Burning questions for the coming football season

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From running backs to the secondary, not to mention selecting a starting quarterback, Mack Brown has his work cut out for him before the Sept. 3 season opener against Rice. (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Derek Stout | Daily Texan Staff

When you go to the Texas football website and click on “Depth Chart,” instead of seeing a list of starters and backups, there is a brief note that says, “Please check back shortly before the start of the 2011 season for an updated depth chart.”

If it were up to Mack Brown, “shortly before” would instead read “minutes before.” Nevertheless, the Longhorns begin fall camp Friday, less than a month before their season opener against Rice on Sept. 3. There is still uncertainty surrounding the team and the way Brown will eventually fill out that depth chart. There are plenty of questions that need answering in the next 30 days.

Who will be Texas’ starting quarterback?

This is the question that needs answering more than any other. Texas hasn’t had to answer this question since 2006 when Colt McCoy and Jevan Snead went at it. Chris Simms and Major Applewhite waged quarterback battles a few years before them, but the Longhorns don’t have the luxury of picking between players as good as those four. Texas will choose between a guy who threw more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (10) last season and three others who have little to no experience. Incumbent Garrett Gilbert will probably win the competition, but it’s unsettling that the Longhorns coaches haven’t picked a quarterback yet, because Texas will need a good one.

What will Malcolm Brown look like when “he puts the pads on?”

Mack Brown said we won’t know what to think about freshman running back Malcolm Brown until “he puts the pads on.” Now that fall camp has arrived, he’ll be able to see Malcolm Brown in pads and think about who is the best option at running back. Brown helped his Cibolo Steele team win the 5A State Championship last December, capping off a season that saw him run for a staggering 2,596 yards and 30 touchdowns. Fozzy Whittaker is back for his senior season and may even begin the season as the starter, but it could be a matter of time before Brown gets the lion’s share of the carries.

Will any receivers step up?

The days of Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby are over as they are teaming up in Cincinnati. 2010’s leading receiver James Kirkendoll is gone, senior Malcolm Williams won’t play at all this year and Marquise Goodwin has shown promise these past two years but is putting his football career on hold to focus on his Olympic aspirations. Sophomore Mike Davis proved a legitimate target but guys such as DeSean Hales and Darius White will need to step up. Who knows, maybe even a freshman such as Jaxon Shipley (Jordan’s brother), Miles Onyegbule or Chris Jones will emerge from the pack the way Davis did in 2010.

Will Texas have a tight end that catches more than 10 passes?

The Longhorns have not had a productive pass-catching tight end since Jermichael Finley left the Forty Acres for Lambeau Field after the 2007 season. Since then, no tight end has had more than 10 receptions in a season and the tight ends on Texas’ current roster have combined for 24 catches and five seasons missed out due to knee injuries. The last time Texas won a national championship, a tight end (David Thomas) was the leading receiver and had a team-high 10 grabs in the title game. Texas needs a tight end — maybe Blaine Irby, Barrett Matthews or D.J. Grant — it can depend on for at least 20-30 catches this year.

How good exactly is the front seven?

It’s stacked. It’s better than good. It’s one of the best, if not the best, front sevens in the country.
Defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor had two seniors in front of them last season, but managed to prove they can be lights-out pass rushers. Kheeston Randall is one of the nation’s finest defensive tackles, and senior linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho combined for 200 tackles in 2010. New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz must be salivating at the chance to work with these guys in fall camp and watch them go to work this season.

Is Texas’ secondary capable of keeping up with the receivers of the Big 12?

The Longhorns lost three cornerbacks to the NFL but have talent left in the defensive backfield. Texas plays in a conference that boasts four players that had 1,000 yards receiving in 2010, including Ryan Broyles, Justin Blackmon and Jeff Fuller (each will likely be high draft picks). The Longhorns safeties are experienced, especially three-year starter Blake Gideon, but the corners aren’t. Sophomores Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips are the projected starting cornerbacks despite not having started a game yet. Sophomore A.J. White and highly touted Quandre Diggs figure to see playing time as well. The answer to this question may not reveal itself for a couple of months when Texas plays the explosive Oklahoma on Oct. 8.