Following a light practice on Friday, the Texas Longhorns will hold the program’s first scrimmage of preseason camp on Saturday, an extremely important practice that will significantly impact important position battles like the competition between Hudson Card and Quinn Ewers at quarterback.
When Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian met with the media on Thursday, he shared what he’ll be looking for during the scrimmage.
“One is special teams,” Sarkisian said. ”We put a lot of work into it on teams, and we’re rotating four deep on special teams right now. Generally, when the season comes, you’re two deep. So we’ve got to do a really good job of evaluating and putting these guys in position from a specialties perspective Saturday.”
Sarkisian previously said that he wants fewer starters participating on multiple special teams units, so that desire will impact the decisions made by special teams coordinator Jeff Banks as he narrows the four deep down to a three deep this week before establishing the two deep following the second scrimmage.`
The scrimmage will also mark a key practice in the place-kicking competition between freshman Will Stone, redshirt freshman Bert Auburn, and senior Gabriel Lozano — Saturday will mark the most game-like environment for Stone since he arrived this summer to compete for the right to replace four-year starter Cameron Dicker.
Since Texas just had its first practice in full pads on Tuesday and began to include live periods with tackling on Thursday, the second priority for Sarkisian is seeing how his team tackles in the scrimmage.
“It’s gonna be the first time they tackle for a lot of plays in a row,” Sarkisian said. “Who is a consistent tackler and who is not?”
After spending the start of preseason camp working on tackling fundamentals and technique in drills before incorporating the live periods of tackling on Thursday, Saturday’s scrimmage will demand application of that teaching.
“You see the guys that apply those fundamentals and techniques when it’s time to go live, and the guys that abandon their fundamentals and techniques, those are the guys that we know we’ve got to drill back into because he’s not applying things we worked on for five practices to get ready for this one,” Sarkisian said.
The third priority is execution.
“It’s not always about the big plays one way or the other, it’s about who can do it right over an extended period of time, one one play at a time, regardless of how long a drive is, and so assessing those things,” Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian will also evaluate the defense’s ability to create turnovers and the offense’s ability to avoid fumbles and dropped passes.
Of course, the quarterbacks will receive plenty of scrutiny, too. To protect them from injury, they will be non-contact during the scrimmage, but Sarkisian places a high emphasis on avoiding sacks — he believes that eight or nine out of every 10 sacks are on the quarterback — so he’ll have a chance to evaluate whether or not Card and Ewers are getting the ball out on time.
“Taking sacks is unacceptable our program and so there’s consequences to that and we try to enhance those consequences as we go,” Sarkisian said.
There are a host of other areas in addition to avoiding sacks, like overall execution, accuracy, decision making, leadership, and body language, as well as situational understanding on third downs, in the red zone, or two-minute drills. In practice, for instance, Texas might simply run a red zone drill, but in the game-like environment of a scrimmage, the quarterbacks will have to shift between, for instance, a 3rd-and-9 conversion that then produces a trip into the red zone.
“We’re really trying to understand the situations that make up the game — the quarterbacks are the ones at the forefront of all that and understanding that and operating at a high level when those situations come up,” Sarkisian said.
How the entire team responds to those situations is another point of emphasis for Sarkisian after the Longhorns struggled with their awareness and football intelligence last season. In fact, Texas has designated meetings this year to emphasize sudden-change situations, plays in potential four-down territory, two-minute drills at the end of the half or the end of the game, red zone, short yardage, and tempo plays.
“We’re dedicating meetings to that as a team and we’re trying to provoke conversation about it. Then, who is applying it in practice and then who is applying it in a scrimmage when those things arise? Who are the guys that are communicating those things and who are the guys that are totally oblivious to what’s going on around them?” Sarkisian said.
“That’s important, and so like I said, that’s what Saturday is for in the scrimmage, there’s a lot of evaluation that is going to take place and a lot of notes will be written, a lot of constructive criticism will be made and that’s good, that’s healthy, and then who can improve on those things as we keep moving forward?”