Longhorns working to develop young talent

Manny Diaz compares developing a football program to running a company.

Last year, Texas started true freshmen at quarterback (David Ash), running back (Malcolm Brown), receiver (Jaxon Shipley), left tackle (Josh Cochran) and cornerback (Quandre Diggs).

That over-reliance on rookies was far from ideal.

"We'd really still rather somebody show off in the mailroom before we promote him to the next job," Diaz said on the Longhorn Network last week. "Texas, in the last few years, has not had that luxury. We had to start a true freshman at corner last year. We had to promote him already to executive vice president."

The boardroom shouldn't be filled with fresh faces. This season, that isn't an issue. The critical roles are filled this fall, mostly by sophomores and juniors.

Texas played a combined 30 true freshman to start off the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Against Wyoming, 15 newcomers saw the field. Two were junior college transfers who started. Another was senior punter Alex King, a Duke transfer.

That leaves 12 freshmen. Of that dozen, only kickers Nick Jordan and Nick Rose played prominent roles in the 37-17 victory. The rest saw limited snaps or late mop-up time.

If nothing else, that seems like a sign Texas is finally getting away from the depth issues that plagued its previous two seasons.

"I think you're right," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "We're not desperate like we were last year to have to have a freshman win for us."

Expect to see more freshmen hit the field against New Mexico on Saturday. Brown said Texas will need to get Kennedy Estelle snaps to build up depth at the tackle position, and receiver/back Daje Johnson will make his debut after serving a one-game suspension.

Top recruit Johnathan Gray is also expected to earn a bigger workload. Co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said Texas continues to develop packages that highlight the five-star freshman.

After being relied on so heavily last year, Malcolm Brown is glad to see the Longhorns' depth is expanding. And he knows from experience that the more Gray can be eased into the offense, the better he'll develop.

"We all have to be patient in some way with playing this game," Brown said. "Johnathan is doing a great job in practice, and I know once he gets thrown in there he's going to do great."

Same goes for wide receiver, where Texas has three new potential difference-makers who saw limited time against Wyoming. At nearly every spot in Diaz's defense, he has at least one freshman who could contribute.

Right now, Diaz isn't singling any of them out as future stars. He doesn't have to.

They're showing flashes in practice. They're getting second-string reps in games. Over time, they'll earn their role on the field. That's the natural progression of a football player who isn't thrust into the fire from day one.

Diaz thinks highly of his newcomers. This season, though, he doesn't need them on first and 10. He just needs a few good interns.

"If they can get the coffee the right way we want it," Diaz said, "then we can get them on a bigger job.

"That seems like a small thing. That's a big thing for the development of our football team."