New offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert is introducing his fast-paced, no-huddle attack to to the Texas Longhorns, but make no mistake -- this team is still focused on being physical on both sides of the ball, going three-on-three with the inside drill on Thursday during the team's third spring practice and first in pads.
On one play, early enrollee center Zach Shackelford showed off his ability to anchor and use an opponent's momentum against them, pancaking sophomore defensive tackle Jake McMillon to open up a hole for walk-on quarterback Dylan Covey. To his left, junior left guard Brandon Hodges initially lost some ground due to a powerful punch from sophomore defensive tackle Chris Nelson, but recovered and knocked down Nelson as the big defender turned to pursue the play.
Neither player has any experience at the collegiate level -- though Hodges did redshirt last year as a junior college transfer -- but look like the current favorites to win the two open starting jobs along the offensive line.
In another clip, senior defensive end Quincy Vasser used a swim move to discard sophomore guard Elijah Rodriguez to stop a play for a limited gain. Meanwhile, sophomore center Terrell Cuney didn't manage to get much push against senior linebacker Tim Cole.
And watch out for early enrollee Demarco Boyd -- though he may still end up on the offensive side of the ball, the do-everything Gilmer product man-handlds sophomore wide receiver Garrett Gray to win one rep and stop walk-on running back Tim Yoder with a big hit in the backfield.
The next clip showed sophomore Patrick Vahe working at center alongside starting tackles Connor Williams and Kent Perkins. Are the coaches seriously considering moving the guard a little bit further inside? On that rep, senior defensive tackle Paul Boyette was able to beat Vahe and make the tackle. Vahe also spent some time at center during the team portion of practice.
It looked like it was a rather rough go of it for Vahe against Boyette, as he lost his balance and fell on another rep during the inside drill, allowing the defense to blow up the play.
But maybe Boyette is just a man on fire -- a quick swim move beat Shackelford in a one-on-one drill, suggesting that the senior may be ready to step into a big role this year and emerge as a potential All-Conference performer. Suffice it to say that such a development would be a major boon for head coach Charlie Strong's defense.
During the team portion, senior cornerback Sheroid Evans broke up an underthown pass to sophomore wide receiver John Burt and senior safety Kevin Vaccaro was able to come up with the interception. Sophomore cornerback Davante Davis also broke up a pass intended for junior wide receiver Dorian Leonard. On another rep, Davis jammed Leonard hard at the line of scrimmage and was able to beat him to the spot for an interception on a slant route. Overall, the length and physicality of the Longhorns cornerbacks should make them a tough match up for big wide receivers across the conference.
However, Davis wasn't able to impact a beautiful throw from early enrollee quarterback Shane Buechele that was hauled in by his fellow early enrollee Collin Johnson, the wide receiver who has been consistently impressive so far. Johnson made another appearance by high-pointing a nice throw from sophomore quarterback Jerrod Heard for a touchdown over Davis.
Sophomore DeAndre McNeal may be emerging as a red-zone threat in the slot, as he caught another short touchdown pass on Thursday. And though he's listed at 227 on the Texas roster, he posted a picture on Twitter Friday suggesting that he's nearly 10 pounds lighter than that now, which would mean that he's lost about 20 pounds from last year:
Sophomore linebacker Breckyn Hager also flashed with several nice plays behind the line of scrimmage in the team portion, when he blew up a walk-on fullback while making the tackle, and during the inside drill.