One of the most underrated and under talked about advantage of getting to a bowl game is the extra practices it affords the staff and the players. While teams do focus on preparing for the upcoming game, most teams invest a good amount of time practicing the redshirt players and some guys that played but didn’t see significant minutes. These practices serve as a spring board for spring ball for the team and the individual players. Last year’s [tag]Holiday Bowl[/tag] practices are when names like [tag]Earl Thomas[/tag] and [tag]Malcolm Williams[/tag] began to pop up. Texas would like a few guys to step up this year, much like last year’s team was able to do. Here are some of the players that could use a good showing.
[tag]Ian Harris[/tag] – Harris falls into the group of players that have seen time, but has not been counted on for victories. Texas is thin at tight end, reports have suggested redshirt freshman [tag]DJ Grant[/tag] is getting snaps at tight end so far in practices. The future for [tag]Blaine Irby[/tag] continues to be uncertain. The Longhorns need someone to step up at the position sooner than later. It is clear that [tag]Greg Davis[/tag] would like to have a pass catching tight end in his offense. From [tag]Bo Scaife[/tag] to [tag]David Thomas[/tag], Texas has utilized the tight end very well in the passing game. The position has been silent since the injury to Irby. Ian Harris contains the best skills on campus, and his ability to maximize that potential will be huge for the program. If Harris can’t step up, he is looking at Grant being a full time end with two legit recruits at the tight end position entering campus this fall. Combine that with the possibility of a return by Irby and the depth chart could swallow Harris up in a hurry.
[tag]Tray Allen[/tag] – Allen came out of high school as one touted offensive line recruits this state has ever produced. So far, Allen has not lived up to the hype. Coach Mac McWhorther likes to give every lineman a redshirt year so the guys coming straight out of high school can get a year in the weight room and on the practice field before feeding them to the dogs on major college defensive lines. Allen did not want to redshirt as a freshman so he stands as a second year sophomore. Texas has notoriously used a three man rotation at the tackle position and right now Allen has not been able to be anything more than a serviceable third player in the trio. The Longhorns were fortunate this year in regards to injury to starters [tag]Adam Ulatoski[/tag] and [tag]Kyle Hicks[/tag]. The duo was able to play most snaps which allowed McWhorther to use Allen when he wanted to, not when he had to. At this moment I’m not sure Allen would be the long term solution at either tackle position if one of the starters went down. Allen has to build up the confidence of the offensive staff, and he is going to have to do it in practice.
[tag]Kheeston Randall[/tag] – Texas loses starter [tag]Roy Miller[/tag] and part time starter [tag]Aaron Lewis[/tag] following the [tag]Fiesta Bowl[/tag]. That leaves former defensive end [tag]Lamarr Houston[/tag], [tag]Ben Alexander[/tag], and the true freshman Randall. The big man has gotten some snaps this year, but will be counted on heavily next year if the team gets what is expected out of Randall. Texas likes to have a rotation at defensive tackle to keep the players fresh. The depth at the position has continually allowed for this to be a huge advantage for the Longhorn defense, but for the first time in recent memory Texas’ defensive tackle position will enter the off-season as a major question mark. If the Longhorns can find starter quality snaps from Randall it will go a long way in answering those questions.
[tag]Keenan Robinson[/tag] – It is not a guarantee that [tag]Sergio Kindle[/tag] comes back to college. All reports suggest that he will, but the same could be said for [tag]Vince Young[/tag] and [tag]TJ Ford[/tag]. When the money at the pro level is right in front of you it is hard to convince yourself to come do it all for free. Not just for free, but you have to study too. Either way, the Longhorns are going to be top heavy at the linebacker position next year, with all the likely starters being seniors. Robinson has played some plays this year and when he has seen the field he has been very disruptive. The redshirt freshman seems like the type of player [tag]Will Muschamp[/tag] loves to utilize. Robinson may already be the best linebacker on campus when it comes to playing in space. And with the types of offenses run in the Big 12 a player like Robinson is invaluable. A true linebacker that isn’t a liability in pass coverage is worth his weight in oil. It will be hard to take snaps away from the guys coming back, but with the possibility of Kindle’s absence and the willingness of Muschamp to play whoever is performing the best, a strong showing in the Fiesta Bowl practices would make it interesting to watch.
[tag]Christian Scott[/tag] – By all accounts Scott has the most physical upside of any safety wearing burnt orange. What have seemed to hold him back are his practice habits on the field and in the film room. Anybody who saw Scott in the Kansas game knows the potential is there. The redshirt freshman covers more field, hits harder, and makes more plays than starter [tag]Blake Gideon[/tag]. But what keeps Gideon on top of the depth chart is the ability to understand offenses and what to do as the quarterback of the defense. Scott is not there yet and it is a testament that Gideon has been able to do such a great job in that regard considering he is also a freshman and it usually takes a few years for safeties to line up their defenses correctly. Gideon is a good player and a possible four year starter, but Scott has NFL tools. It is almost a Simms–Applewhite conversation. We all know how that one turned out.
[tag]Ryan Bailey[/tag]/[tag]Hunter Lawrence[/tag] – [tag]Mack Brown[/tag] has been uncharacteristically fickle with his kickers this year. Ryan Bailey was great last year, and then Hunter Lawrence took his job before the season, then after being perfect for 2/3 of the season Lawrence misses two in one game and is benched in favor of Bailey. Maybe the competition is good for the kickers, but if a game comes down to a kick it has to be better if one guy knows he is the guy. Kicking is already stressful enough before you add in the fact you will lose your job if you miss. The next few days will determine who will be the kicker in the Fiesta Bowl, and I have a feeling the man who wins that job is going to keep it for a long time.