AUSTIN -- Jaxon Shipley, come on down. And be sure to bring Chris Jones, John Harris and Miles Onyegbule with you.
That quartet of first-year receivers -- two incoming freshmen, two redshirt freshmen -- figure to factor prominently into Texas' rotation this season because attrition at the position struck again Thursday.
Senior receiver Malcolm Williams, a talented but inconsistent performer with a flair for big plays, opted to forgo his final season for personal reasons, coach Mack Brown said. Fellow receiver Brock Fitzhenry also called it quits Thursday, meaning the Longhorns have lost four receivers since June (Greg Timmons transferred and two-sport performer Marquise Goodwin will redshirt to concentrate on being a long jumper in the 2012 Olympic Games).
Scan the list of proven targets for Texas' still-unnamed starting quarterback and the list stops with sophomore Mike Davis, who grabbed 47 passes last season. No other returnee who will suit up had more than 10 receptions.
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"We're thin there," Brown said. "This puts us in a real tough spot with numbers. We'll look very closely and see if there's somebody else on the defensive side that can move over and possibly help us at receiver."
Regardless of what happens with 11th hour personnel moves, the reality is the Longhorns' passing game will sink or swim with unproven players catching passes. And an unproven quarterback throwing to them. That's a dangerous combination for a team coming off a 5-7 season and trying to live up to Thursday's generous perch (No. 24) in the USA Today coaches' preseason poll.
The upside is that some of the newcomers, especially Shipley, distinguished themselves as precise route runners during voluntary summer workouts. That commodity was lacking among members of last year's receiver corps and contributed to quarterback Garrett Gilbert throwing more interceptions (17) than touchdowns passes (10) in 2010.
"If your quarterback... has trust that the receiver will be in the right place, he is able to read defenses and not watch the receivers run routes," said safety Blake Gideon, who played quarterback in high school. "I think that might have been a little bit of the trouble last year."
So do I. And the presence of Shipley, a Parade All-American who has drawn favorable comparisons to his older brother Jordan from Texas' veteran players, could prove to be a huge asset for this year's passing game, regardless of his freshman status.
Harris, who redshirted last season, also drew high marks from teammates for his route-running skills and leaping ability. Darius White, a Fort Worth Dunbar product who caught only one pass last season, impressed some teammates' with the strides he made during summer drills. So did Jones.
And Onyegbule, an incoming playmaker from Arlington High School, "will get a better look" than the average freshman, Brown said Thursday, because of a glaring need at the position.
But until the Longhorns unearth a viable complement to Davis, Texas' passing game will remain speculative.
And the defense will again be asked to carry more than its share of the burden in determining weekly outcomes. That didn't work last season. But the roster did not include Shipley.
"Other guys like John Harris and Darius White, they've done their part. But Jaxon Shipley has really stepped it up," linebacker Emmanuel Acho said. "He's definitely ahead of the game."
Sounds like a guy Brown could use immediately to plug one of his glaring holes at receiver. But filling out the rest of the receiver rotation could be tricky.
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