Winter conditioning. Spring practice. Summer conditioning. Football season.
The Texas Longhorns are now in the final phase of the offseason before preseason camp begins in August. Unfortunately for fans desperate for football season to begin, there are still more than three months until then.
With the completion of spring practice last week, capped by Saturday’s Orange-White game, the Horns are moving into the final stretch of the spring semester.
“We’ve got roughly a month of workouts here before guys are done with finals, so we’ll train, we’ll lift, do a little bit of running,” Herman said after the spring game. “Most of the work will be in the weight room this month. A lot of focus on academics and finishing the semester strong. They’ll get a couple of weeks off after finals and then they’ll come back for summer school. The months of June and July are really, really important in the development of your team because you’ve also got these incoming freshmen who were not early enrollees.”
For injured players, the months between spring practice and preseason camp represent an opportunity to continue rehabilitation to get ready to compete for a role on the team this fall.
Take sophomore cornerback Anthony Cook, for instance — he was working with the ones before suffering a hamstring injury that cost him most of spring practice. He’s now trying to rehabilitate and keep from losing too much ground during offseason conditioning after fellow sophomore D’Shawn Jamison took over Cook’s starting role this spring.
For another sophomore, wide receiver Joshua Moore, it’s a time to add strength. In fact, Herman publicly discussed challenging him to do so, as it’s difficult to survive a full season of college football at 168 pounds — Herman noted his need for the armor that muscle provides.
Although Moore is the clear starter in the slot right now, he only had two catches for nine yards in the Orange-White game and failed to generate the same level of buzz as other players. As freshman Bru McCoy continues to learn the playbook and emerge, he could see more time there preseason camp. So could freshman running back Jordan Whittington, who was recruited to play the position and has the potential to become a truly hybrid player in the coming months.
And then there’s the summer arrival of Gatorade National Player of the Year Jake Smith, who is expected to immediately contend for playing time. Smith is one of 14 players scheduled to arrive for summer classes, though the status of running back signee Derrian Brown is questionable following his medical situation in February.
Herman had a message for the remaining 2019 signees with about six weeks until they depart for Austin.
“I think the message to them is if you have any hope of playing as a true freshman, you better be working just as hard as our guys are working while they’re here,” Herman said. “They all have the workouts. They have videos on how to do the different lifts, runs, and all that stuff. Unfortunately, we can’t be there, so there has to be some self-accountability with those guys. At the end if you’ve put in the work, we’ve signed some really talented guys, and if they’ve put in the work, they’re going to have a chance to play. If they didn’t, there’s probably no chance.”
In the past, limited depth on campus allowed incoming recruits to play significant roles. Following Herman’s third spring in Austin and the impact made by his first two recruiting classes, there aren’t as many open spots.
At linebacker, however, there’s such limited depth with the spinal stenosis diagnosis for De’Gabriel Floyd that David Gbenda, an inside linebacker from Katy Cinco Ranch, has more pressure on him to come in ready than anyone else.
Another player to watch is tight end Brayden Liebrock, the Under Armour All-American from Arizona — with redshirt freshman Malcolm Epps remaining outside at wide receiver and sophomore Rob Cummins back on defense, the tight end position doesn’t have as much depth as expected. With Liebrock’s high-level receiving skills, it’s possible he could immediately emerge as the No. 2 tight end option as a pass catcher.
Whether that translates into playing time will depend on how much strength he can add while back in Chandler and once he arrives in Austin, and the extent to which he can continue to hone his technique as a blocker.
The most important development over the next few weeks before arriving on campus will come from Georgia Tech graduate transfer offensive guard Parker Braun, who was listed at 280 pounds last season. Braun is finalizing his time in Atlanta while trying to add muscle mass.
Among the strong, lean offensive linemen molded by Herb Hand and strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight, Braun won’t look out of place by the time he gets to Austin. And that’s massively important because neither redshirt freshman Junior Angilau nor junior Tope Imade seem ready to even approximate the success that Braun achieved with the Yellow Jackets. Amid discussions of whether Braun can add enough mass to anchor in pass protection, the two-time All-ACC selection is certainly starting to look ready to step in at left guard.
For the entire program, there are a little more than 100 days until the likely start of preseason camp and the ability to compete for a Big 12 title will hinge to a significant extent on how much it can improve over that time.