September 6, 2009

A star is born on D.J. Monroe's first collegiate play

Six months ago, it wasn't even clear D.J. Monroe was ever going to get a chance to shine for the Texas Longhorns.

Mack Brown yanked him from spring practice so he could focus on his academics. Monroe fell to the bottom of the pile at receiver when he returned for workouts over the summer and at the beginning of fall camp.

But Brown remembered Monroe working as a scout team running back for the Colorado game last season.

"Our guys couldn't tackle him," Brown said.

So the head coach moved Monroe from receiver to running back in fall camp when Brown perceived Monroe to be a little frustrated at wideout.

In Saturday's 59-20 victory over Louisiana-Monroe, Monroe showed the kind of speed and versatility at running back not seen since Ramonce Taylor, who had 15 touchdowns during UT's 2005 national title run.

On his first collegiate play, Monroe provided SportsCenter with a jaw-dropping highlight thanks to a jaw-dropping block by Malcolm Williams on an 89-yard kick return for a TD.

Not bad.

Then, all he did was run the ball nine times for 67 yards, a team-best 7.1 yards per carry among the running backs.

While Brown was trying to say how Vondrell McGee ran the ball well in the third quarter despite a sluggish start that included two lost fumbles, reporters only wanted to talk about Monroe.

The questions came fast and furious for offensive coordinator Greg Davis about Monroe possibly becoming an every-down back.

"Let's just let him be a specialist right now," Davis said. "But we've got a package of plays for him, and hopefully as we grow his package, he'll get more comfortable in time."

Even Monroe admitted he has a limited knowledge of the offense at running back.

"I am not even half way through the package," Monroe said. "I'm not even halfway through the offense, actually. I mean, I've got my backs - Vondrell, Fozzy (Whittaker), Cody (Johnson), Jeremy (Hills), Tre (Newton) and Antwan Cobb - and they are helping me through. With my boys, they continue to pick me up and carry me through, and I'll do what I can."

If that's what Monroe, who ran 10.08 in the 100 in high school and runs a 4.35 40, can do on a limited basis, imagine what he'll be able to do with more of the offense?

He was told his 7.1 yards per carry led the team among the running backs.

"It's not about how many yards per carry," Monroe said. "We all say we rushed for a total as one. We don't say, 'I had this,' or 'He had that.' It's all of us. 'This is what we did.' It's not an individual thing."

Mack Brown said he's "excited about what D.J. can give us."

"We've just got to expand his package," Brown said. "At first you're concerned about his size, but he plays bigger than 175.

"We felt like he was a little uncomfortable at receiver after missing the spring because of academic issues.

"And he was the running back against our defense on scout team a few times last year, and our guys couldn't tackle him, so I thought we should give him a look at running back.

"I thought maybe I should have put him on kick teams last year. But he's a guy we can have line up at running back and motion out to receiver in our no-backs set, and he gives us a lot of flexibility because of his ability to catch the ball as well."

Monroe's arrival, along with Marquise Goodwin and John Chiles Saturday, has given the offense a massive infusion of speed. Monroe was asked if he could carry the ball 25 times a game.

"As of right now, I'm not looking for a role like that. I'm trying to be whatever Coach Brown needs me to be. Whatever they say, that's what I'm going to do," Monroe said. "I was just trying to play and fit in wherever Coach Brown wanted me. Whatever he needed. He moved me, and I jumped in and went with the flow and took care of my responsibilities."

Monroe returned six kicks for touchdowns his senior year in high school. But none were like his first collegiate play, which electrified the crowd of 101,096 with 9:54 left in the second quarter for a 28-10 lead.

"It was great," Monroe said. "Everything I do, I've been waiting my turn and with my team behind me, it was a great feeling. I was able to just push my way through."

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