College Confidential

Receiver Johnson might be the answer to Longhorns’ offensive prayers

Texas head football coach Charlie Strong is working with some hidden talent during spring practice.
Texas head football coach Charlie Strong is working with some hidden talent during spring practice. AP

There’s really only one aspect of the Texas Longhorns’ offense that anyone can speak of with any type of certainty. The Horns should have some pretty darn good running backs.

Other than that, who knows?

Texas is installing an up-tempo offense under young, hot-shot coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, who will do the best he can to get his Baylor-esque blueprint up and running with the players he’s inherited. The line has two young, anchor types in Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe, but otherwise there are a lot of question marks, particularly at center.

Quarterback is totally unsettled with, again, senior Tyrone Swoopes at the top of the spring chart and sophomore Jerrod Heard behind him. Early enrollee Shane Buechele from Arlington Lamar is a wild card.

And then there’s wide receiver, where Texas is praying it can find the playmaker coach Charlie Strong’s team has lacked the last two seasons.

If you’ve paid any attention to Texas’ spring practices that culminate April 16 with the Orange and White spring game, you’ve probably heard the name Collin Johnson. It would be a good idea to keep an eye on this very large wide receiver from San Jose, Calif.

Johnson, at 6-foot-6 and more than 200 pounds, is the son of former Longhorns great Johnnie Johnson, an All-American defensive back and college football Hall of Famer who could have gone to just about any college and played just about any sport. Out of LaGrange, the elder Johnson decided to play football at Texas, and went on to a 10-year career with the Los Angeles Rams.

His son Kirk is currently a sophomore running back for the Longhorns. Kirk didn’t get many chances as a freshman. It could be just the opposite for Collin, who as an early enrollee, has impressed coaches and teammates during practices prior to spring break.

The recruiting website Hudl.com named his high school highlight video, “Young Megatron” after the recently retired Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, who was known for making ridiculously athletic catches for a man who is 6-5 and 230-plus pounds.

Those highlights should be enough to make any Longhorn fan salivate with anticipation. As long as there’s a quarterback capable of making throws, Johnson could wind up being the most important signee of the 2016 class. He also had offers from Alabama, UCLA, USC, TCU and Arizona State.

Now imagine Johnson playing opposite of 2015 signee John Burt out of Florida. With any luck they’ll be so good they’ll need a nickname like the “Coast to Coast Bros,” or maybe Johnson can be “Pacific” and Burt can be “Atlantic.”

OK, so come up with your own nicknames. The larger point is that Texas just might have a reason to come up something catchy.

Because finding players to catch the football has been slim pickings for Texas under Strong. Last season, Burt finished second on the team with 28 catches. Daje Johnson, a senior last year, led all receivers with 38 receptions, which would have ranked tied for fifth at Texas Tech, fourth at TCU, fourth at Oklahoma, fourth at Oklahoma State, tied for third at Baylor and, well, you get the point. All of those schools really throw it around in some form of spread attack.

But last year was last year, and now the new-look Horns will hop into their souped-up offense with Burt, Johnson and sophomore Ryan Newsome, who was on his way to UCLA before a quick reversal.

If Armanti Foreman can find consistency and if Texas hits on a couple more of its recruits from the 2015 and 2016 classes, the Longhorns just might be able to field an offense that at least has a chance to keep up in the Big 12.

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