1. DE Cedric Reed (Jr.)
With Alex Okafor now in the NFL, Reed is the man expected to fill the void at defensive end for a Texas defense that has plenty to prove this season. Fortunately for the Longhorns, he enters the season with some experience under his belt after filling in when Jackson Jeffcoat went down with a season-ending pectoral injury against Oklahoma. Although Reed had his best performance of the season against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl, racking up three solo tackles and 1.5 sacks, Texas needs him to build off of last season and provide consistent pressure against opposing offenses. With Jeffcoat playing opposite him and likely to draw double teams from New Mexico State’s offensive line, Reed should get plenty of opportunities to start the 2013 season off with a bang.
2. RB/WR Daje Johnson (So.)
Coming off a freshman year filled with several highlight-reel plays but also inconsistent play, the speedy Johnson has shown that he is more than capable of providing a spark for Texas’ offense. With Jaxon Shipley’s status for Saturday’s game in doubt due to lingering injuries and New Mexico State weary of senior Mike Davis, Johnson should see an increased workload. In a game where the Longhorns are expected to score early and often, look for Johnson to break out against the Aggies’ paltry defense.
3. S Adrian Phillips (Sr.)
Much has been said this offseason about Texas’ desire to turns things around on defense this year after a horrendous showing in 2012. In order for that to happen, the Longhorns need Phillips to step up as the leader of the secondary now that Kenny Vaccaro is no longer around. That means Phillips, who struggled at times last year with tackling, will need to show he is the full package. Although the Aggies by no means represent the biggest challenge Phillips and the Longhorns defense will face all year, it’s crucial he comes out confident and plays aggressively.
4. RB Malcolm Brown (Jr.)
Brown was one of several key Longhorns who spent much of the 2012 season on the sideline due to injuries and, as a result, saw his touches reduced when he returned to the lineup at the end of the season. With Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron still around, Brown needs to stand out in a crowded backfield and show he can still contribute at a high level. With a healthy ankle and plenty of motivation after last year’s frustrations, Brown should come out with a full head of steam.