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August 26, 2008Ready or not, here come the freshmen. In the past, Texas has had the luxury of working in freshmen at the end of blowouts or redshirting them all together.
But off-the-field issues a year ago and a new push to identify young talent means that nearly a dozen true freshmen could see playing time Saturday against Florida Atlantic.
The biggest impact has been felt at safety, where five freshmen - including two true freshmen - are listed in the two-deep.
Texas is in this predicament heading into a schedule of in-your-face offenses because Robert Joseph and James Henry were kicked off the team last year.
An alleged break-in at an Austin apartment last summer also resulted in the dismissal of Parade All-American defensive tackle Andre Jones.
Jones has pled guilty, served 30 days in jail and enrolled at UTEP, where he will sit out this year.
Joseph should have been a junior this season. Henry, a recruit Texas opted to sign instead of Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree, should have been a sophomore.
Fortunately for Texas, the Longhorns appear to have signed a whole bunch of talent in this year's freshman class, which helps make debacles like last summer less painful.
Here's a look at the true freshmen who are most likely to see the field Saturday night in alphabetical order:
EMMANUEL ACHO, Linebacker - This 6-2, 220-pound weakside linebacker from St. Mark's in Dallas has put his incredible study habits to work since arriving at Texas. A near 4.0 student in high school, Acho has used his smarts and athletic ability to impress coaches and teammates. His is the younger brother of DE Sam Acho.
"Emmanuel Acho works really hard," senior linebacker Rashad Bobino said. "When I was a young player I grabbed onto Derrick Johnson and asked him everything. Now, Emmanuel is going to all the veteran linebackers and asking them questions. And he takes what you tell him and applies it to the field.
NOLAN BREWSTER, Safety - The son of former Texas tight ends coach Tim Brewster (now the head coach at Minnesota), Nolan (6-2, 210) grew up wanting to be a Longhorn, while his dad was on staff at UT. Nolan thought about going to Minnesota with his dad, but ultimately followed his heart.
"Nolan has really come on strong here lately, and he will hit you," Mack Brown said.
DAN BUCKNER, Receiver - If anyone can take advantage of redshirt freshman Malcolm Williams hitting the wall in the race to succeed Limas Sweed at split end, it's Buckner. He's 6-4, 213 pounds and fits the physical profile UT coaches are looking for to get off press coverage. Buckner enrolled early and went through spring drills, so he's not THAT far behind Williams on the learning curve.
BLAKE GIDEON, Safety - A coach's son (father is Steve Gideon, who coached Blake at Leander right here in Austin), Gideon has what is considered serious football IQ. The guy played quarterback, special teams and defense in high school and can absorb a lot. He also dishes out a lot - in terms of punishment. That's why he's atop the depth chart at left safety.
D.J. GRANT, Receiver - Here's another player who could start closing the gap on the No. 3 receiver spot currently up for grabs. He's behind Buckner and Williams because Grant didn't go through the spring. But he's 6-3, 210 and athletic. Greg Davis said he'd probably play six receivers on Saturday. Grant could be one of them.
DESEAN HALES, Receiver - He has the speed that intrigues coaches, but he's got ground to make up. He's learning the slot and flanker positions, which currently belong to Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley. James Kirkendoll and Brandon Collins are also ahead of him. Special teams could be the answer early on.
D.J. MONROE, Receiver - The 5-9, 165-pound receiver from Angleton, who counts former Longhorn and current Tennessee Titan Ahmard Hall as a cousin, has wicked speed. But he's in the same predicament as Hales. Behind on reps because he's only been in team situations since fall camp started. Special teams may also be his best ticket early on.
KHEESTON RANDALL, Defensive tackle - Randall has put on 10 pounds of muscle since the spring and is now 6-5, 275, and it shows. He's backing up Lamarr Houston and Aaron Lewis at the three-technique (lined up on the outside shoulder of the guard) and has been athletic enough and physical enough for Will Muschamp to say - point blank - Randall's playing Saturday night.
DAVID SNOW, Center - Coaches have a hard decision with Snow. They are seriously considering moving sophomore Buck Burnette to backup guard from backup center and getting Snow some reps at center behind Chris Hall.
"He is a true freshman who came in in January and he has been talked about along the same lines as (Justin) Blalock," Greg Davis said. "When Blalock redshirted, we talked for three or four games, 'Are we doing the right thing? Do we redshirt him or is he ready to play?' David Snow is in that same category. He's got really good talent, and we're just trying to determine if it's smart to play him or let him redshirt."
JUSTIN TUCKER, Punter - The Austin Westlake product has pushed junior Trevor Gerland for the starting punting job to the point where Tucker may just win it by week's end. He's also pushed junior Hunter Lawrence on kickoffs.
AARON WILLIAMS, Cornerback - The 6-1, 175-pound Round Rock McNeil product has been doubly impressive considering his first workouts with the team were in fall camp. He is rangy and physical with good hips with the emphasis on physical. Will Muschamp doesn't want any corners who can't bump receivers at the line. Aaron Williams can do that.