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Charlie Strong, Kai Locksley clarify Texas offensive changes

There's now more perspective on what type of offense the Longhorns will run in 2015.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Former Texas Longhorns quarterback commit Zach Gentry recently confirmed rumors and speculation that the Horns will change the offense heading into the 2015 season and head coach Charlie Strong and quarterback signee Kai Locksley both clarified last week some aspects of how the offensive attack will look different this fall.

Will there be wholesale changes? Probably not, but Strong understands that something has to give here.

"We have to tweak it," he said on National Signing Day. "We know this. I look at five games last season where we scored 20 points or less. We know we have to get better, and we have to tweak it some. We have a lot of time to sit down as a staff and decide what we're going to do there."

In that response, Strong downplayed the individual impact of new wide receiver coach Jay Norvell's addition amid reports that he will bring his experience with tempo and the quarterback run game to the table to make changes to the Texas offensive attack.

While the term "spread" isn't particularly explanatory in describing an offense at this point, Strong said that he doesn't think the offense is totally going in that direction.

"I don't know if we're just going to completely turn it over to a spread," he said. "You've just got to make sure that you take your offense and build around what we have with our talent pool. We've got to make changes. We know that with Heard and with Swoopes, they're both going to get a chance to go in and compete."

Both quarterbacks could benefit from an increased use of the quarterback run game to open up the passing game and from the easier reads that result from playing at tempo. Using a faster tempo will be one of the changes, according to Locksley.

"On my official visit, that's one of the things I wanted to get clarified," Locksley told Horns Digest. "What exactly is their scheme? And what exactly did they want to do?

"(QB coach Shawn Watson) explained to me that it would be the same stuff they were running. But now it would be up-tempo and get things going a lot faster and quicker. So, it's less of the quarterback having to decipher what's going on with the defense at the line, and just kind of playing fast.

"Those are the only changes that were explained to me."

Aside from the aforementioned benefits to the quarterback in seeing fewer defensive coverages, the decrease in the number of pre-snap checks at the line of scrimmage will make the offense less complicated to learn.

At times, it's easy to forget that the 2014 offense was largely designed around the skill set and running limitations of starting quarterback David Ash, whose career ended during the North Texas game when he suffered another concussion. This offseason, the staff will be able to feature quarterbacks with less aptitude in making difficult reads before and after the snap, but more ability to run the football without worries of a career-ending injury.

And beyond maximizing the talent on campus, the tweaks are coming about because Strong recognizes the nature of the high school football landscape in the state of Texas.

"When you're talking about just recruits and what we were selling offensively -- if you look in this state right now, most of the offenses, 98 percent of them are spread," he said. "A lot of the young men that come out of these programs are spread when you look at the skill position, look at the quarterback position. What we're thinking about is we know we need to open it up some."

The same is true at the college level -- most of the in-state competition runs some variation of the spread, from the Air Raid offenses of Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and TCU to the unique attack designed by Baylor head coach Art Briles.

So the planned changes will help the Horns better compete on the recruiting trail in addition to running an offense that is more familiar to prospects once they get on campus.

Of course, it isn't all about the scheme or tempo. Strong knows that beyond the quarterback position improving, Texas has to get better at running back and wide receiver.

"You also think about the skill position, and I think that's what we forget a lot," Strong said. "When you have someone that can win outside where you can throw the bubble screen or you can turn around and hand off for the hand sweep, where you can get the guys on the corner, or you can throw a hitch out there and you make a guy miss. That's when you know you can get yards and you can take pressure off the quarterback. We have to improve at the skill position and the quarterback position."

Texas managed to address those needs with a strong wide receiver class. Aledo wide receive Ryan Newsome is a candidate to take bubble screens or jet sweeps the distance any time he touches the ball and DeAndre McNeal has the make-you-miss ability to catch one of those hitches and turn it into a big play because of his truly unique lateral quickness and explosiveness. John Burt and Gilbert Johnson, meanwhile, both have the ability to use their big bodies outside to make plays in traffic and in the red zone.

Strong also understands that the wide receivers have to be able to run away from defenders on the outside for the offense to work.

So drawing some improvement from an offense that ranked No. 99 in F/+ in 2014 will have to come from a variety of areas -- from increased tempo to more emphasis on the quarterback run game to better performances at quarterback and the skill positions.

If any of most of those elements start coming together along with a more experience offensive line, perhaps the offense won't go through such long periods of ineptitude.