The Texas Longhorns donned shoulder pads on Sunday for the first time this fall and opened practice on Fan Appreciation Day.
Despite the quarterbacks avoiding major mistakes like the three interceptions thrown by redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard on Friday, better ball placement still wasn't good enough to result in more completed passes. And, per usual, head coach Charlie Strong wasn't willing to mince words about the situation after practice.
"We have to get better and improve," Strong said. "It was the first time we had on shoulder pads. We hadn't had any drops but all of a sudden put shoulder pads on and had drops. Just too many drops. It just stops the flow of practice and flow of trying to get some things done on offense."
The video shows senior Marcus Johnson dropping a pass after going up in traffic to high point another ball for a catch and there's talk that sophomore Dorian Leonard continues to struggle with his consistency, as he did during a disappointing Orange-White game that showed his potential to get up, then fail to secure the football. Johnson in particular must emerge after a disappointing season. Throughout the spring and into fall camp, he's been saying the right things about his preparation and approach to the game, but it has to translate to consistency, especially in finishing plays with catches.
However, there are positive reports about freshman John Burt, who started with the ones on Sunday ahead of Leonard and sophomore Lorenzo Joe.
"Burt is long and athletic," Strong. "He's a guy that catches the ball well. The thing about him is he is only going to get better and better. As he gets stronger, he's going to be a really good player."
If the Floridian can continue to show a similar growth curve to the steep jump that he took last season as a senior in high school, there's no reason why he won't continue to maximize his potential as he gains strength working under Pat Moorer in the Texas strength and conditioning program.
So while the evident lack of consistency from Leonard and Joe is concerning, having Burt come in ready to compete for and earn playing time may end up becoming the more important takeaway in the near future and long term.
Ohter players singled out by Charlie Strong as stepping up include junior cornerback Bryson Echoles and sophomore cornerback Antwuan Davis, two players with a lot to lose if they get jumped by freshmen like Kris Boyd, Holton Hill, and Davante Davis. If that happens, it could be difficult for them to find playing time anywhere other than special teams.
The coaches are also busy cross-training players like senior Duke Thomas and Antwuan Davis at nickel to evaluate options other than redshirt freshman John Bonney, a standout at that position all spring. So Bonney is clearly the No. 2 cornerback right since he's stayed on the field in the 4-3 looks Texas used during the practices on Friday and Sunday and still the likely starter at nickel unless the opportunity sparks quick improvement from Davis.
In the trenches, Strong likes the production of senior Desmond Jackson and sophomore Poona Ford at defensive tackle with the indisclosed injury to rising junior Hassan Ridegeway keeping him out of practice. Another less familiar name in that group? Redshirt freshman Chris Nelson, who is now healthy after missing the spring with a shoulder injury. Strong said that he's making some plays, a notable development because he came in as a much more raw prospect than Ford who looked like he might need several years before becoming a contributor.
The team will put on full pads for the first time on Tuesday when things really start getting serious for the Longhorns in prepping for the opener against Notre Dame in less than a month.