The Texas Longhorns have a history of attracting talented athletes to the Forty Acres that aren’t easily slotted into any one positional grouping. If you take a look at rosters over the past few seasons, you’ll see plenty of guys who fit this bill — some who were used consistently, and others, for whatever reason, who spent more time on the sideline than on the field.
Daje Johnson, a 5’10″, 180 pound sophomore running back from Pflugerville — an Austin suburb — was used as a hybrid in 2012 due to his ability to turn open holes into huge gains and also catch passes out of the backfield or in the slot. Johnson racked up 490 yards of total yardage and two touchdowns on the season in 2012, with 84 of those yards coming on the first play from scrimmage in this touchdown run against the Baylor Bears in Austin:
Johnson’s world-class speed gives Texas just what they need in a faster-paced offensive scheme, but with a log-jam in the backfield it’s possible he will see as many touches as a slot receiver or in specialty packages as in direct snaps or hand-offs at running back. However, he won’t be alone in this role. Guys like Duke Thomas and Jalen Overstreet could see snaps in the backfield and the slot, so when Johnson does get an opportunity he must make the most of it to avoid the fate of a few familiar faces in recent years.
D.J. Monroe and Tre’ Newton both arrived at Texas with big-time hype. When he was on his game, Monroe was one of the best athletes on the Texas roster, but never was able to cut out a niche which would lead to significant playing time. Newton, the son of Dallas Cowboys star Nate Newton, was a first-tier athlete who just didn’t fit in the high-stress, high-demand culture of Texas football.
There’s always a risk Daje Johnson could meet a similar fate, but luckily for him, there will be other touches available this fall — more opportunities to prove himself from week-to-week. On post-spring practice depth charts, Johnson is listed as a primary option as a kick returner along with Spring Game standout Mykelle Thompson. All it takes is a few home run returns for Johnson to go from a nice asset for the Texas coaching staff to have, to use when and where they can, to a fan favorite who will earn greater opportunity almost by default.
In short, Daje Johnson will have the opportunity in 2013 to determine his fate. His athleticism and versatility is a perfect fit for a new-look Texas offense seemingly made for him to shine. Don’t be surprised for him to become an unexpected star on a team looking for someone to rise to the occasion.
Kris was published in Lindy’s In the Huddle – Texas Longhorns Edition currently in stores.