Greg Daniels

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

After producing their most consistent performance since Week 1 in their last game, the Longhorns enter this week primed to be more agile.

Sophomore running back/wide receiver Daje Johnson is expected to return to the lineup for Thursday night’s game at Iowa State. Johnson missed the last two contests after suffering a left ankle sprain on just the third play of the game against Brigham Young University on Sept. 7.

The sophomore opened the season with a memorable performance against New Mexico State in Texas’ first game, hauling in three receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 62 yards and a score. He remains behind junior wide receiver Jaxon Shipley on the Longhorns’ depth chart, but he hopes to make a significant impact on an offense with a number of key players battling injuries.

Junior quarterback David Ash (concussion), senior wide receiver Mike Davis (ankle) and junior tight end Greg Daniels (foot) each begin the week day-to-day. Head coach Mack Brown remains hopeful his starters will be able to play, but he said it is up to the training staff to clear them.

“If they’re limited in practice, they tell us they’re limited,” Brown said. “We are really not at liberty to even encourage the guys to practice. What they will do with David, like with Mike Davis and Greg Daniels, is they’ll continue to monitor them until game time, or at least Wednesday night and they will tell us whether they will play or not.”

Ash returned last week after suffering a concussion against Ole Miss in Week 3, but he left following the first half after showing concussion symptoms. If Ash remains unable to play Thursday, senior quarterback Case McCoy will start for the second time this season, with freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes serving as his backup.

Texas ruled out junior right tackle Josh Cochran, who missed the Longhorns’ last game after aggravating a previous shoulder injury against Ole Miss. Sophomore offensive lineman Kennedy Estelle starts in his place after filling in admirably against Kansas State.

Senior left guard Trey Hopkins expects the Texas offensive line to perform well in Cochran’s absence once again, as he believes the teams’ depth and ability to put multiple players in each position allows it to avoid a drop off.

“When situations like that arise, it’s not a problem,” Hopkins said. “Just the way that we prepare in practice, moving guys around, we’re not letting anyone just settle into one position. Knowing you have to be able to play all of them really helps in game situations.”

Sophomore tight end Greg Daniels (81) hauls in a pass from David Ash on the first play from scrimmage during the Longhorns' 33-7 win over Iowa State. Both Daniels and senior Barrett Matthews have made tight end an area of strength for the Longhorns after a recent stretch of ineffectiveness at the position. Daniels and Matthews are now considered integral pieces of the Longhorns' offense.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Senior tight end Barrett Matthews and sophomore tight end Greg Daniels have been used sparingly in the passing game this season, with their biggest contributions coming in the run game. However, that changed against Iowa State.

Each player was lined up on the Longhorns’ first offensive snap of the game – scheduled to be Texas’ wishbone tribute to Darrell K Royal — and both made a major impact.

Matthews was on the field to block, the Longhorns threw a double-reverse pass, and he had to hold up a collapsing linebacker to make the play work. It was important, but Daniels’ job was a bit more stressful. He was tasked with making the catch that would honor Royal, and after he sold the run block, Daniels sprinted to the corner on the Texas sideline, pulling away from the pursuit to haul in the 47-yard catch.

“I am honored that they called my number,” Daniels said. “It was great to catch a pass and get open. I’m just honored they trusted me to do that.”

Trust is something that has been building in the coaching staff for Daniels and Matthews both. Each has been a practice warrior despite limited playing time, and every time they’ve laid out a solid block, the more and more that the coaching staff believes they can perform under pressure.

“Having Greg and Barrett on the first play - that was a no brainer,” co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said. “Those guys have practiced well. They play hard, and they have done a lot of things to deserve to be in there.”

Daniels had his huge moment on the first offense snap – the play was shown all over national television that day – but Matthews’ came on a bit smaller scale a quarter later.

The Longhorns drove the ball to the Cyclones’ three-yard line, and that’s when Harsin decided to go deep into the playbook. Ash received the snap and rolled left, tossing the ball up to a wide open Matthews, who had snuck into the back corner of the end zone after shedding his block, for a touchdown.

Ash said Matthews was the only option on that play, and the senior did everything right to earn his first touchdown reception since his sophomore year. It was a play call designed to reward Matthews for all his hard work and for not getting frustrated despite his lack of playing time.

“That was something that we put together because you want to throw a guy a bone that has been out there grinding, banging his head out there for a lot of games and just being physical but not complaining about it,” Harsin said.

It may have been just a bone, but it could be the most rewarding gimme Matthews has ever received, Matthews said after the game.

Both tight ends made huge plays against the Cyclones, but their careers are headed in quite different directions. Matthews is finishing up his time at Texas, and he’ll be working to enjoy his last few games while ensuring the Longhorns finish as strongly as possible. Daniels, on the other hand, is steadily improving as an all-around tight end in his first season the position after playing defensive end in high school.

The tight ends aren’t a go-to group yet, but the pair, along with D.J. Grant and M.J. McFarland are working hard to change that.

“We are still building and still want more things to come to us,” Matthews said. “We want to be able to lead the offense, but they still have to trust us and we are still building trust.”

Tight ends compete

Over the past couple seasons, a reliable tight end has been difficult to find for the Longhorns. Especially with the graduation of Blaine Irby, co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin is in need of someone to be consistent in the position.

Though it’s not clear who is leading the pack, he mentioned that D.J. Grant and M.J. McFarland are doing well.

But during the team’s scrimmage on Sunday, he witnessed Greg Daniels’ improvement. A former defensive lineman, Daniels is new to the offensive side of the ball.

Daniels, who appeared in three games last year on defense as a redshirt freshman, displayed his finesse at the new position on Sunday.

“Just his footwork, and for a guy that hasn’t played the position very long. I thought he played with low pad level. I thought he showed some of his strength and his size out there in some of the run game stuff,” Harsin said.

He injured his shoulder earlier this year and missed spring practice. But, Harsin said he is beginning to understand his tight end role better.

“So he’s a guy that’s just starting to come on, and things are starting to click. And you can just feel like he’s starting to understand what his role can be for us,” Harsin said.

But, being new to the position, he will face competition from the veterans.

Grant finished last season with 16 receptions for 180 yards. Harsin said he and the other tight ends are working on specific aspects of their games to improve on. The team is currently needs a tight end that is strong in both blocking and catching aspects of the position.

The position is a work in progress.

“We’re balancing all those things out, but there are going to be roles where guys play and they come in and their job, first of all, is to set the edge or their job is to get vertical up the field. Then you start to mix and match your personnel so you’re not being predictable out there,” Harsin said.

On Aug. 11, head coach Mack Brown announced on Twitter that wide receiver Miles Onyegbule would be given a shot at the position.

“Decided 2day we're gonna give Miles Onyegbule a good look @ TE starting this PM. Big, strong, great hands. Really think he can help us there,” Brown tweeted.

Onyegbule made four catches for 51 yards as a freshman last season.

“I feel like that position is getting better and better,” Harsin said.