Longhorns backfield, offensive line ready for another big season with new faces

Longhorns backfield, offensive line ready for another big season with new faces

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas running back CJ Baxter is smart enough to know that he can’t do it all in the backfield by himself, and he had an excellent teammate to learn from during his freshman year.

Baxter rushed for 659 yards with five touchdowns in his first year with the Longhorns, and as Jonathon Brooks emerged as one of the country’s premier running backs last season before his knee injury, Baxter’s learning curve became easier to manage.

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“Every day in meetings, he would try to find ways to improve his game,” Baxter said. “He was a student of the game. I was looking at his freshman year to his junior year and how much better he got, and it was insane. That’s just a testament to who he is and his work ethic.”

Seeing first-hand how much that aspect of the game helped Brooks inspired Baxter to do the same. It’s not that he wasn’t initially, but now it’s even more of a concerted effort to soak up knowledge whenever he can whether it’s on the field or elsewhere. After technically starting his freshman year as the “featured back” in the Longhorns’ offense, Baxter’s early-season foot injury paved the way for Brooks’ ascension, and he was fine with that.

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“If you’re a running back, you should want to split carries,” he said. “You want to play with at least two other good running backs because you don’t want that wear and tear on your body.”

Baxter’s freshman year at Edgewater High School in Orlando mirrored his freshman year at Texas. He split carries and played alongside Isaiah Connelly who racked up more than 2,000 yards and helped lead Edgewater to the Class 7A state championship game against powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas. He said that experience prepared him for Texas and further reinforced the idea that sharing carries is caring.

With speedster Jaydon Blue among others ready for more touches with Baxter, the Longhorns’ backfield should rebound just fine after Brooks opted for the NFL. Baxter said Blue is “fast as a lightning bolt” and is a menace at practice.

“He’s practicing at an elite level right now,” Baxter said of Blue. “The plays he’s making and the way he’s moving, he’s going to have a great year.”

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As we all know, the backfield is only part of the running game. The other part is, of course, the offensive line. Kelvin Banks Jr., one of the best returning tackles in college football, said “guys are going in and out” during practice and that in the spring, “no one is a starter.”

“There’s no drop-off,” he said about the offensive line’s rotation. “We’ve got a great rotation and we have good communication with each other.”

Banks pointed out Neto Umeozulu has improved “in every aspect of the game,” and said he’s one of those younger guys that understands the game at a high level.

“He’s an aggressive player, and his understanding of the game has improved a lot,” Banks said. “Him and Hayden (Conner) have been rotating and they’re basically the same player with the same mindset.”

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