Spring games are rapidly approach for the 2023 season and Coach Ape just announced his rosters for the game in Austin. The Burnt Orange squad features the First Team Offense and 2nd Team Defense and the White squad will feature the 2nd Team Offense and the First team defense. This however does not mean that there is not any drama occurring as there are many spots on this roster that remain unsettled. We at the LHN got an interview with Coach Ape after rosters were announced and asked what we should be watching for. Listed below are some of the most interesting battles that Coach Ape detailed.
Battle 1: Running Back
Everyone was excited to see RB Dontae Alford 5-11 193 Fr Longview (Longview TX) 2.0 of 4.0 [Power] sign with the Longhorns this past cycle. He was the top rated RB in the state of Texas last cycle and was a key target for the Longhorns. He will be in a battle against Redshirt Senior transfer, RB Raymond Smiley 6-1 188 (Sr) Cheyenne-Eagle Butte (SD) 3.5 of 3.5 [Speed]. Alford may have the slight edge because he's slotted to play with the first team offense but Coach Ape wasn't very clear stating, "We want to see them both get touches that's why we split them up. We felt more comfortable having Sam [Milner] hand it off to Dontae for the spring game." This may end up with a time split for the regular season, with one back taking on 3rd Down duties over the other one. But for now this is a big one to watch for when the Spring Game comes around
Battle 2: Wide Receiver
The Longhorns have an interesting set of WR's this season. We have heard from insiders that WR Da'Quan Crockett 6-4 214 Jr Flour Bluff (Corpus Christi TX) 2.5 of 4.5 [Target] has fallen on the Depth Chart a bit in Austin and might even take a redshirt year to work on his on the field issues. He's slated to play with the 2nd team offense as the top WR so we will see how it shakes out. Other than that there is a lot of intrigue around the two of the true freshmen, WR Natrone Benjamin 6-1 164 Fr Prestonwood Christian Academy ( TX) 3.0 of 3.5 [Speed] and ATH Shaq Dixon 5-11 177 Fr Woodsboro (Woodsboro TX) 2.5 of 4.0 [Speed]. Both are slated to play WR2 in the spring game. Coach Ape has been quoted as saying, "Both Shaq and Natrone shuld see significant playing time this season. We want to see each in action." This could mean that WR Elias Person 6-5 211 Jr Van Alstyne (Van Alstyne TX) 2.5 of 3.0 [Target] and WR Marc Gibson 6-4 228 (Fr) Wink (Wink TX) 2.5 of 3.0 [Target] could be fighting for scraps at the WR4/5 spots on the depth chart. Nothing is being ruled out after WR1 on the Depth Chart by Coach Ape, "We know Shaun [Lyles] is our top guy. Hopefully the Spring Game will sort out the rest a little bit."
Battle 3: Center
This one isn't as highly advertised or glamorous as the other two battles listed above but the Longhorns may have a Center battle to deal with. C Frederick Orlando 6-3 293 (Fr) Marble Falls (Marble Falls TX) 2.0 of 4.5 [Pass Blocking] is set to start with the first team offense while C Abe Hay 6-2 300 (Sr) River Road (Amarillo, TX) 3.5 of 3.5 [Run Blocking] is set to play with the 2nd team offense. We might be reading too much into the situation, as Hay the 5th year senior is set to work with true Freshman Benjamin Lockwood and Orlando is working with 5th year senior transfer Sam Milner, but it looks like Coach Ape is giving both players a look for the starting role.
Battle 4: Front 7
The Front 7 is a mess y'all. Other than Zion Gaines at DT it seems almost everything else is in flex. The Longhorns have a lot of soul searching to do in the Front 7. As of now it appears that DE Thomas Sanders 6-0 261 (So) Van Vleck (Van Vleck TX) 3.5 of 3.5 [Contain] is a lock for one of the starting End positions, but the other one is going to be a battle to watch. Coach Ape seems to think that DT Jamal Robinson 6-1 296 (Sr) Altus (Altus, OK) 4.5 of 4.5 [1-Gap] might be his second best option there. He's a DT by nature but Coach Ape doesnt appear to have confidence in DE Anthony Addison 6-0 261 (So) Frankston (Frankston TX) 2.5 of 2.5 [Blitz] or DE James Cameron 6-0 260 Sr Frankston (Frankston TX) 2.5 of 2.5 [Contain] to overtake Robinson. This will be an interesting one to watch and see if Addison or Cameron can shine in Spring and maybe win the other End starting spot over the DT
In other Front 7 issues the LB core is all over the place. The Longhorns have a lot of talented players at the inside spot but have a lack of talent when it comes to the outside linebackers this season. Coach Ape is giving ILB Ted Stanford 6-2 209 (So) Houston Lutheran North (Houston TX) 3.5 of 4.5 [Will] the starting nod with the first team at one of the outside spots. He will be fighting with OLB Lardarius Irvin 5-11 226 Sr Marble Falls (Marble Falls TX) 3.0 of 3.0 [Coverage] for the second starting outside spot. It appears that OLB Malachi Chavis 6-3 216 (Jr) Anton (Anton TX) 2.5 of 3.5 [Coverage] might be safe in his starting role as he did get the first team nod but if he doesnt show in the Spring Game it might not be his for long. Coach Ape when asked about the front 7 was evasive but stated, "We have to see what happens. A lot can happen after the Spring Game."
Those are the main battles to watch for according to Coach Ape and LHN. We also think there might be a Kicker and Punter battle but Devin Bollinger and Ronan Girard both seem to have a lock on the starting spots. Moving on from Battles in the Spring Game we're going to go to some of our Round Table Guests and see what they are looking forward to seeing in the Spring Game. We will start with 2017 National Champion Christ Martinkovic
Christ: "Two words. Benjamin Lockwood. Let the new era of Longhorn football begin man! I can't wait to see what this kid can do. He's slated to start withe the 2nd team over Lucas Beckwith so it appears Coach Ape knows something we don't about Lucas, but I am pumped to see what this guy can do. He has some threats in the WR corp with him in Crocket and Dixon and he's even got his old teammate starting at TE Raymond Sepulveda. He's going against a lot of his fellow freshmen recruits on the 2nd team defense. This is a big day for him and this program, even though I'm sure Coach Ape will redshirt him with Milner coming in."
Thank Christ now onto Amy Bruckheimer, Amy what are you looking forward to?
Amy: "Freshmen. There are a ton of Freshmen set to hit the field, especially the 2nd team defense. A lot of Coach Ape's recruits will be thrown to the fire right away and I want to see how they respond. The ones that most interest me are the WRs probably, Dixon and Benjamin. Both slated to play WR2 and PR/KR for their squads. We might have a battle for returner. We know Dixon came in confident describing himself as an OW more than a WR and we'll get to see that happen."
And finally we have former Longhorns QB John Jones, John.
John: "Sam Milner. We know he went to JUCO last year but he's back for the big time. He played well at TCU but they went in a new direction at QB and Milner saw the writing on the wall. He's got one more year of eligibility and he's ready to go here in Austin. I want to see how he clicks with Shaun Lyles and the Offensive Line most importantly. This will be key to helping him build up that confidence and be ready once the season starts. I'm sure he's looking forward to playing in the best conference in the nation again, and we know Coach Ape is excited to have him here to help mentor Benny Lockwood and helm this offense."
That's all we have for you today folks. LHN will have a Spring Game Recap after it's played out and maybe we'll get some clarity with some of these battles.