If there is any reason Charlie Strong is the new head coach of the Texas Longhorns, it is to bring back a tough edge back to a squad that has been anything but tough in recent years. And through a series of dismissals, suspensions, and challenges, Strong is testing the physical and mental toughness of his team before the season kicks off against UNT at the end of August. Here are some highlights from his opening presser.
RB/WR Daje Johnson, OT Desmond Harrison, and S Josh Turner will all start the season serving a minimum one game suspension, but will be at practice come Monday.
This will be Johnson's third separate suspension on the 40 acres, missing his freshman opener and sophomore bowl game with various team rule violations and academic concerns. And it will likely be the final chance for the super-talented Pflugerville speedster, who will be under the watchful eye of Charlie Strong and Pat Moorer for the rest of his time in Austin.
The JUCO OT Harrison, presumed starter on the left side, will start his season on the bench following his reported near-Purge experience last week. His absence will test an already thin tackle rotation that could look to sophomore Kent Perkins to fill in early before he returns to right guard, where Joe Wickline would like to start the young talent. Behind Perkins and junior Kennedy Estelle, the presumed starter on the right side, there are few viable options at tackle, which may press redshirt freshman Darius James into spot duty at tackle.
Senior safety Josh Turner turned out to be the only survivor of The Purge's appeal process, and will start his final year on the bench following his reinstatement. Expected to start at safety beside Mykkele Thompson, Turner will be on the shortest of leashes.
Strong confirmed that sophomore RB Jalen Overstreet, freshman DB Chevoski Collins, and senior RB Joe Bergeron have all been dismissed and released from their scholarships. Additionally, junior WR Kendall Sanders and freshman WR Montrel Meander have been permanently removed from the team and aren't allowed back.
The loss of Overstreet and Bergeron suddenly creates a razor thin RB depth chart, which will rely on Malcolm Brown as a workhorse and bringing along Johnathan Gray as he returns from that late season torn Achilles. Fortunately, Gray's recovery has been remarkable and a testament to his work ethic. To share the load, freshman RB Duke Catalon will need to be ready to go, and D'Onta Foreman has a good shot at beginning his Longhorn career as a big-bodied RB.
Sanders and Meander will now move on from football as they face sexual assault charges stemming from an offseason arrest.
On David Ash:
Charlie Strong begins his Texas tenure with a less than ideal situation at QB: his only proven commodity has spent the better part of the last year nursing concussions and a broken foot, his only other experienced option is a project, and his most talented option just set foot on campus. The best chance for a strong opening campaign is a solid, and healthy, David Ash. Strong's message to Ash? "I don't need you to be a great player, just go play within yourself." As a sophomore, Ash was among the most efficient passers in the country, and Shawn Watson would love for the 4th year QB to reprise that role while complementing a strong Joe Wickline run game.
To stay healthy, Strong reiterated Ash needs to be smarter about his style of play. "You're a quarterback. Get down! Slide underneath the guy. I need you to play the next play. I don't need to see how tough you are. If you can outrun him then outrun him, but run out of bounds. Don't take a hit." Despite being a solidly built 6'3" 230 lbs, Ash has spent a few games on the sidelines nursing a variety of injuries, including a wrist, ribs, head, and foot. Much of it can be attributed to never shying away from contact. Maybe he felt he had something to prove, but no longer is that the case.
On leadership and challenging his team:
When discussing senior leaders, Strong was quick to point out a few guys that have done all that they've needed to do: CB Quandre Diggs, DE Cedric Reed, and RB Malcolm Brown. The leadership role comes naturally to Diggs, who has never had a problem speaking his mind and has bought in to Charlie Strong's message from day one, even offering to help weed out the weak. It comes a little less naturally to Brown, he's on the quieter side, but will have no issue carrying the offense on his shoulders, as he did the back stretch of 2013. And Reed will be the Longhorn that draws the most attention, choosing to return to Texas as a senior and carry a defense with plenty to prove.
But Strong's challenge extends beyond the top of the roster. He met with every player back in May, showing them a lowlight reel of several plays where they displayed poor effort. His challenge? Don't be that player anymore. The expectation now is maximum effort will be given in practice and in games. The Sunday following games will feature tape reviews where poor effort will be showcased. The message? Don't be that guy.
It's a new era at Texas, and Monday is the next step in getting it kicked off.
Sunday, August 10th at 9:30am in DKR Texas will host its only open practice of the fall.