Texas' Monroe finally fulfilling promise
(Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.)
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - D.J. Monroe touched the ball for the first time as a Texas Longhorn and went 89 yards for a touchdown. That was Sept. 5, 2009.
Since then, coach Mack Brown has spent his weekly press conferences hearing variations of the same question: "Why doesn't D.J. get the ball more?''
The answers were simple: Too inconsistent. Struggled to catch. Crowded backfield. Needed to learn the playbook.
That's all changing now. A fifth-year senior, Monroe has scored in every game this season and last week set a school record with his third career kickoff return for a touchdown, his first since his freshman season.
"I was just waiting for someone to kick the ball to me again,'' Monroe said as No. 11 Texas (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) prepares to host No. 8 West Virginia (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday.
Monroe still doesn't get that many touches. He's just making them count. His four touchdowns are tied for second on the team.
"He gets the ball in his hands and he makes things happen. He provides a spark,'' Texas quarterback David Ash said.
Longhorns fans have been waiting for Monroe to fulfill the promise he showed in the first game of the 2009 season when Colt McCoy was still the quarterback and the Longhorns were charging for the national championship game.
There have been so many teases along the way.
As a running back, receiver and kick returner, Monroe has played in 40 career games and never averaged less than 6.2 yards per carry. One of the fastest players on the field every week, he had a 60-yard touchdown run against Oklahoma in 2010 that made the Sooners players look like they were standing still. But the coaching staff just didn't trust him to do more.
As a running back, he's a smallish 5-foot-9, 175 pounds and isn't built to take a beating or offer much help in pass protection. As a receiver, he struggled to catch. The playbook at times perplexed him.
But heading into his senior season, Monroe didn't want to be a player best remembered for unfulfilled potential. Monroe quit running track in the spring to focus on how he could better fit into second-year offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin's game plan.
To improve his hands, Monroe practiced running his routes and trying to catch tennis balls instead of footballs.
Monroe's touches are still quite limited. Jaxon Shipley, Marquise Goodwin and Mike Davis are Ash's favorite receiving targets. The Texas running game is built for power behind bruising tailbacks Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown.
Monroe only has 11 rushes for 80 yards, with a 7.3-yard average per carry and three touchdowns, including one in the first game where he bowled over a defender to score. And although he's listed as Goodwin's backup at one of the wide receiver slots, Monroe has only one catch for 15 yards this season. As a kick returner, he's more than proven his worth.
At his size and with his speed to get to the edge, Texas likes to use Monroe on speed sweeps and pre-snap motion to keep defenses off balance. If he can find open field, there's a good chance he can find the end zone.
West Virginia defensive coordinator Joe DeForest knows he has to account for Monroe whenever he's on the field. DeForest tried to recruit Monroe when he was as assistant at Oklahoma State
"He's one of the fastest kids we'll see,'' DeForest said. "They hand him a little jet sweep and he runs around people.''
And with Monroe scoring touchdowns, Brown doesn't have to fend off so many questions about why Monroe's not involved in the offense.
"D.J. has been a fan favorite for a long time,'' Brown said with a subtle nod to the pestering he's endured over the last three years. "Nobody is asking anymore because he's playing well.''