AUSTIN — And a child shall lead them.
Texas sports 16 freshmen (‘true’ and ‘redshirt’) on UT’s 2015 2-Deep released for the first time Monday.
Nine freshmen dot the roster on defense where the Horns replace six starters. Four rookies round out the 2-Deep at linebacker. Six true freshmen are slated to start at Notre Dame Saturday, including two offensive linemen.
Surprisingly, Taylor Doyle said, “We no longer have the excuse of being young.”
You’re only as young as you feel, right?
“The freshmen feel really good about themselves,” coach Charlie Strong said. “It’s a very confident group of guys. They believe in their abilities.”
Humility may be less than a week away. The only time Strong qualified his ringing endorsement of the newbies was when he spoke of his natural “concern” for playing freshmen on the offensive front.
“If I’m a defensive coach and I see freshmen on the offensive line, I’m going to blitz every snap to see how you block.”
Connor Williams practically cemented a starting spot as an early enrollee last spring while Patrick Vahe made his mark during August camp. Strong frequently applauds Williams’ work ethic, maturity, and grasp of the game. Vahe was the final Mack Brown recruit at Texas and edged JUCO transfer Brandon Hodges for the starting job.
“Patrick’s my dog,” said sophomore Poona Ford after leapfrogging junior Hassan Ridgeway on the depth chart. “He’s real mature. He knows the game. He’s physical and has got a good punch.”
Freshmen typically lack the strength and size to crack the starting lineup on the O-line, according to Doyle. Yet, Williams and Vahe compensate with a blue collar work ethic, a nasty attitude and maturity beyond their years.
“They’ve been impressive since the day they stepped on campus,” Doyle continued. “We didn’t have to worry about them. They kept their heads down and came in ready work.”
Offensively, the only (minor) surprise is true freshman John Burt nailing a starting assignment at Z-receiver. Yet, Burt flashed early-and-often during practices open to media. The Florida native was one of Texas’ most consistent pass-catchers during camp and has the tools to become one of the program’s most explosive weapons.
“They’re a young, talented group,” Strong said of the freshmen. “I feel comfortable playing them because of the way they’ve worked.”
Although Chris Warren III is listed behind Johnathan Gray and D’Onta Foreman at RB, the true freshman drew plenty of accolades from Strong for his knack from running behind his pads and running over defenders.
As expected, uber-recruit Malik Jefferson fended off junior Timothy Cole (20 career games, one start) at MIKE. True freshman Cameron Townsend backs senior Peter Jinkens who is looking for his 12th career start at SAM.
WLB Dalton Santos (ankle) is expected to miss Saturday’s season-opener and probably more, opening the door for RS-freshman Edwin Freeman to log his first collegiate start. Freeman is backed by true freshman Anthony Wheeler.
Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford predicted early last spring that true freshmen would crack his 2-Deep in his depleted secondary.
The good news is that it isn’t necessarily by default.
RS-freshman John Bonney has been showing up since spring drills and will start at CB opposite senior Duke Thomas. Bonney and Thomas are bracketed as co-starters at the Nickel. True-freshmen Davante Davis and Kris Boyd will serve as Thomas’ primary understudy while true freshman P.J. Locke will back FS Jason Hall.
“Some pick it up faster than others,” said Dylan Haines. That’s how it’s going to be with true freshmen. But no one has shown any signs of hesitation.”
Apparently they’re ready.