Limited looks at the tweaked Texas Longhorns offense on Wednesday's Longhorn Network broadcast and comments from head coach Charlie Strong and players provided more perspective on how the attack will eventually look by early September when the Longhorns open the 2015 season against the Fighting Irish in South Bend.
Strong stopped short of calling it a spread offense in describing the changes as tweaks, but he expressed a preference for that attack in his introductory press conference as long as it features a physical running game, exactly the type of balance that offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Wickline helped head coach Mike Gundy perfect at Oklahoma State.
For the head coach, the prevalence of spread offenses in the high schools ranks helped spur the decision to make those tweaks.
"I would say probably 98 percent of this state is a spread offense," Strong said on Monday. "You see it during the recruiting process, because what happened in recruiting, everybody wants to know, hey, coach, what type of offense are you going to run. The key players that you need to really recruit, those guys are the ones that are in the spread offense. So that's what you're looking for. What we did is that we looked at it as 98 percent of the offenses in this state are from that background. So when we bring players into our program, let's not change them."
In practice clips, the Longhorns utilized the advertised tempo changes confirmed way back before National Signing Day, as the offense refrained from huddling and got to the line of scrimmage as quickly as possible, then looked back to the coaches for the play call. It will probably take some time for the team to get plays off as quickly as schools like Baylor, but that looks like a goal.
As for play calls, the team repped the zone read, the seam pop pass to the slot receiver, and wide receiver screens.
The increased emphasis on the quarterback run game is a clear indication that the Horns planned to unleash the running ability of quarterbacks Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard -- one or both, as Strong said he wouldn't rule out a two-quarterback system in the fall. Late last season, it appeared as if the Swoopes was merely faking the zone read instead of actually making a read.
Another element to the Texas offense that should receive more attention based on the limited viewings in the practice special? The perimeter run game, with Texas showing the jet sweep to Daje Johnson and a fake jet sweep with Swoopes coming downhill on the designed run.
The staff wants to find playmakers and get them the ball in space, with the jet sweep series, end arounds, and reverses representing easy opportunities to get the ball to senior speedster Daje Johnson and sophomore counterpart Armanti Foreman.
"With the athleticism that we have at some positions, you try to find a way to get the ball into Daje's [Johnson] hands and try to find a way to get the ball into Marcus's [Johnson] hand and try to spread it out and get the ball out and hope you can create the big plays," Strong said.
"And we want an explosive team. We didn't create the big plays. You look at some of our games, you look at the low scoring, but you'll have to score and but you have to generate, you have to generate points, and it's all about taking what you have and using it to your advantage and seeing that you can be successful doing it."
By all accounts, new wide receivers coach Jay Norvell was vocal throughout the practice. Norvell's hire sparked the original speculation about Texas using more tempo because of his experience gained at Oklahoma, but calling the Longhorns a tempo offense might be a little bit misleading -- this looks like it will definitely be a no-huddle offense. Most no-huddle offenses have several speeds at which they play and a slower speed wouldn't keep the Horns from using some motions, trades, and shifts to impact leverage on tired defenses.
In that vein, Texas moved the H-backs around before the snap on occasion in practice, a tactic that assistant head coach for the offense/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson utilized last season and former co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin also favored.
All the changes look likely to benefit the offense and the quarterbacks. After Swoopes looked comfortable and commanding in the hurry-up offense employed by Texas last season in the failed comeback against Oklahoma, there was plenty of discussion about how the tactic benefitted him by simplifying his pre-snap reads.
Looking back for plays and reducing the pressure on quarterbacks to change calls at the line of scrimmage will further give Swoopes and Heard a better chance of succeeding since the coaches will read the defense instead of the quarterbacks.
After one practice, count senior running back Johnathan Gray as a fan of the tweaks.
"I like how it spreads out everything where you can run and pass. It mixes up everything. The defense doesn't know what's going to happen. It helps out the running back, quarterback, the wide receivers and the offensive line. I love this offense."
Senior center Taylor Doyle compared it to the offense he used to run under Chad Morris at Lake Travis during his high school days. Those teams were well-conditioned as a result of the pace in practice and the Longhorns should reap the same benefits this year.
"It's very fast," Gray said. "As a matter of fact, we hit the field running and didn't stop until practice was over. Guys were pretty dog-tired, and it's something we've got to get used to and get back at it."
Senor cornerback Duke Thomas doesn't seem quite as happy about it, just resigned to the consequences:
I'm getting in the cold tub everyday this spring .. Their tempo is crazy
— Orlando Thomas (@DukeOfDBU) March 26, 2015
If most of the discussion about the offensive changes sounds familiar, it's because it's basically the same one that accompanied the offensive changes planned by Major Applewhite in 2013 before David Ash went down with his ultimately season-ending concussion issues. As a result, Applewhite employed his preferred offense for less than two games.
The 2015 version of the Texas offense won't feature a potential breakout quarterback on the level of David Ash in 2013, but an injury at the position won't stop this staff from implementing the changes to bring the Horns up to speed with high school football in the state and rivals in the Big 12.