Each day, as a countdown to fall camp opening Aug. 2, we are going to provide you with a number that was important in 2011 and let you know why it will be important in 2012.
Texas’ kick return game will not be what it was in 2011.
First and foremost because Fozzy Whittaker, who went back-to-back games with 100-yard returns, is gone. Secondly, because so too is the opportunity to have such returns.
The NCAA has changed the kicking rules and moved kickoffs to the 35 instead of the 30. Touchbacks now result in drives starting at the 25 instead of the 20.
With the kicks being moved forward it stands to reason there will be more touchbacks or less opportunity to go the distance. Still Texas will try. But with whom?
Inside the number
Aside from Whittaker’s two runbacks, the next longest by a player in 2011 was 40 yards by Marquise Goodwin. The wide receiver and track star also had the second-best return average behind Whittaker at 22.5 yards per attempt on 11 runbacks. The next best was Quandre Diggs. The cornerback had 19 returns and an average of 19.5 yards per return. His long was 29 yards.
While both those players are experienced and sure-handed Texas, might decide not to use either player. Mack Brown is concerned about players wearing down during the course of a game and thought that Diggs wore down slightly last year because he was asked to do so much.
With what appears to be a bevy of talent and speed there is really no reason for Brown to have to turn to position players such as Goodwin and Diggs to return kicks.
Where it counts in 2012
Mykkele Thompson showed off his return skills in the spring game taking one back all the way. Since he is a backup safety it is not likely that he will be expending too much energy on every play and will therefore be fresh for special teams.
D.J. Monroe is another candidate. Monroe took one back 100 yards last season only to have it called back for a hold on the opposite side of the field. The issue with Monroe is hands. But with his move to wide receiver in the spring, he has had more work on his hands and might be more capable come fall.
Also several of the newcomers such as Marcus Johnson and Daje Johnson returned kicks in high school.
So Texas has options at kick returner even if there might not be that many kick to return in 2012.