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Steve Sarkisian after second Texas scrimmage: ‘We’re not where we need to be yet’

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The Longhorns enter a big developmental week for the program with the Orange-White game looming next Saturday.

Texas football

On Saturday, the Texas Longhorns held the team’s second scrimmage of spring practice head of next Saturday’s Orange-White game at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Following the scrimmage, Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian met with the media via Zoom to share his perspective on the 12th practice and where the Longhorns football program stands currently with only three practices remaining.

“I thought pretty much in all areas, all facets, we improved individually by player wise and then by unit wise. I think ultimately we improved as a team; we’re not where we need to be yet,” Sarkisian said. “There’s a lot of areas for us to get better at, but the encouraging part is we knew this was gonna be a big week from a developmental standpoint and I think the guys really responded.”

Sarkisian clarified that he’s happy overall with where the Longhorns are right now — he believes that the team has improved from the first practice to the 12th practice and from the first scrimmage to the second scrimmage.

The goal in the next week is for the players to continue becoming more comfortable in the new schemes on both sides of the ball.

“I think where I’d like to get to by next Saturday, by the end of spring ball, is just operationally being smoother on both sides of the ball — the communication on both sides of the ball, the adjustments that need to be made within the play, whether it’s pre snap and or pro snap as the play unfolds, and those things just becoming more natural to the guys,” Sarkisian said.

Right now, the Longhorns are still suffering from too many breakdowns in communication. With the two quarterbacks competing for the starting job both possessing limited experience and working with a sophomore center who only appeared in three games last season, that’s hardly surprising. On defense, there’s experience in the secondary, but without DeMarvion Overshown or Juwan Mitchell at linebacker, junior defensive tackle Keondre Coburrn said recently that he’s trying to step up and communicate with other defensive players.

“We can’t have as many of those types of breakdowns as we’re having right now,” Sarkisian said.

The coaching staff is still attacking the challenge of getting players to spend less time processing everything that’s happening and play faster. Asked about sophomore offensive linemen Tyler Johnson and Isaiah Hookfin, Sarkisian put them in that category. The size and physicality to succeed in Sarkisian’s offense are present, they just need more time to acclimate.

“I think in general we’ve put a lot on these guys offensively, we put a lot on them up front,” Sarkisian said. “Now, we’ve got a lot of different run game schemes, you get a lot of different protections.”

As with the rest of the team, getting players like Johnson and Hookfin to perform more consistently starts with better communication.

Throughout spring practice, sophomore wide receiver Jordan Whittington has received praise from Sarkisian for his consistency and he was a factor once again in the second scrimmage. Whittington showed off his change-of-direction ability in the red zone, catching a pass on the perimeter and then cutting quickly back inside for a touchdown.

Sarkisian had previously publicly challenged junior wide receiver Marcus Washington to play more consistently. It’s not clear whether Washington is reaching that threshold on a day-to-day basis, but it does seem like a positive development that the St. Louis product was cited as a standout on Saturday. Washington showed up in the highlights, catching a well-thrown touchdown pass over sophomore cornerback Jahdae Barron and breaking a tackle attempt by junior linebacker Luke Brockermeyer after catching a short pass.

Originally taken as a preferred walk on in the 2018 class, Brockermeyer received a scholarship in 2019 and appeared in five games during the 2020 season on special teams. He appeared to recover one of several fumbles forced by the defense during the scrimmage while on the field with the first-team defense, the same group he was with when he wasn’t able to bring down Washington.

So unless Texas adds depth at linebacker through the transfer portal following spring practice, likely a high priority for Sarkisian and his staff, Brockermeyer could see the field this year on defense as his reps with the first team indicate the need for young linebackers like sophomore Jaylan Ford to develop over the coming months.

One of those players is early enrollee linebacker Terrence Cooks II, who made an appearance with a hard hit on senior running back Daniel Young playing with what appeared to be the second-team defense — freshman safety JD Coffey and senior safety Brenden Schooler were also on the field.

Back at the wide receiver position, Sarkisian also said that the other wide receiver he’s challenged publicly, sophomore Kelvontay Dixon, showed up during the scrimmage. The Carthage product appeared in the scrimmage highlights getting his hands on the football against coverage from Barron on a pass from junior quarterback Casey Thompson, but it wasn’t clear which player ended up with possession.

In an even more positive development, redshirt freshman wide receiver Troy Omeire participated in the scrimmage as he continues his recovery from the ACL injury he suffered during preseason camp last year. Omeire was wearing a green non-contact jersey, so he’s still limited in what he can do, but the medical staff was comfortable enough for him to be out on the field.

By the start of the season, Sarkisian wants to find receivers who fit the ideal balance of players who are reliable and also capable of producing big plays. Beyond Whittington, it’s not clear that anyone currently fits that mold.

Once again, sophomore running back Bijan Robinson showed up in the scrimmage clips, breaking a tackle from freshman outside linebacker Prince Dorbah to get into the open field, then another tackle attempt from Coffey. On another long run, potentially a touchdown, Robinson was able to use his elite balance to get outside and break a tackle down the sideline. By that point, it didn’t look like anyone in the secondary had the right angle to catch him. Sophomore right tackle Andrej Karic had the key block on Dorbah to seal the edge for Robinson early in the play.

Dorbah was able to make at least one play, sacking redshirt freshman quarterback Hudson Card after beating Hookfin off the edge. Pressure from junior defensive end Moro Ojomo and graduate transfer outside linebacker Ray Thornton on another play also produced a sack of Card.

At quarterback, Sarkisian thought Thompson and Card both played well, including using their legs to create explosive passing plays down the field, but said there are still too many negative plays that put Texas in too many situations like second and long — the quarterbacks simply can’t take sacks on first down.

On one play that Card extended with his legs, however, he was able to find junior tight end Malcolm Epps in the flat for a touchdown of 10-15 yards.

Sarkisian was also happy with the quarterback’s ability to score in the red zone, which included a touchdown from Thompson to graduate transfer running back Gabe Watson on a wheel route that beat junior defensive end Jett Bush.

Overall, the defensive line is playing as well as any unit on the team, according to Sarkisian, who specifically mentioned Coburn and senior defensive end Jacoby Jones. Ojomo showed up again in the scrimmage video by pressuring Thompson on what looked like an inside move against super senior Tope Imade, who has been playing some right tackle. Ojomo spent last season playing out of position at defensive end, but it looks like he might remain outside due to the lack of depth there and may finally be acclimating to that role.

The team also features a lot of hard workers. Sarkisian didn’t want to leave anyone out, but ended up mentioning super senior tight end Cade Brewer, junior running back Roschon Johnson, and junior linebacker David Gbenda as three players who are standing out in that regard. Brewer is listed as 13 pounds lighter than last season, which should help him regain some of the athleticism that he lost since high school due to injuries and carrying significantly more weight.

“We’ve got a great deal of buy in right now,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got a football team that has bought into the idea of the philosophies, principles, values, and intention that we want in our program.”

Sarkisian said that players get to that point at different speeds, but the players who do understand the expectations are now starting convey them to teammates who aren’t on the same page. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, though.

“I think especially when we go look at this tape, there’s going to be some really glaring things that we’re going to need to work on which we need to get done here Tuesday and Thursday with next Saturday being the spring game,” Sarkisian said.