Latest news from Burnt Orange Nation - All Posts.
Spring game a chance for defense to show it is Texas Strong
Vance Bedford's group should have a chance to dominate the spring game at times.
The first-team defense will have a chance to work against the first-team Texas Longhorns offense on Saturday in the first Orange-White game under new head coach Charlie Strong.
The excitement for fans is usually reserved for the skill position players, but since Strong's expertise is on defense, his calling card, so to speak, fans might be wise to re-calibrate those expectations this weekend and hope that the Texas defense can provide a dominant performance.
Strong is looking for depth along the defensive line, saying that "the little guys don't bother me as much as the big guys" and noting that he wants to find linemen who can get off of blocks.
One of the players to watch for Texas fans is sophomore defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, one of the most talented players on the team, but one who has battled consistency issues that have kept him from unlocking his massive potential.
It's an ongoing process for Ridgeway, especially in one critical element of his game, but Strong has seen progress.
"Ridgeway is really doing well," Strong said Tuesday. "The thing about Ridgeway, you look at him out in the defensive front because you still got Malcom (Brown), you got 'Tank' (Desmond Jackson) sitting in there and so he is a swing guy that you want play the three-technique because he is just a strong, physical guy. It is hard to move him because he is so strong and he is still developing but once he learns to use his hands, then he is one of those guys who is strong enough to move people out of the way."
With an opportunity to go against a second-team offensive line that doesn't feature any proven players, Ridgeway should have a chance to make some plays. Can his other counterparts at the back-up defensive tackle position, Alex Norman and Paul Boyette, both of whom entered the spring with seemingly a long way to go to become contributors?
Once again, Jordan Hicks isn't healthy and working with the linebackers, but Strong said that he has been impressed with senior Steve Edmond, who is returning from the lacerated liver that he suffered against Texas Tech on a crack-back block from wide receiver Eric Ward.
"The thing about him is he just works and he always works hard and can provide the leadership," Strong said. "He doesn't say a lot but he lets his work speak for itself. I can remember when we were going through winter conditioning and I use to say, 'god almighty is he going to make it?' but then somebody kept saying you just wait until he plays and watch him, coach. And he does. When we scrimmage he tries to make every tackle and has done a really good job."
The Horns are also using sophomore Tim Cole in a prominent role, from the sounds of it, though the coaches have had to make a concession to his lack of ideal size.
"The thing about Cole is we cover up that position because he is not a very big player so you like to cover him up and let him run and use his athletic ability."
Early enrollee Andrew Beck has received some favorable buzz in practice reports, but Strong said that he's still learning and that things are still moving pretty fast for him at times. When asked about Beck, the Texas head coach took the opportunity to mention the strong play of junior Dalton Santos.
However, it's not clear what position Santos is working at and whether he's among the current starters, which would seem to include Edmond, Cole, and junior Peter Jinkens. The Longhorns had to play Santos and Edmond together last year, a pairing that wasn't always ideal in a spread league like the Big 12. If Santos is backing up Edmond at the moment, it may make it hard for him to get on the field this season.
Based on Cole's poor performance in his start against Iowa State, it would be something of a surprise if Cole has surpassed Santos on the depth chart -- as much as that would require major improvement from Cole, it would probably also include some regression on the part of Santos, which could be a result of needing to adjust to the new defense.
Of course, all of that is merely speculation, and the spring game will provide a clear view of the current depth chart.
From the press conference transcript, it did not appear that anyone asked about senior linebacker Kendall Thompson, around whom rumors have persisted for some time because of his history with concussions. He remains a potential attrition candidate.
At the back end of the defense, where the little guys reside that don't concern Strong nearly as much, it appears that a starting group is emerging, though it's not clear who will play nickel back at this time. Again, the spring game should provide an answer there.
Strong mentioned the top group by name.
"(Quandre) Diggs has had a really good camp and you look at (Mykkele) Thompson having a good camp. With the DBs it is just a really solid group of core guys sitting there like with Josh Turner. They played a lot together so you can see that that group can come together and jell really well."
The news on Diggs is unsurprising -- he should be the team's best defensive back this season, perhaps by a significant margin as he tries to recover from a subpar junior season, but to hear that Thompson has been playing well is more heartening, as the San Antonio product has come under a lot of rightful criticism for his high-profile mistakes, especially in the open field, and there is a still a strong contingent of Texas fans who believe that his talent has been wasted on the defensive side of the ball, seeing the former high school quarterback as a player who would have been an excellent fit offensively.
Since Strong likes to play his safeties close to the box, the question with the above group becomes which players will emerge as the physical enforcer capable of playing that role. Listed at 180 pounds, Turner still doesn't have the mass to do that and sophomore Adrian Colbert wasn't mentioned by Strong with the top group, but did receive some praise as a emerging back up as the Horns search for depth in the defensive backfield.
"When you look at the young guys with (Chevoski) Collins and (Adrian) Colbert coming on and you have some guys like (Bryson) Echols that can help us and that is what you want to establish, make sure we establish enough depth at every position."
A redshirt freshman, Collins has been a player receiving some buzz in recent practice reports, as the 190-pounder has apparently taken to the safety position after spending some time at wide receiver upon his arrival at Texas last year.
Possessing some of that trademark East Texas toughness, Collins was a playmaking force in high school all across the field, much like former Texas safety Adrian Phillips, but with better size. He looks like he may be on track to contribute as a redshirt freshman.
Strong indicated that Erik Huhn was a guy who provided some of that in-box toughness before his injury, which the head coach compared to the injury suffered by offensive tackle Kent Perkins.
"The thing I really liked about him is that was a big safety for us and we drop down our safeties in the box and they are like big and physical," Strong said. "It is just so tough because you never want to see anyone get an injury and he was really developing and coming along good for us."
Going against an offense that Strong refused to call depleted but is unquestionably missing some major contributors, the defense should have a chance to dominate portions of the spring game on Saturday.
For fans of high-powered offensive football, that may not be ideal, but if there are issues at the quarterback position when the season begins in the fall, the Horns would have to rely on a stingy defense to win games. As a result, Saturday will provide the first public perspective on how likely of a possibility that is.
So, is the defense Texas Strong yet?
Texas head coach Charlie Strong still confident in offense with Ash out
Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes will have a chance to shine on Saturday.
New head coach Charlie Strong and his Texas Longhorns will wrap up the second phase of the season on Saturday with the annual Orange-White game.
During a media availability on Tuesday, Strong acknowledged that there have been some ups and down for the Horns throughout spring practice, but said that the spring game will represent an opportunity for the players to "just go out and play and have a good time."
It's also going to feature a slightly different format than in years past -- where former head coach Mack Brown liked to match the first-team offense against the second-team defense and vice versa, Strong will have the ones against the ones, the twos against the twos, and the threes against the threes.
So even though there hasn't been an official depth chart released to this point in Strong's tenure, it will be on full display Saturday minus the injured players, a group that now includes quarterback David Ash, wide receiver Jake Oliver, safety Erik Huhn, and the handful of players that have been out all spring with injuries, which is a reasonably substantial list of its own.
Unfortunately, where in the past the special teams were live, including kickoffs and punts, there will be no kickoffs on Saturday and the punt returners will not have a chance to return the ball, as it will be marked down for play wherever the ball is caught.
And whether or not Ash is injury-prone at this point, there's no questioning his toughness after he fought through his rib injury against TCU in 2012 and didn't back down against Kansas State despite his recent concussion. The same was true about his recent Jones fracture, according to Strong.
"David Ash has really done a great job for us this spring and has really performed well and is very tough because that injury for him -- I don't know how long he has had it -- he said has been bothering him and he came in for our trainers to check and we were able to find out exactly what was wrong," Strong said.
"You would've never known that he had the injury by just how well he has been practicing and the way he has been carrying himself. He understands that a team is going to come and go as their quarterback goes and he wants to be a leader."
Commendable, certainly, but hopefully the injury didn't persist for so long without treatment that it will make the recovery more difficult.
Interestingly enough and despite the praise for Ash, in regards to the quarterback competition, Strong wasn't willing to say that his most experienced quarterback had firmly taken control of the starting job before he went down.
"I wouldn't say so much that he is clear number one but he has established himself and he did a great job with just learning the offense and more with the terminology and just wanting to be a leader and lead the team."
Expect an open quarterback competition throughout the summer and into the start of fall camp then, a competition that will hopefully include USC Trojans graduate transfer quarterback Max Wittek.
As for Tyrone Swoopes, the true sophomore who will receive the first-team reps on Saturday in a chance to prove himself on a big stage following his break-out performance last year that ignited the crowd in attendance, the focus is on confidence and playing within himself, according to Strong.
There's been a learning curve for the young player.
"He can throw the football but he has just got to get comfortable throwing it," Strong said. "He is big, he is strong, he is physical and he is very smart. For him it is just more of him learning the offense."
The scrimmage last Saturday may have represented a turning point for Swoopes moving forward.
"He did a really outstanding job last Saturday. I know I don't know his numbers but he had really good numbers and threw an unbelievable ball to (wide receiver) Marcus (Johnson) down the sideline where he beat one of our defensive backs. It was a big throw but did a really good job and he settled in and had the confidence and just a different air about him when leading the offense."
The Texas head coach also seems to believe that there won't be a tremendous amount of pressure on Swoopes because the rest of the offense can pick up the slack.
"If you look at this offense, we have an offensive line that is doing a really good job of blocking and protecting the quarterback, you have big backs with Malcolm Brown being one of them, and the receivers are making plays but he just needs everyone and that is what you are looking for in a team," said the Texas head coach. "We need everyone to perform and when you do lose a quarterback, whomever you lose, someone else will have to step up so now it is Swoopes' job to step up."
High praise indeed for groups that are missing likely starter Kent Perkins at offensive tackle and Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron at running back. Speaking of Bergeron, Strong said that his big senior back will have the opportunity to be back in the summer "if he does what I ask of him." There wasn't any talk of academics being the issue, but Strong did say that "he needed some things worked on."
Back to that offensive line missing Perkins -- Strong said that the starters right now are Kennedy Estelle and Desmond Harrison at tackle, Dominic Espinosa at center, Taylor Doyle at one guard position and Sedrick Flowers at the other. No surprises there other than Doyle, who has beaten out Rami Hammad for the moment. However, Strong did mention Hammad as one of the back ups who has been playing well, along with center Jake Raulerson, an important player because he's the only center on the team other than Espinosa.
Notably absent from the discussion is former four-star prospect Curtis Riser and consensus top-60 player in the country. There's been little buzz about him as he prepares to enter his third year in the program and if he doesn't make a move this fall, the long-term prospects for him at Texas would seem to diminish considerably with each passing game.
Whatever happens in the trenches, though, rest assured that the eyes of Texas will be firmly planted on Swoopes, waiting anxiously to see if he has what it takes to eventually lead the Horns.
No pressure, big guy.