On Thursday, the Texas Longhorns practiced for the eighth time this spring, just past the halfway point, as the staff moves past the installation phase and begins working on situational football. After practice, Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian met with the media over Zoom and provided the names of four players who are standing out so far — offensive linemen Cam Williams and DJ Campbell, defensive tackle Byron Murphy, and safety Kitan Crawford.
A senior from Tyler, Crawford moved from cornerback to safety last offseason and started one game in 2022, finishing with 25 tackles and two pass breakups while making an impact on special teams with a blocked field goal against TCU. Crawford struggled to hold his place in the safety rotation as the season progressed, however, a result of struggles staying assignment sound. With Arkansas transfer Jalen Catalon undergoing another shoulder surgery, though, Crawford has made the most of his opportunity this spring, according to Sarkisian.
“He’s playing really well at safety for us right now,” Sarkisian said. “He’s communicating at a high level. He’s making plays on the ball. He’s playing fast. He’s definitely maturing.”
If Crawford can break through for Texas as a fourth-year player capable of providing more than strong play on special teams, he would provide insurance at safety in case Catalon’s oft-injured shoulder can’t hold up for an entire season and afford the staff the chancre to play Michael Taaffe at nickel if necessary.
Williams and Campbell are both competing to slot among the top five offensive linemen for position coach Kyle Flood with last year’s starter Cole Hutson undergoing offseason shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum.
“Another guy to me that kind of stands out are two guys that are in a healthy competition — I think DJ Campbell and Cam Williams, they’re both working hard on the offensive line and showing some positive things there,” Sarkisian said.
Last week, Sarkisian praised Williams for his improvement after contributing on special teams as a true freshman in 2022.
“I think Cam is doing well. Cam is a guy that I think impressed everybody when he first got here with this ability to move for such a big man. He’s got really good feet. He’s got a really high football IQ. I credit he and and Coach (Torre) Becton and his staff — I think his body has really changed, not only has he lost weight, but he’s gotten stronger and that’s a good sign,” Sarkisian said.
With the graduation of Keondre Coburn and Moro Ojomo, Texas has some roles to fill along the defensive line and Murphy is one of the players stepping up inside.
“I’d say the last guy hat makes sense to me that is definitely showing up, a guy who wasn’t a frontline starter for us a year ago, but I think is kind of assuming that role of that guy has been Byron Murphy on the defensive line. He been a force here early on in spring that you feel his presence and he’s tough to block. He creates a lot of negative plays and is really strong at the point of attack.”
Depth along the defensive line was perhaps a factor in Murphy’s failure to take a big step forward as a sophomore in 2022 — he made more tackles and even started a game, but recorded fewer tackles for loss and sacks. But the DeSoto product has always had the skill set to be particularly disruptive on the interior and may be on the verge of putting it all together this season.