Spring practice for the Texas Longhorns concluded on Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium as the Longhorns held their annual Orange-White game, albeit in a slightly different format this year — abbreviated and without scoring, in large part because of the lack of healthy scholarship offensive linemen.
After a format similar to the practice periods made open to the media, the first-team offense went against the second-team defense and the second-team offense faced the first-team defense before a red-zone competition to close the scrimmage.
“I think anybody who’s been to enough spring games like this, part of the win is coming out healthy, which we did tonight,” Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said.
Running back Bijan Robinson went through warmups, but didn’t participate after that. Linebacker DeMarvion Overshown was also limited and offensive tackle Andrej Karic did not play at all after suffering a recent ankle injury. The coaches also limited the reps for wide receivers Xavier Worthy and Jordan Whittington.
But the Longhorns were able to make it through spring practice without any long-term injuries, a significant development for the program heading into the summer.
“I think collectively, across the board, I would say the majority of our team made strides of growth to get better and became better players, which inevitably I think we became a better team,” Sarkisian said. “Clearly we’re not a finished product. There’s plenty of work to be done and I can point to numerous examples from tonight, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
For Sarkisian, the two areas where the Longhorns improved the most during spring practice were in the team’s football intelligence, including the team’s situational awareness, and the group’s overall togetherness.
“Somebody said something to me the other day on our team about how none of us want to let let each other down,” Sarkisian said. “That was one of the coolest things I’ve heard a player say to me since I’ve been here that they’re actually doing the things necessary in that yes, they want to do it for themselves, but they want to do it because they don’t want to let their brother down next to him. And to me, that’s a huge stride that we’ve made since January to this point.”
On the field, one of the biggest areas of improvement is the talent at the quarterback position as Hudson Card and Quinn Ewers both rotated with the first-team offense, starting with Card. Maalik Murphy was dressed and went through the practice portions, but did not receive any live reps during the scrimmage.
Like every coach around the country, Sarkisian didn’t want to put anything other than the base offense and the base defense on film for opponents to scout, so the quarterbacks didn’t have as much on their call sheets as they did going into the two previous closed scrimmages of spring practice. But Sarkisian did want to give the quarterbacks a chance to execute some advantage throws, some run-pass options, some drop-back passes, and some play-action passes.
As expected, the quarterback competition will continue into preseason camp with neither Card nor Ewers clearly distancing themselves in their battle.
“I think it’s gonna go I think to be fair to both those guys and we probably saw it tonight,” Sarkisian said. “I mean, both guys really had some flash plays, some really cool plays, and then whether it’s throwing down the field, orchestrating drives in the red area, we saw some plays I think both guys would love to have back. That’s part of the position.”
The biggest flash play came from Ewers. In 12 personnel, Sarkisian called a two-man route with running back Keilan Robinson as the check down and both tight ends staying in to block. Worthy held a safety with a deep crossing route and Wyoming transfer wide receiver Isaiah Neyor beat cornerback Jamier Johnson on a post route. With the play-action fake and a roll out giving Ewers time, he launched the ball 55 yards in the air, hitting Neyor perfectly in stride for the 62-yard touchdown.
With defenses so worried about the speed of Worthy, Neyor’s touchdown catch was exactly why the coaching worked so hard to flip him from Tennessee — he’s a perfect complement to Worthy as someone who can also win on shot plays.
And the throw from Ewers was exactly why the staff worked so hard to beat out other Texas programs to land the Southlake Carroll product after his season at Ohio State.
But Ewers also at times looked like a player who should still be finishing his senior year of high school, throwing an interception when safety Anthony Cook jumped in front of a pass intended for wide receiver Casey Cain and overthrowing wide receiver Dajon Harrison on his first snap of the scrimmage. Harrison had beaten nickel back Jahdae Barron up the seam, but Ewers didn’t give Harrison a chance to make a play on the ball on a likely long touchdown if Harrison had caught the ball in stride.
“I think the one biggest area for Quinn that we’re going to work on with him is not every ball is going to be the perfect throw and sometimes we’re gonna miss a throw, have the ability to move on to the next play,” Sarkisian said. “The rest of the game is going to be critical. You can’t hold on to those plays and he’s such a competitive guy, he’s so self driven, and sometimes he can be too hard on himself. Human error is human error, sometimes he misses the throw and that’s okay, we’ve got to move on.”
Card was a little bit more steady on the day and even though he didn’t have a throw as impressive as the touchdown pass to Neyor, he did throw a dart to tight and Ja’Tavion Sanders, who showed all his strong hands extending outside the frame of his body to make the catch near the goal line. If there’s an area where Card has a definite edge, it’s with his legs — Sarkisian called a rare designed run for Card near the goal line, a draw play that was whistled dead short of the goal line but likely would have been a touchdown in a real game, and Card ended up finishing that drive with a scramble touchdown.
“I like where these guys are at — if I could have said that they would play this good after 15 practices this spring, or if one of them would have, I’d be ecstatic, and I’m really happy with the growth and where they’re at,” Sarkisian said of Card and Ewers. “I think we’re in a really good spot at that position. Now we gotta continue to grow. We can’t settle and we’ve got to take these guys to new heights.”
With Robinson held out and limited numbers along the offensive line, Roschon Johnson had the biggest play of the day in the running game, showing off his power and his speed on a 56-yard touchdown run.
Johnson may be the best backup running back in the country this season.
Sarkisian was also pleased with the production of Keilan Robinson and Jonathon Brooks at the running back position.
“I love the way Keven ran the ball tonight. I love the way Jonathon Brooks ran the ball tonight because we’re going to need those guys just like we did last season and at the end of last year and the idea that we could run the ball like that without without Bijan, that’s really encouraging to me,” Sarkisian said.