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Takeaways from Tuesday’s Texas open practice

The Longhorns allowed fans and media inside the stadium for a look at Steve Sarkisian’s team.

NCAA Football: Texas Longhorns Spring Practice Austin American-Statesman-USA TO

On Tuesday, the Texas Longhorns made practice at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium open to media and several thousand fans as head coach Steve Sarkisian’s team prepares for Saturday’s second scrimmage with the season opener against the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks looming less than three weeks away.

Several players were not available for the Longhorns after suffering recent injuries. Junior wide receiver Isaiah Neyor watched from the sidelines with a brace on his left knee after tearing his ACL in last Saturday’s scrimmage. Redshirt senior offensive lineman Junior Angilau likewise had a brace on his injured right knee, but spent practice coaching up his younger teammates. Senior running back Roschon Johnson was also held out, but dressed and did appear to be moving around alright, as did junior nickel back Jahdae Barron. Freshman offensive lineman Cole Hutson was out with an injury suffered on Saturday, too. Sophomore running back Jonathon Brooks missed practice with an illness.

Several other players were limited, including redshirt sophomore Troy Omeire, who did not appear to take part in any drills, but did not have a brace on his twice-surgically repaired knee. Senior linebacker Luke Brockermeyer was dressed and did not practice, as well as redshirt freshman wide receiver Jaden Alexis.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Casey Cain was wearing a green no-contact jersey, but did not appear limited while turning in a strong performance.

As Sarkisian explained at on Monday, and as is the case with any open practice or even the Orange-White game, it was a vanilla practice with the limited play-calling favoring the defense.

“It’ll be grandma’s cookies without the secret ingredients, if you know what I mean,” Sarkisian said. “It’s going to be probably scaled down, watered down. I’d love to go out and show all our stuff. The problem is with social media, people like to film and put it out there and then I’ve got, Joe from ULM watching Billy up in the stands filming our practice, so that part’s unfortunate because I’d love to show all the cool stuff we’ve been working on, but unfortunately, that’s just the nature of the structure of it all.”

But despite the format, including the first and second teams working team periods on the south side of the field away from the media section in the north end zone, there were some takeaways.

Of course, such a discussion has to include the quarterback competition between redshirt sophomore Hudson Card and redshirt freshman Quinn Ewers.

“I would say it’s tight. I will say both guys are working very hard. They both got great attitudes. I’ve actually talked to both of them separately just about their kind of their mindset the room how they’re working with in with one another but yet competing with one another,” Sarkisian said on Monday. “But I think they both are operating and doing it at a high level and I think both of them recognize, ‘Man there’s room for me to improve,’ and I found the other guy’s thinking, ‘Man there’s room for me to improve’ and that’s that’s what I love.”

Both quarterbacks showed room for improvement on Tuesday.

After throwing only one interception last season, Card threw at least four interceptions on Tuesday, with an early interception by junior safety Jerrin Thompson. Card then threw multiple interceptions during a team period, including one by junior linebacker Jaylan Ford jumping a route that would have gone for a touchdown.

Ewers made better decisions during the team periods, but fumbled one snap and had an extremely poor stretch during some pared-down passing drills, going about six passes without a completion and throwing two interceptions during that stretch, as well as holding onto the ball until the play was whistled dead. The caveats — the first interception came when the wide receiver slipped and Ewers was throwing to walk ons and freshman running back Jaydon Blue. And the second interception was made by redshirt freshman nickel back Michael Taaffe, who has a habit of picking off Ewers after doing so twice in the state title game between Austin Westlake and Southlake Carroll in early 2021.

Both quarterbacks also made some wow plays. On a bootleg, Ewers threw the ball about 40 yards on the run to freshman wide receiver Brenen Thompson in the corner of the end zone.

Card had two such plays, finding Cain in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown and then hitting Thompson on a post for a touchdown.

So Sarkisian’s assessment of the quarterback race as tight certainly held true on Tuesday — it wasn’t coach speak — with Ewers perhaps having a small edge because of his better decision making in the team periods, although it was certainly positive to see Card flash his big-play ability after struggling on shot plays last season.

In terms of reps, Card worked with the first team early in practice, but Ewers received more first-team reps in team periods.

The running back position was harder to judge with Johnson and Brooks both out, although junior running back Bijan Robinson did flash his big-play ability at times in the team periods, which mostly amounts to a good sign for the first-team offensive line. Where the running backs did struggle was in a pass-blocking drill without Johnson, the best on the team in that area. Robinson notably lost two reps in a row to super senior linebacker DeMarvion Overshown before demanding another and winning it, a small testament to his offseason commitment to improve that part of his game. Otherwise, the linebackers won most of the reps, with James Madison super senior transfer Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey showing his quickness and elusiveness in the drill.

At tight end, there weren’t any noticeable flash plays in the team drills, but Texas did spend a lot of time in 12 personnel, suggesting the Longhorns could use it more frequently this season, perhaps to the extent it becomes the base offense. Typically, sophomore Gunnar Helm lined up with senior Jahleel Billingsley, but sophomore Ja’Tavion Sanders also mixed in with the first team.

The unit with the worst performance was the wide receivers, who struggled with drops. In fact, redshirt junior Jordan Whittington was the only player in the position group who didn’t have a noticeable drop — even normally sure-handed sophomore Xavier Worthy dropped a pass from Ewers in the end zone despite having some separation and also dropped two passes in one individual drill.

Early in the practice, Thompson had at least three drops before coming on later when he started flashing his elite track speed, proving it can quickly transfer to pads at this level in a heartening development for the summer enrollee. One note on Thompson beyond his game-breaking speed — he’s listed by Texas at 5’11, 162 pounds and looks noticeably smaller than that.

Iowa State super senior transfer Tarique Milton struggled the most with close to five drops, including one on a throw from Ewers that resulted in an interception. Milton was also part of a screen game that struggled, slipping as he tried to make a cut on play. The number of drops was likely an outlier for Milton, as it certainly wasn’t his best day.

Freshman Savion Red also had a drop on a screen pass, but flashed his explosiveness on a drills designed to put wide receivers in a small area against the sideline with multiple defenders, making freshman cornerback Terrance Brooks miss.

Other than the steady Whittington, who had an impressive leaping grab in the end zone against super senior cornerback D’Shawn Jamison, the wide receiver with the most impressive performance on the day was Cain, who showed his ability to create separation and catch every pass that came his way. With Neyor out and sophomore Agiye Hall’s indefinite suspension, Texas needs Cain to step up. On Tuesday, he did.

Along the offensive line, the most notable developments were freshman Kelvin Banks working at left tackle with the ones and fellow freshman DJ Campbell playing right guard with Hutson out. Banks looks intent on winning that job and wasn’t noticeable in team periods — a good thing — beyond one play when Overshown beat him on a speed rush from the edge, an exciting flash of what the linebacker can do when he spins down to that position.

Across the ball, sophomore nose tackle Byron Murphy worked with the first team, as did junior defensive tackle Vernon Broughton. Sarkisian mentioned both as having strong preseason camps and it looks like both could take over the starting jobs at those positions, although junior defensive tackle Alfred Collins did not appear to be at practice.

In addition to the rush off the edge by Overshown, he also made an impressive play in coverage, breaking up a third-down pass from Ewers intended for Worthy. Otherwise, the most significant plays from the linebackers were the interception by Ford and senior Jett Bush blowing up a screen pass to junior running back Keilan Robinson.

In the secondary, Jamison looked intent on having the best season of his career with multiple interceptions, but it was difficult to get a strong read on the overall play since they were on the far side of the field in team periods, although the defense as a whole took advantage of opportunities to make interceptions. One other note, however — freshman Jaylon Guilbeau received a significant number of reps with the first team with Barron out.

On special teams, redshirt freshman Bert Auburn took the first reps in a special teams period, taking 40-yard field goals from each hash and the middle of the field, making the first two and then missing the third when it hit the upright. Freshman Will Stone went next in the same format with the same results — making the first two and then missing the third off the upright.