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Rounding out a group of six 'frontline' WRs is now one of Steve Sarkisian's preseason tasks

Joe Cook08/15/22
Article written by:On3 imageJoe Cook

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Brennan Marion (Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

In the past week, the Texas Longhorns football program saw one receiver ruled out for the season due to injury and another suspended indefinitely after an arrest. Wide receiver was thought to be a team strength heading into the 2022 season, but with under three weeks remaining until the first game, that strength is now being tested.

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“That’s why you have to continue to build depth,” Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday. “So that you have other guys to step up and play.”

The injured receiver was Wyoming transfer Isaiah Neyor, who suffered a torn ACL during Saturday’s preseason scrimmage. Entrenched as the starter at the X receiver spot, Neyor will have to wait a year before getting the chance to put together a breakout season in burnt orange.

Hall is in a different situation. Arrested on misdemeanor criminal mischief charges last week, Sarkisian indefinitely suspended Hall from all team activities on Friday. Sarkisian offered additional insight behind Hall’s suspension on Monday night.

Sarkisian mentioned he likes having a group of six players in the “frontline” at receiver. Two thought previously to be in that group of six aren’t suiting up in the coming two-plus weeks of preparation for September 3’s season opener. Between now and then, Sarkisian and receivers coach Brennan Marion have to figure out who will make up the rest of that preferred sextet.

The first two are obvious. Jordan Whittington and Xavier Worthy are near shoo-ins to be starters at receiver when the Warhawks come to town the first weekend of September. Sarkisian said Monday that not only are those two providing quality play, they are leaders in the position group. Plus, their experience allows for them to line up at multiple receiver spots.

“That’s very comforting, knowing your two most experienced guys are the most comfortable going anywhere and playing any spot,” Sarkisian said.

Neyor was perfectly cast as the X, or boundary, receiver. Whittington and Worthy could man that spot, and likely will be asked to do so. But behind Neyor on the paper depth chart are two relative unknowns who profile almost exclusively to the X position.

Casey Cain didn’t play in 2021 but drew praise earlier in the year for a strong spring. Another player who has been on the Forty Acres longer than Cain but possess the same amount of in-game experience is Troy Omeire. Back-to-back preseason injuries have cost Omeire opportunities to showcase his talents against opposing teams after doing well against his teammates in two straight camps.

“Casey Cain has been a guy to me that’s been a really pleasant surprise this training camp, has made some plays,” Sarkisian said. “As I touched on, we’re starting to see some steps from Troy Omeire.”

Okay, there’s four. How does Sarkisian get to six? Iowa State transfer Tarique Milton is a candidate to join the frontline ranks. He delivered a strong season for the Cyclones in 2019 and even had good performances against Texas. Sarkisian believes the 5-foot-10, 192-pound Floridian offers similar versatility to Worthy and Whittington.

So there’s five. Finding receiver No. 6 may involve looking toward freshmen like the speedy Brenen Thompson and the tough Savion Red.

Sarkisian likes having receivers who have in-depth knowledge of the offense. He mentioned they throw a lot of different things at the wideouts in the first portion of training camp in order to see what works well for them before emphasizing those strengths later in the preseason.

With freshmen? A different approach may be necessary.

“For us in our system, the first challenge to be counted on to play is you have to know what to do,” Sarkisian said. “The second is you need to know how to do it. I don’t really care if they know why we’re doing it that way right now, but they need to know what to do and how to do it, then they need to use their skill set and go play fast.”

Fast is Thompson’s game, considering his state-champion exploits on the track. Red has a different style, but possesses enough speed for Sarkisian and special teams coordinator Jeff Banks to give the freshman from Grand Prairie opportunities at punt returner. Those two appear to be the main contenders for the sixth spot in the frontline group.

Other players are in the receiver room and could vie for playing time like Jaden Alexis. Even some members of the walk-on ranks could make a go at snaps. If anything, those players are in the conversation for spot No. 6, not spots 1-5.

Should Sarkisian deem Hall worthy of joining the receiver corps at some point, his ability would ideally be one of the top six on the team. There are several steps ahead of Hall before that can happen, meaning Sarkisian and Marion have to look elsewhere until then.

Camp is the perfect time to make those determinations. Plus, personnel decisions may alleviate the need for a full platoon of six. But after injury to Neyor and a suspension of Hall, what was thought to be a known commodity at the beginning of preseason camp now has become the site of an intriguing competition.