A Texas Longhorns defense that the coaching staff hopes is reloading rather than rebuilding after losing eight starters hung close with what is expected to be an explosive offense for head coach Tom Herman in his third season during the team’s first preseason scrimmage on Sunday.
“I’m very pleased with where we’re at after nine practices,” Herman said.
The offense managed to pull away late on a two-minute drive to win the intrasquad practice, but two potentially significant injuries did happen — sophomore running back Keaontay Ingram “tweaked” his knee and sophomore safety Caden Sterns rolled his ankle. Further evaluations will determine the severity of those two injuries, but Herman said the initial, on-field evaluations were “positive.”
In positive news for the defense, Todd Orlando’s group was able to create negative plays and be disruptive in the backfield, while also getting off the field on third down, a massive struggle last season after the Horns were one of the nation’s best in that area during Orlando’s first season at Texas.
Herman’s initial evaluation of the linebackers was positive, too — he said he felt the presence of all three starters, but they did have some issues when the offense increased its tempo. That caused some chaos and will be something that the defense needs to fix before getting into Big 12.
Some newcomers at the position have also impressed Herman, who said that junior college transfer Juwan Mitchell “has a knack for the ball” and fellow junior college transfer Caleb Johnson, who was limited during the spring due to his shoulder injury, is showing the speed that jumped out on his film. He’s likely not as fast as Gary Johnson, but was tracked at 20.5 miles per hour on a recent kickoff drill. That’s moving.
The cornerback play sounded less positive, as Herman described it as “up and down.” Run support was a strength and there weren’t any major assignment busts, which are both important baseline accomplishments. However, the group did struggle to contest 50/50 balls against the Longhorns wide receivers, so Herman wants to see some improvements in ball skills.
Of course, Texas also has some players who can go up and get the football, including junior tight end Cade Brewer, who had a one-handed catch for a touchdown during the scrimmage. He might struggle replacing the blocking ability — and certainly the leadership ability — of Andrew Beck, who departed as a first-team All-Big 12 performer and two-time team captain.
Otherwise, Herman didn’t provide a lot of specifics about the scrimmage, but he did provide a high-level overview of a program that appears on the right track with the season opener looming less than three weeks away.