The Texas Longhorns held their second of three practices open to the public on Friday evening on a hot, sun-drenched day in Austin.
Any practice report has to begin with the Desmond Harrison watch, which is now in its fourth day as the junior college offensive tackle transfer missed yet another practice with no change in his status. The school has been saying that it's something they expect resolved quickly, so every day that passes without Harrison on the field is both bad for Harrison's development and cause for increasingly heightened concern about his eligibility.
In other, unrelated news, there are rumors that offensive line coach Stacy Searels recently threw a hat at the head of the academic support staff, Bryan Davis. I'm joking. Kind of.
The good news is that senior wide receiver Mike Davis and junior wide receiver Jaxon Shipley got saw some reps in the opening team work, thought they did not participate the rest of the time.
It was a practice that didn't feature much team work and no one-on-one blocking or inside drills -- despite it being the first day in pads, it wasn't nearly as physical as the first open practice in the spring.
There were some physical moments, however. The opening session featured the ones against the ones and then the twos against the twos for one series each and within the first several plays, junior running back Joe Bergeron delivered a blow along the sidelines to junior cornerback Sheroid Evans. Then, in the final session of team work before the end of practice, sophomore tight end MJ McFarland caught a pass that barely got past diving junior linebacker Steve Edmond and then took out some aggression on senior cornerback Carrington Byndom, then did the same to junior safety Mykkele Thompson, though it was much less violent.
The collision with Byndom appeared to be helmet to helmet, with the much smaller Byndom taking the worst of it. He was unsteady on his feet for a moment while trying to remain on the field before he was forced to the sideline. With the defense only able to thud the offensive players, the advantage clearly goes to the offense if they want to get physical, as both Bergeron and McFarland proved. But with defensive players trying to keep from hitting their counterparts too hard, it can be more dangerous for them, as Byndom found out first hand.
Worst-case scenario is that he has a concussion, which could have the potential to lead to continued issues throughout the season with head injuries, exactly what happened to senior defensive tackle Ashton Dorsey last season when he missed the Kansas State game and the Oregon State game.
Junior quarterback David Ash was mostly sharp, showing off his arm strength working some small windows underneath, but he did throw two interceptions -- one when his wide receiver failed to body up to maintain position on an out route that was in the air a bit too long in one-on-ones and another when junior wide receiver Bryant Jackson appeared to break off his route when Ash expected him to keep going and the pass was intercepted by Evans.
Ash had another bad moment when he missed sophomore wide receiver Marcus Johnson in one-on-ones when Johnson was wide open in the end zone after shaking Evans with a slant-and-go move a play after Evans broke up a decent pass down the sideline intended for Johnson. Of the wide receivers with the starting group, Ash appeared to have the best chemistry with Johnson, but those are throws that he can't afford to miss during the season because he's left too many points on the board in his first two seasons and he no longer has the excuses of youth and inexperience.
One of his better throws of the day came on the play before the ball intercepted by Evans, when he found Jackson on what looked like it might have been a corner route. The ball was dropped nicely over the shoulder of the receiver and was dead in stride.
Freshman wide receiver Jacorey Warrick flashed at times, catching a crossing pattern for a significant gain in a seven-on-seven drill and making plays in the team session as well. His injury last fall and an unimpressive performance at The Opening decreased the buzz around him, but he made it clear that his short-area quickness can translate to the college game.
The fastest player on the field was easily sophomore hybrid running back/wide receiver Daje Johnson, whose speed and start-stop ability is absolutely insane and above and beyond anyone else on the team, even Sanders and Evans. Johnson is the type of player who will have a chance to blow away NFL scouts with his testing numbers a couple springs from now. He also didn't look to have any problems with his hands on Friday, always a positive for a player who has been inconsistent in that area.
It's worth remarking that sophomore wide receiver Kendall Sanders was playing an outside receiver position, where he may well end up staying during the season. Unfortunately for Texas, the wide receiver corps right now is heavy on slot receiver prospects and light on outside receivers, so Sanders may be playing out of position a little bit and won't have the same amount of room to make defenders miss. He did show some physicality in beating Byndom on one play, though he also had trouble getting his head around in the team drills when he was hot on an all-out blitz, but didn't get out of his break fast enough to find the football delivered by Ash under pressure.
Besides the throw that Ash missed to Johnson, Evans had a superlative day, flashing his physicality to jam receivers and his recovery speed to make up for any mistakes. He'll get a chance in the NFL just because he looks and runs like an NFL cornerback, but there was some evidence again on Friday to suggest that he's ready for his big break-out season.
The two defensive backs who had the most difficult times out in one-on-ones were Thompson and freshman cornerback Antwuan Davis. Despite all the physical skills possessed by the latter, it was one of those days for the Bastrop product, who looked rather overwhelmed and was beaten repeatedly. Meanwhile, Thompson really struggled in one-on-ones failing to get his hands on receivers and biting hard on outside moves. It may partly be a footwork thing with him, but when Texas has to cover heavily with a safety, junior Josh Turner may end up being the better bet if Friday was any indication.
The team worked on the various aspects of the speed option for about two sessions on Friday, a play that former offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin couldn't have called more than four or five times during his tenure, if that. It's hard to imagine Ash running it during a game, but freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes or redshirt freshman quarterback/running back Jalen Overstreet could be candidates, though Overstreet was with the wide receivers during that portion of practice.
There was also some work in the Diamond formation and Overstreet in a Wild formation package with Johnson as the sweep guy. If Overstreet gets a package of plays, it may include parts of the offense that take advantage of his skill set, so if or when he takes a direct snap in a game this season, it won't necessarily be part of the Wildcat series (Power, Jet Sweep, Counter), even though he's clearly getting a look there.
It's interesting to note that junior tight end Geoff Swaim worked mostly with the ones at tight end, but didn't impact the passing game. McFarland got some reps with the ones and didn't seem to be favoring the knee that he injured during the summer.
Perhaps it was just knowing that Bergeron is lighter, but he appeared to have more bounce in his step and backed it up during the final session when he bounced a play outside for a substantial gain. Given that he likes bounce plays outside more than most running backs of his size, the increased speed for Bergeron could really pay dividends with his running style.
Offensive/defensive line report from Michael Pelech:
Offensive line spent a lot of time working on combo blocks and moving to second level, with extra emphasis on footwork when transitioning to the second level.
OL/DL 1v1s included TEs on DEs. MJ McFarland continues to improve as a blocker heads up, with a good stalemate on Caleb Bluiett. Curtis Riser had a very impressive win over Malcom Brown, knocking him clean back.
QBs and RBs used time spent yesterday on swing passes and screens to work on option plays, both the inside read and the pitch. The drill consisted of making the correct read of a GA coming off the edge. Only misread was a Case McCoy keeper. Clean ball handling from all the QBs and RBs.
Running backs spent a lot of time in pass protection drills with the linebackers coming off the edge. Jalen Overstreet needs work on staying low and driving through first contact. Was tossed off balance after first contact with Kendall Thompson. Fullbacks Chet Moss and Alex De La Torre were largely solid there. Joe Bergeron has solid technique and all the mass in the world, and is likely the best pass blocker of the group.
Note about the MJ McFarland - Carrington Byndom collision: yesterday in the same situation Byndom popped him in the hands and forced an incompletion. I joked with McFarland on Twitter after about not letting that slide, and getting him back. Sure enough, same situation tonight and he laid the wood, knocking Byndom out.