On Friday, Texas co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin spoke with the media for the first time this fall. Here are some highlights from that conversation:
Quarterbacks grew over the summer. After a season that saw both returning quarterbacks struggle making the right checks at the line of scrimmage and involved a great deal of worry concerning the ability for each to even read the defense pre-snap due to their lack of familiarity with the offense, Harsin believes that both made strides over the summer:
David [Ash] and [junior QB] Case [McCoy], both those guys you can see that the summertime has been really good for them. And I think this; I think for any quarterback going through spring and getting three things to work on through the summer, and all that time you have to watch film and go back, and now you have more film to watch from a season and a spring, and even in the fall camp prior to that, what we’re doing systematically and all that, they understand that. So in terms of calling plays, some of the audibles and checks, things like that, they get that.
But just knowing isn't enough -- it has to translate into results on the football field:
Now for both of those guys, the key is it’s not knowing. It’s going to be consistency out there. Obviously it starts with turnovers. Then completion percentage. Completions at practice. Both guys have done really well. I think they’ve made good decisions.
Harsin seems rather careful here not to single either quarterback out at first of increasing speculation about which one is currently leading in the battle to take the field with the ones against Wyoming in a few short weeks. The assessment that they've made good decisions so far? Eh. Likely some truth, but the co-offensive coordinator isn't overly likely to publicly throw them under the bus at this point, either.
There are going to be some rather important moments on Monday evening for the starting candidates:
We’ll get into the first scrimmage, each guy will have an opportunity when we do that to go out there and run with the ones. To be live bullets - they’re not going to get hit - but to be around live bullets. Then we will assess from the previous practices and that scrimmage and go from there.
In fact, that first scrimmage is happening on Monday evening, and will be the first major chance for one of the quarterbacks to start creating separation. And judging by the comments from Harsin, the difference won't necessarily be something like connecting on big plays -- it will be about being smart with the football, whether that means avoiding the ball ended up in a defender's hands or simply taking a checkdown when nothing presents itself downfield.
Word will leak out Monday evening about how things went. It's possible a consensus could emerge about a leader at that point.
Daje Johnson impressing early. Summer work favors running backs who have the most experience working as wide receivers, and there's no question that 2012 signee Daje Johnson has experience there. Reported strong efforts from the summer have transferred to the fall, according to Harsin:
He's been really good in practice. We've kind of moved him around and done different things with him. He's just an explosive football player is what he is. He can run. He catches the ball well. So he's got a lot of different things that he can do. And we have utilized him in areas. We continue to kind of put plays in, and this offense grows. For new guys it starts to be a little bit overloaded. That will probably happen in a day or so. Then we pull back and we have to see how much he continues to retain. And where we can continue to utilize him. But as far as skill wise, he's done everything we could hope for him to do.
Past some flares, opponents didn't have to worry much last year about DJ Monroe's pass-catching abilities. Johnson, however, will present some stiffer challenges as the Longhorns try to work in more receiver looks for a position that Brown is now calling a combination of tailback and slot receiver.
Offense still determining roles for running backs. Texas depth at the running back position is best described as an embarrassment of riches, but one thing that team is still working on doing is identifying how each player will contribute:
We'll start to identify their roles as we get past the first scrimmage and into the next few practices. Define these are inside guys. These are outside guys. Here's a wild guy. Here's a sweep guy. Here's a guy we can put out as a receiver. And once we do that, we can start formulating our package and our plan, and building our offense around that.
Brown and Bergeron definitely seem like the inside guys, while freshman Johnathan Gray should be good on the outside. DJ Monroe and Daje Johnson should get the most action in the sweep game, although Jaxon Shipley works there some, especially since he can throw the ball as well, and another freshman, Kendall Sanders, has the speed to be good there.
Unless Monroe has improved his hands, he won't be working too much at receiver, and whatever role the coaches envisioned the senior back having at that position when this spring, Johnson could be the guy who step forward and seize those reps.
In terms of the Wildcat, Harsin mentioned Jeremy Hills, Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray, and Jalen Overstreet during the interview as guys who will get a look there.
One role not specifically mentioned by Harsin was that of third-down back. Gray has always seemed like a fit there because of his experience as a receiver catching balls out of the backfield, but it sounds like Hills is actually the leader, as he is ahead of all the other backs in terms of knowing and executing his blocking assignments.
Even if all Hills does this year is pick up a few key blitzes to save some sacks and field position, it's probably worth it that he decided to stick around instead of finding somewhere he could play. And he is always a Gaskamp candidate, too.
Harsin shares his thoughts on John Harris. When Harris came in from Garland Naaman Forest in the 2010 class in a large receiver group that also included Mike Davis, Darius White, and Chris Jones, he was lost in the shuffle a bit -- all three were rated more highly, and it didn't help that Harris played quarterback as a senior. But now White and Jones are gone, and Harris appears ready to break out after missing most of his redshirt freshman season with a foot injury.
Consistently tabbed as one of the top performers at this position group so far this fall because of his steady and physical play, Harris got some love from his coach, who even mentioned that Harris is adopting a leadership role on the team:
John's done a nice job. He's a smart football player. Now having him out there, able to run around, and he's physical. He's a big-bodied receiver. So he's done well. He's done what we've asked him to do in terms of being an inside guy. A physical guy. And he's been providing the leadership for the young guys. Being an example for them. Keeping those guys hyped up out there in drills. There's kind of a standard to the way we practice. He's done a real good job.
The news came out late last week that Harris has been working in the slot this fall, which is somewhat of a surprise since that's normally a role occupied by smaller, faster receivers, but working in that position will allow him to set the edge in the running game and provide a big target over the middle for the eventual quarterback.