February 14, 2008

Five redshirt freshmen to watch in the spring

Although is seems like only yesterday that the Texas football team capped off a disappointing 2007 season with a season-best performance against Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl, the Longhorns will soon find themselves back on the practice field for the beginning of spring drills.

As we begin a series of articles previewing spring workouts for the Longhorns, we'll kick things off today with a look at five redshirt freshmen that could have a big impact on the upcoming season.

Keenan Robinson - There were a lot of people that felt like the former Plano East star could have helped cure a lot of what ailed the Texas defense last season at the linebacker position. While he didn't have the experience that guys like Scott Derry or Robert Killebrew brought to the table, the blend of speed, athleticism and playmaking ability that Robinson brings in a 6-3, 220-pound frame could have helped make a difference a year ago. With new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Will Muschamp stressing speed, speed and more speed, Robinson will get a long audition this spring, especially with junior starter Sergio Kindle sitting on the sidelines while recovering from a knee injury. The door has been kicked wide-open for the state's top defensive prospect in 2007 to create a very strong role within this year's defense.

Earl Thomas - Few players created more buzz in pre-Holiday Bowl workouts last December than the 5-10, 190-pound former West-Orange Stark star. Although he has flashes of cover ability, it has been his tenacious effort in run support that has caught the attention of his peers and coaches alike. With Deon Beasley and Ryan Palmer in the role of favorites at cornerback, don't be surprised if Thomas gets a long look at safety this spring. With both safety spots available for the taking this spring, Thomas figures to be a player on the rise in the coming weeks.

Ben Wells - Yet another second-year safety prospect that figures to have a much bigger stage this spring to perform on than he did at any point last season. When Wells came out of Beaumont Ozen, his combination of size and athleticism made him one of the state's elite prospects, but he was slow to make the transition to the college game last year despite arriving in the spring. With several upper-class candidates at the safety position last year to choose from, the Texas staff allowed Wells to take his time in his development. However, that luxury doesn't exist this spring and Wells is one of several players that the team really needs to take a positive step forward.

Michael Wilcoxon - You may or may not have heard, but the interior of the Texas defensive line is a major question mark for this team heading into this season. Outside of senior Roy Miller and junior Ben Alexander, the team doesn't have any other natural inside players with experience, which means that the coaching staff will likely have to toy with the idea of moving a couple of ends to tackle. It also means that a player like Wilcoxon must develop at a much faster pace than most projected for him coming out of Aledo. At 6-3, 285 pounds, Wilcoxon is s bit undersized, but the Longhorns don't really have a choice in the matter. At least one of the redshirt duo of Wilcoxon and Tyrell Higgins needs to come on fast, if not both of them. We currently give the edge to Wilcoxon, who is regarded as the more natural run-stuffer between the two.

Malcolm Williams - Not having Limas Sweed on the field for much of last season really crippled the Longhorn vertical passing game last season and it will be imperative that the Longhorns develop some depth at the flanker position, rather than simply having an undersized Quan Cosby fill the role out of necessity. At 6-3, 225 pounds, Williams possesses the type of size, speed and athleticism that nobody else on the Longhorn roster at receiver can match. However, he didn't overwhelm anyone in his first season on the 40 Acres and everyone is waiting to see if he can tap into those immense physical tools. If he can, it could help solve one of the major questions for this Texas offense, which is identifying a player that can help stretch the field. As good as veterans Cosby and Jordan Shipley are, they'll be better used in a different role.

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