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July 28, 2011
OVERVIEW: New coordinator Bryan Harsin was hired away from Boise State to overhaul a unit that last season struggled to run, was inconsistent in passing, had a maligned line and was among the nation's worst in committing turnovers. Obviously, he faces a big job. On the plus side, the Longhorns have a rising star at receiver and a heralded tailback recruit coming in. But the competition remains open at quarterback.
BACKFIELD: Incumbent QB Garrett Gilbert faces challenges from sophomore Case McCoy and redshirt freshman Connor Wood for the starting job. Gilbert passed for more than 2,700 yards in '10, but threw 17 interceptions. The running game has had almost as many issues. Texas hasn't had a significant running threat since Jamaal Charles left in 2007. There is a bevy of returning backs, but they've been mediocre. Last season's leading rusher, Cody Johnson, gained 592 yards. That could change with arrival of heralded freshman Malcolm Brown, the nation's top-rated running back prospect.
RECEIVERS: Sophomore Mike Davis had an impressive debut season with 47 catches for 478 yards. He appears destined for a big career. Senior Malcolm Williams has big-play ability, but too many drops. Speedy Marquise Goodwin has opted to sit out a redshirt year to pursue track and field opportunities. The roster also includes are several talented young receivers - Darius White, DeSean Hales, Jaxon Shipley and Chris Jones - who must turn promise into production.
LINE: As always, Texas' linemen are massive, yet couldn't get a push in the running game last season. The Longhorns haven't had an offensive linemen drafted by an NFL team in three years. That further shows the problems they've had up front. Perhaps new line coach Stacy Searels, who arrives from Georgia, can make a difference. C David Snow and G Mason Walters are returning starters, and the Longhorns also are counting on sophomores Trey Hopkins and Paden Kelley and senior Tray Allen, who thus far has been an underachiever.
OVERVIEW: Statistically, the Texas defense was strong as usual in 2010. The Longhorns were sixth in the nation in total defense, but gave up too many big plays and forced few turnovers. New coordinator Manny Diaz arrives from Mississippi State and takes over a unit that hasn't played up to its potential, particularly up front.
LINE: Diaz said during the spring that the Longhorns don't have anybody up front that opponents fear. That may change. Junior Alex Okafor is moving back to end (his natural position) after shifting inside to tackle last season. He and sophomore Jackson Jeffcoat provide a potentially powerful pass rush off the edge. The interior line remains a concern. T Kheeston Randall is big and talented, but his intensity has been an issue. Meanwhile, the tackle spot next to him has been an even bigger problem. Fingers are crossed that sophomores Ashton Dorsey or Calvin Howell or redshirt freshman Taylor Bible (or someone) can develop into an effective starter there.
LINEBACKERS: Although there was a tendency to overrun plays at times last season (particularly from the middle linebacker spot), this could be the Longhorns' greatest strength. Seniors Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho have all-conference credentials. Sophomore Jordan Hicks, one of the nation's most highly coveted prospects in 2010, should be ready to make a significant contribution, too.
SECONDARY: Blake Gideon is entering his fourth season as a starting safety. He has a great feel for the game and knowledge of playing the position. The other safety spot could get interesting. Christian Scott is a returning starter, but junior Kenny Vaccaro could be in for a breakout season. But he's such a good athlete he could be moved to corner, where the Longhorns will have two new starters. Among the other candidates at corner are Carrington Byndom, A.J. White and Adrian Phillips.
The Longhorns are set with senior Justin Tucker handling the kicking and punting duties. He hit 23-of-27 field-goal attempts last season, including a 51-yarder. He also averaged 41.2 yards on punts. D.J. Monroe is a threat on kickoff returns. Major improvement is needed in punt coverage.
Malcolm Brown is the Longhorns' most celebrated running back recruit since Cedric Benson. Brown has great power and speed and used those attributes to rush for 6,663 yards in his high school career. He could give an immediate boost to the running game, which has been lackluster for the past three seasons.
The Longhorns will get a good gauge of whether they've improved early with September games against BYU and UCLA, which trounced them 34-12 in Austin last season. The real test will come in mid-October, with back-to-back games vs. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The Longhorns close with a home game against frequent nemesis Kansas State and road trips to Texas A&M and Baylor. All three beat Texas in 2010.
Coach Mack Brown complained that some players felt entitled during last season's 5-7 disaster. That shouldn't be an issue any longer. Texas figures to bounce back strong from that showing. The question is whether the Longhorns can be merely respectable or championship contenders in the Big 12. The quest to jump-start the running game and upgrade quarterback play will determine how good the Longhorns can be.
Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.