio of Beck, Brewer, and Leitao will have an interesting position battle to see who emerges as a new option in the Longhorns’ offense.
Key Position Battle #4 – Linebacker Alpha Male
Junior LB Malik Jefferson and incoming LB recruit Gary Johnson are not necessarily battling for a position. Instead, it’s more like a battle for the Alpha Male leader of the LB unit and overall defense.
Jefferson has been viewed as a leader for Texas Football ever since he stepped on campus two years ago. Now as a junior, Malik is expected to be the face of the Longhorns Defense.
But, Texas also found their valuable Mike LB in Todd Orlando’s new 3-4 defense.
Gary Johnson is a veteran of college football after playing at the JUCO level. Sure, Johnson has not played at this level yet, but he is expected to bring valuable leadership skills, experience, and solid fundamentals to Austin.
It will be interesting to see how the “presidential pairing” of Jefferson and Johnson work together since Todd Orlando loves to utilize LBs in his defense. But, will either one emerge as the Alpha Male leader of the defense?
Key Position Battle #5 – Leading Man at WR
Texas needs a #1, go-to, game-on-the-line Wide Receiver. Last year, Texas tried the plug-and-play method of rotating WRs onto the field and asking Shane Buechele to find the open man. From week to week, you never knew which WR was going to have a great game or be a non-factor.
If not Burt, there are other candidates because Texas is absolutely loaded at the WR position. Plus, the Longhorns picked up two big recruits on National Signing Day – Damion Miller and Jordan Pouncey.
Some of the WRs, like Pouncey, might be asked to return punts and kicks to get on the field. But, Texas’s pool of potential leading men at WR include Devin Duvernay, Armanti Foreman, Lorenzo Joe, Jake Oliver, Dorian Leonard, Collin Johnson, and even former QB Jerrod Heard.
The first depth chart will be fascinating, especially when looking at the WR position. There are some good candidates for Leading Man, but who will emerge as the guy who gets the ball on a crucial third or fourth down?