Freshmen turning heads, vying for playing time

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Receiver Jaxon Shipley makes a run after catching a ball in practice. Shipley is one of the many first-years competing for a starting role.

Photo Credit: UT Athletics | Daily Texan Staff

It has been a while since McCoy and Shipley hooked up for a touchdown on the 40 Acres. But at last Friday’s scrimmage, it happened again.

Case McCoy, Colt’s younger brother, found Jaxon Shipley, Jordan’s younger brother, in the back of the end zone during the Longhorns’ second scrimmage of fall camp a week ago. McCoy is in the middle of Texas’ most high-profile position battle, which features two freshmen — Connor Wood and David Ash. Every team has their fair share of underclassmen but Texas has freshmen, including Shipley, competing for playing time at virtually every position.

“[Shipley]’s quick,” said sophomore defensive back Adrian Phillips. “When they have him in, he’s hard to guard. He gives us the snake eyes when he looks at you so you’ve got to make sure your technique is really good.”

Shipley is one of a few freshman receivers, along with Miles Onyegbule and John Harris who could play this season, with Shipley possibly snagging a starting spot. Whoever wins the quarterback job, however, could use a big target to throw at like Onyegbule, who is listed at 6-foot-4.

“Miles is a big receiver,” Phillips said. “He’s physical. He’s not afraid to block at all. When the ball touches his hands, most of the time it’s going
to stick.”

The ones who throw to receivers like Onyegbule and Shipley are the players everyone wants to know about. Garrett Gilbert is the incumbent and favorite to win the quarterback competition, but he’s got three guys breathing down his neck, including Wood, who’s been rumored to have plans to transfer, and Ash, who has impressed coaches this offseason.

Texas has two great freshmen running backs waiting for their shot. Malcolm Brown, the Big 12 preseason Newcomer of the Year and Rivals.com’s No. 1 running back coming out of high school last year, has generated tons of excitement. Joe Bergeron was not as highly touted as Brown but showed flashes of brilliance, including a 118-yard, two-touchdown performance in a USA vs. World game Feb. 2. He’s had a great offseason as well.

“[Brown and Bergeron] are more alike than they are different,” said Major Applewhite, co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach. “The pass protection is the stuff that gets them. But both of those guys have come in with a keen understanding of what they want to do in terms of studying. They’ve done well.”

Dominic Espinosa, a redshirt freshman from Cedar Park, is the one freshman on offense who’s sure to start. Senior David Snow, who started all 12 games at center in 2010, will move over to guard, where he played as a sophomore and in high school. Espinosa has a strong showing this offseason.

“He’s brought control and confidence,” said junior defensive end Alex Okafor. “He’s surprised everybody. When he got his chance, he just snagged his opportunity and took it.”

On defense, the Longhorns’ front seven won’t need much help from freshmen but defensive tackle Desmond Jackson should get a decent share of playing time. The secondary, on the other hand, is likely the team’s youngest unit, especially at cornerback. Texas’ top three defensive backs include two sophomores and a freshman, Quandre Diggs, another top performer this offseason.

“We call him Quandre the Giant,” said junior safety Kenny Vaccaro. “He is playing big for us. He is technically sound since his brother is Quentin Jammer.”

Youth and inexperience may not be ingredients found in a recipe that remedies 5-7 seasons. This many freshmen contributing would be concerning for most football teams but with the freshmen that Texas has — Shipley, Espinosa, Brown, Bergeron, Diggs — it should be exciting, not worrisome that these guys will see the field.