Football

Whither, Jordan Whittington?

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Texas head coach Tom Herman said Monday freshman receiver Jordan Whittington will have surgery this week for a small tear in his lateral meniscus that will keep him sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks.

It will be at least the fourth surgery for Whittington since the completion of his junior season at Cuero High School.

That many occasions under the knife for someone who hasn’t even so much as reached his 21st birthday is concerning, and presents legitimate concerns as to whether Whittington will ever be able to replicate something akin to his record-setting 2018 state championship performance in a Texas uniform.

Herman mentioned Whittington’s procedure would be nothing more than a “snip and a clean out,” and they expect him back for conference play. Whittington started the 2020 season opener versus UTEP due to another injury at the slot receiver position, with sophomore Jake Smith out due to a hamstring injury (Smith is expected to be back for Texas’ game with Texas Tech).

Even if it is just a snip and a clean out, this is another procedure to add onto Whittington’s previous injury history. Whittington arrived at Texas with three-and-league aspirations, and few would have batted an eye at that desire.

But before going from Cuero to Austin, Whittington dealt with injuries.

Whittington played through lingering groin issues in 2017 that required surgery following his junior season. He quickly returned for the Gobblers’ 2018 track and 7-on-7 season, but that return might have been too quick. He was forced to sit out four of Cuero’s five non-district games in 2018 before returning and eventually helping secure the Gobbler’s first state title since 1987.

After the completion of his senior season, Whittington enrolled early and participated in spring practices. Texas needed help at running back at the time, so instead of starting his career at receiver he instead began it in the backfield.

His initial spring game performance was promising, with 89 total yards in an offensively challenged 2019 Orange-White game. His first official game was, too. Whittington hauled in two catches for 17 yards, including one with an impressive run after the catch.

But that one impressive run after the catch created new injury problems. Whittington underwent two different procedures in 2019 to address a sports hernia, setting up 2020 to be the year Whittington burst onto the scene and lived up to his five-star status.

Once again, following the first game of the 2020 season, that is in question.

A 3-4 week timeline means Whittington’s return should be either October 3rd versus TCU, or the Red River Shootout versus Oklahoma on October 10th.

Smith’s return will help Texas’ depth chart at slot, along with fellow DeWitt county product Joshua Moore’s versatility. Walk-ons can help too, as Kai Money showed with his touchdown reception on Saturday.

Herman, Mike Yurcich, and Andre Coleman would much rather have Whittington than not have him. Smith’s return does give Texas a talented starting slot receiver that can pressure Big 12 defenses, and Texas’ first-game preference for having two outside receivers and two tight ends on the field without a slot receiver could further mitigate the problem.

In addition, Texas had seven different wide receivers catch a touchdown in the Longhorns’ season-opening rout of UTEP

“This year, more than any since we’ve been here; we’ve got a bunch of guys that deserve to play at wide receiver,” Herman said Monday. “I do think you’re going to see more guys with a catch or two in most games.”

As the old football adage goes, the best ability is availability. In Whittington’s short Texas career, he’s lacked that best ability.

It’s far, far too early to close the book on Jordan Whittington, but it has long been time to be concerned about his injury history and whether he will be able to live up to his superstar potential while at Texas.

A meniscus tear is a different injury (than his hernia issues) with a different timeline, but it’s another injury on top of several he’s had to recover from since high school.