When the Texas Longhorns start preseason camp with a practice in shorts on Friday, the program will be close to full health, with only two players expected to be limited.
Graduate transfer running back Tre Watson suffered an ACL injury that ended his 2017 season — and his career at Cal. The injury happened last September and Watson underwent surgery in October, head coach Tom Herman said on Thursday, so he’s not quite at full strength yet.
“There’s still a little deficiency in the strengths of each leg,” Herman said. “He’s going to be limited and progress.”
Texas will put on full pads on Sunday during the third practice, during which Watson will be limited, but the hope is that by practice five or six next week, he’ll be a full participant.
Sophomore tight end Cade Brewer actually tore his ACL after Watson last season, but he seems to be further along in his recovery.
“I think Cade Brewer will be limited in terms of contact for the first couple days,” Herman said. “He hasn’t been hit since October. That’s more not a structural thing, that’s a confidence thing, just being able to take hits. We feel like he’s going to progress very rapidly.”
Less clear is the status of junior running back Kirk Johnson, who has only played in one game since carrying the ball three times and suffering an injury against Texas Tech in 2015. Johnson had ankle surgery during the offseason and didn’t participate in spring practice.
“He’s going to have to compete,” Herman said. “In order to compete, you got to stay healthy.”
Presumably, that means that he’s healthy enough to be a full participant in practice.
Several other players are fully recovered. Junior quarterback Shane Buechele participated fully in spring practice after undergoing surgery for a torn hip muscle and senior linebacker Gary Johnson missed most of spring practice with a groin injury. Johnson is arguably the team’s most indispensable player.
Now the goal is to get through preseason camp without any injuries, unlike last season — by the time Texas opened the season against Maryland, tight end Andrew Beck and offensive lineman Elijah Rodriguez both suffered injuries that caused them to miss the regular season.
By the end of non-conference play, Buechele had suffered a shoulder injury, offensive guard Patrick Hudson had torn his ACL, and All-American left tackle Connor Williams had suffered a knee injury.
For the Longhorns to improve this season, Herman and his program will need better injury luck through preseason camp and the non-conference season.