The Texas Longhorns are now a week into spring practice with a scrimmage looming on Saturday as the Texas Relays take place.
Head coach Charlie Strong provided updates on the team's progress during a media availability on Tuesday evening.
-- Young players who have stepped up and caught the eye of Strong during the first part of spring practice include junior defensive end Shiro Davis, redshirt freshman cornerback Antwuan Davis, redshirt freshman linebacker Deoundrei Davis, sophomore cornerback Bryson Echols, junior wide receiver Kendall Sanders, junior running back/wide receiver Daje Johnson, sophomore wide receiver Jacorey Warrick, and sophomore running back Jalen Overstreet.
Of those players, the mild surprises there include Deoundrei Davis, around whom some rumors swirled of possible issues with the coaching staff when similar rumors included now-dismssed seniors Leroy Scott and Chet Moss. With the issues at linebacker over the last several seasons and the range, striking ability, and pure athletic upside of Davis, it's important to keep the Houston-area product in the program, if possible.
The other surprise is probably Echols, who was more known for his special teams miscues last season than any contributions. He did, however, lead the team in special teams tackles with 10 and could end up as the field cornerback if junior Duke Thomas moves to the boundary position.
Those moves also depend on where senior cornerback Quandre Diggs plays, as he struggled mightily at times dealing with blockers when playing nickel back and is probably better suited for the field position he played during his first two seasons. At 5'10 and 185 pounds, Echols is probably too small to play nickel back.
Further encouraging news is in the explosiveness department offensively, as greater contributions from Sanders, who averaged less than 10 yards per catch last season, and the shifty Warrick would go a long way towards allowing the offense to rely less on a grinding running game by changing field position quickly.
And the inclusion of Overstreet's name is intriguing since he had few opportunities last season from the running back position and didn't always look natural at the position late in the season when he had carries as a result of injuries.
-- Not everything has come together yet for Daje Johnson, despite the praise for his work, as Strong noted that he's a guy who can take any play the distance, but also has a propensity for drops. Other than pure maturity, the key for Johnson for some time has been consistency, as the issues with his hands date back to his high school days, and the inability to consistently finish plays will continue to limit his opportunities to make big plays until he can correct those problems, if he ever does.
Let's hope he doesn't end up as yet another scat back who leaves the program amid questions about unfulfilled potential or poor usage.
-- Strong also said that the players are still but not allowed to throw up their horns, but added that they will regain that privilege "one of these days."
Is it really possible that the team could sing the "Eyes of Texas" following the Orange-White game without being able to raise their horns?
-- With Texas Relays this weekend and the first spring scrimmage on Saturday, Strong said that he expects to host another important visit weekend for prospects. So far, the coaching staff has done a tremendous job of capitalizing when it has gotten targets on campus, so the hope is that the positive momentum continues this weekend.
-- The tight ends are expected to be a big part of the offense this fall, said Strong, noting that he expects them to catch more passes. Starting tight ends Geoff Swaim and Greg Daniels combined for only six catches for 42 yards last fall and Swaim had some notable drops late in the season when he was finally given an opportunity.
Basically, for Strong's comments to come true about them catching passes, Swaim and Daniels will have to show attributes that they haven't shown up to this point in their respective careers.
Of course, the offensive scheme could result in some major changes -- since Texas was so run-heavy last season after David Ash went out, the tight ends often stayed in on max protection play-action passes, resulting in few opportunities to run routes.
Or Strong could mean that he sees some playing time in the future of junior college transfer Blake Whiteley, who is participating in spring practice and was productive as a wide receiver in high school, and junior MJ McFarland, who has struggled in the blocking game and with drops through his first several years on campus.
If Texas can find one true receiving threat who can also block out of that group, it would be a major boost to the offense. If not, the coaches will have to settle for effective if one-dimensional play from Swaim, Daniels, and possibly Whiteley, who grew as a blocker during his year at Arizona Western.
-- Strong on the quarterbacks (updated from the official transcript):
They are getting a lot of reps and they are running the team and they are doing a good job for everything we are asking them to do right now. We are not asking them to do a lot because we don't have to go play here or nothing in the next couple of weeks, so it is about them getting better and about getting control of the offense and running the team. That is what you want to see from that quarterback position.
-- Position changes are always a major topic during the spring, but Strong said that the staff hasn't even considered them yet, as the coaching staff is still trying to get to know the players first. Expect any changes to happen at the end of the spring, if at all.