offensive player

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As November begins, Texas sits in a covetable spot.

The No. 7 Longhorns have 13 straight wins under their burnt orange belts and need one more victory to tie head coach Jerritt Elliott’s best start in conference play. They lead the Big 12 with an 11-0 record in conference play and outside hitter Haley Eckerman has been awarded Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week four times this season.

Texas will return to Gregory Gym on Friday after several on-the-road matches to play No. 16 Kansas State, a team ranked third in the Big 12. The Wildcats are likely to put up a fight: they’re 20-3 overall and 7-3 in conference play. Middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger has received Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week twice this season.

The Wildcats also rank just under Texas in hitting percentage and lead the Big 12 in service aces.

With hopes of adding to the team’s current streak, Texas plays Kansas State at 7 p.m. at Gregory Gym.

Wanted: a go-to offensive player with killer separation speed, quick hands, smart route-running abilities who likes to wear burnt orange. If discovered, please call Texas head coach Mack Brown as he’s been searching up and down his depth chart weekly in search of a player who has these qualities.

But Brown might have actually found someone who meets his offensive needs. As of late, it’s apparent that sophomore D.J. Monroe could have the potential to fill this position.

Monroe, a wide receiver-turned-running back, has provided a spark for the Longhorns the past two games. Against UCLA, he supplied nearly the only positive in the Longhorns’ loss as he rushed for 51 yards on six carries. He was also on the kick return team and returned five for 123 yards. Then, against Oklahoma, he led the tailbacks with 65 yards on four carries (16.2 yards per carry), which included a 60-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He played on special teams again and gained 49 yards on three kick returns.

Monroe hasn’t gotten much playing time, but he has shown that he can propel the offense and deserves more snaps when given opportunities.

Monroe was an afterthought for the coaching staff at the beginning of the season, but the media kept bringing up his name.

“When will he play? When will he start? Will he play on special teams?” they asked.

Brown’s response never wavered, as he basically claimed Monroe wasn’t ready for the big stage since he had just switched from wide receiver to running back and didn’t have all the plays memorized.

But against UCLA, Brown was taken aback and decided that Monroe did need to be integrated into the lineup.

“If somebody gets hot, we’ll stick with it and use that plan,” Brown said. “D.J. was not in those plans until last week so that’s changed things for us. It’s not what we were thinking about going into the season.”

When Monroe got his chance last Saturday against Oklahoma, he was unstoppable. The Sooners’ defense wasn’t even close to tackling him on his 60-yard dash into the end zone. But after his first half display of explosiveness, he was sidelined for the entire second half.

“We were in trouble, we were behind,” Brown said. “We were having to throw so much and he’s not into pass protection yet. Hopefully, he’ll get where he can.”

Texas was indeed down 21-7 at the half. Junior running backs Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson saw playing time in the second half, but they are bigger than Monroe (5-foot-9, 170 lbs.) and are more experienced in pass protection.

Monroe didn’t appear frustrated after the game though, even if his touchdown was arguably the Longhorns’ most exciting play of the game.

“As soon as I learn the playbook, things will start opening up for me and [playing time] won’t be a problem,” Monroe said. “I’m not worried, just trying to learn the package and keep my brothers strong so we can finish the season strong.”

Since making the receiver-to-tailback transition this season, Monroe has been working with Whittaker on crafting his running game. Whittaker talks to Monroe about plays and teaches him simple drills everyday.

“He’s going to give us a spark no matter when he is in,” Whittaker said. “He’s got a lot of speed and that’s something you can’t coach.”
Perhaps the faster he studies his playbook, the better things will be for Texas.