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February 27, 2009

Texas enters spring with dreams of title

As usual, Texas is one of the first teams to open spring practice. Here's a look at the Longhorns who will be expected to compete for the national title this season as they prepare to open spring drills.

Heisman Trophy runner-up Colt McCoy returns to lead the Longhorns' offense.
Coach: Mack Brown
Last season: 12-1, 7-1 Big 12. Beat Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Spring dates: Feb. 27-April 5
Offense (7): C Chris Hall, T Kyle Hix, QB Colt McCoy, WR Jordan Shipley, G Charlie Tanner, T Adam Ulatoski, WR Malcolm Williams.
Defense (7): S Blake Gideon, T Lamarr Houston, LB Sergio Kindle, LB Roddrick Muckelroy, S Earl Thomas, CB Deon Beasley, CB Chykie Brown.
Special teams (2): K Ryan Bailey, P Justin Tucker.
Positions of strength

It starts at quarterback with Heisman Trophy runner-up Colt McCoy, who enters his senior season with 85 career touchdown passes and consecutive seasons throwing for more than 3,000 yards. He will be protected by a line that returns four starters. The wide receiver corps should be deep with Jordan Shipley coming off an 89-catch year and Brandon Collins and James Kirkendoll both catching more than 20 in '08. Defensively, Sergio Kindle heads a group of three starting linebackers who return.

Help is needed

Running back once was a position of strength in Austin, but now it's an area of concern. Last season's most productive running back Vondrell McGee rushed for just 376 yards. Someone needs to emerge to take some pressure off McCoy. Speaking of pressure, the Longhorns led the nation in sacks last season, but All-American end Brian Orakpo and All-Big 12 tackle Roy Miller must be replaced.

Keep an eye on

QB John Chiles: Chiles, a sophomore, needs to have a good spring and show coaches he's capable of being the No. 2 guy, especially with five-star prospect Garrett Gilbert's arrival.

DE Russell Carter: Carter, a sophomore who was a four-star prospect out of high school, needs to show he's ready to break into the starting lineup.

S Christian Scott: He's another sophomore who needs to push incumbents Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas for a starting job.

His time is now

Adam Ulatoski has started 30 games in his career and has earned All-Big 12 acclaim. But the Longhorns are hopeful he'll raise his performance to an All-American level.

The buzz

The Longhorns should be national championship contenders in 2009, and it starts this spring. Coaches will be looking for improvement from the offensive line. They need a feature back to step to the fore, and the defensive line needs to be adequately patched.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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