13 Aug

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Horns still have three lingering questions

Back in April after the end of spring drills, I wrote a piece for CBS Sports that earmarked three areas of concern for the Texas football team as it looked ahead to the 2012 campaign. Here’s an update on where those concerns stand as the Horns are now less than three weeks from their season opener against Wyoming:

No. 1 – Who's the No. 1 QB?

Similar to the way things played out last season at QB, both sophomore David Ash and junior Case McCoy had their ups and downs in spring drills and in the spring game, prompting coach Mack Brown and Co-Offensive Coordinator Bryan Harsin to say neither has established himself as the starter. Ash (6-3, 222) has the size and arm strength to be a No. 1 guy if he can figure out the mental side of things. McCoy (6-2, 200) has a bushel-load of intangibles that include leadership, toughness and a stick-to-it attitude, but he struggles getting the ball downfield.

Update: There has been no real change in the either-or status of Ash and McCoy as the Horns continue on in fall drills. Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman reported that Ash has been getting about two-thirds of the work with the first team in practice, and that true freshman Jalen Overstreet may be the triggerman of Texas’ Wild Horn offense. McCoy, to his credit, put on 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason and looks stronger.  

No. 2 – Can Texas replace the strength of their defense?

The Horns lost five seniors (DT Kheeston Randall, LBs Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson and safeties Blake Gideon and Christian Scott) who manned the middle of the defense. Stepping into the void are juniors Ashton Dorsey, Chris Whaley and Brandon Moore and sophomore Desmond Jackson at DT, sophomore Steve Edmond at LB and Adrian Phillips, Mykkele Thompson and Sheroid Evans – all sophomores – at safety.

Update: Expect the Texas defense to be even stronger and better prepared this season than last, when it finished as the No. 1 unit in the Big 12. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said last week that junior LB Jordan Hicks has taken charge of a leadership role and that fall drills are more about building depth than deciding who will start.

No. 3 – Who will be the kicker and punter?

Justin Tucker, who handled the majority of the team's kicking and punting in 2011, has graduated. The left-footed freshman Ben Pruitt (a walk-on) had the first chance to make an impression for the job this spring, but he was lacking on FGs in UT's first public scrimmage and was not allowed to kick FGs in the spring game (he did make all nine of his PATs). The position wasn't settled in the spring, so the competition will continue into the fall when incoming freshman Nick Jordan gets his chance.

Update: Pruitt and Jordan have been joined by former Duke punter Alex King (who appeared in 24 career games, punting 111 times for 4,593 yards and a 41.38 average, the fourth-best career average in school history)and, most recently, by former Penn State kicker and punter Anthony Fera.

Fera, a junior, was named first-team All-Big Ten at punter by ESPN.com and second-team all-conference by the media and coaches as a sophomore in 2011. He was also selected as a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top placekicker and was a candidate for the Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter. Last season, Fera connected on 14-of-17 field goals (82.4 percent) and was 20-of-20 on extra point attempts, scoring a team-high 62 points. He handled field goals, kickoffs and punts for Penn State for most of the 2011 season, but has been suffering from a pulled groin since before he transferred to Texas.

Both King and Fera are likely to assume the punter and kicker spots, respectively, when the season begins.