Dressed in shorts and logo-less helmets on Monday, the ‘Horns began the five-week stretch of preparation for the season without the specter of two-a-days looming over them — the NCAA is now restricting programs to one practice per day.
As new head coach Tom Herman adjusts to the first preseason camp he’s ever started in July, he’s also still trying to adjust the culture to ensure that players hate losing. After 21 losses in the last three seasons, he believes that losing can become acceptable through the sheer frequency of it and he’s worried that happened at Texas.
“I think losing has to be awful, and you can never get used to losing,” Herman said at Big 12 Media Days. “That is one of the biggest maybe downfalls of a lot of teams is you get used to losing. No, losing is awful. It's awful. It's not just, oh, well, we'll get them next week. No, this is like the sky-is-falling-type stuff.”
So the ‘Horns have now transitioned from the chaos Herman and strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight implement during summer workouts to the chaos Herman implements during practice.
On Monday, Herman was happy with his team’s conditioning level coming out of the summer.
“It's noticeable out there, much more stamina,” he said. “I don't mean that from a lung standpoint, as when you're strong you can go and bend and stretch and change direction and you don't get tired. When you're weak, period 12 I'm having a hard time changing direction, I'm having a hard time going hard, I'm having a hard time finishing plays. I saw a team that was running around really good, even at the end of practice.”
The physical changes have been obvious, as well, with multiple linemen on both sides of the both showing off slimmed down physiques, including All-American left tackle Connor Williams and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Chris Daniels.
The changes have been widespread enough that stories like that of junior guard Patrick Vahe are far from uncommon in the trenches:
I told Texas LG Patrick Vahe he looked slimmer and he demurred. But later admitted he's dropped 15 pounds of fat, added 8 of muscle.— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) August 1, 2017
In fact, Herman said the team overall has shed 500 pounds of body fat, while gaining 380 pounds of muscle. The team’s average vertical leap has improved by an inch and a half, while the average player has added 70 pounds to their max back squats.
Now Texas is busy translating those gains to the practice field, where Herman will focus on building culture above game-planning for the non-conference portion of the schedule.
“I haven't watched a snap of Maryland film, and I won't,” Herman said. “There's nothing that can get you more nervous than probably you already are. The first three weeks of training camp are about developing the team's identity and instilling the culture. We'll worry about winning the game down the road, so we won't worry about San Jose or USC until the weeks that we play them.”
As the team develops its identity and Herman instills the culture, the quarterback competition between incumbent sophomore Shane Buechele and freshman Sam Ehlinger will play out.
Herman wants to make a decision on that battle when the team starts to prepare for Maryland on August 21.
Now 205 pounds and the heavy favorite to win the job, Buechele is stronger and more vocal, according to Herman.
“I heard him a lot more, which is good,” Herman said.
Meanwhile, Ehlinger has clearly benefited from his own time under McKnight in the strength and conditioning program, but is still working on thinking less during practice.
On Monday, Herman had a talk with him about his excessive focus on his reads and his mechanics.
"Sam, you worry about all of that stuff through the drill periods, individuals, all that stuff,” Herman told his young quarterback. “When it's 7-on-7, 11-on-11, just play football. Stop thinking and just play."
The same could be said for the rest of the ‘Horns as the first week of practice continues in preparation for the team’s first scrimmage on Saturday.