In a media availability on Monday, Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian provided updates on Saturday’s scrimmage, the first of preseason camp, at Darrel K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in front of player’s families.
Perhaps the most important by Sarkisian regarded the team’s health — sophomore running back Savion Red is currently out with a sprained shoulder that is expected to sideline him for several weeks, but otherwise the team entered and exited the scrimmage healthy, in stark contrast to last year when wide receiver Isaiah Neyor and offensive guard Junior Angialu both sustained season-ending injuries that significantly impacted the Longhorns.
“To come out of that thing injury free is always a positive for me,” Sarkisian said.
Junior wide receiver Xavier Worthy was limited on Saturday, but was a full participant during practice on Monday.
Another typical worry during the first scrimmage of preseason camp is about the team’s tackling, with which Sarkisian was satisfied.
“One thing you always are concerned about going into a first scrimmage is tackling and I felt like we tackled pretty good for our first scrimmage,” Sarkisian said. “I feel like we got people on the ground. Obviously in the open field we have some pretty elusive guys that can create some explosive plays, but it wasn’t just an enormous amount of missed tackles, so I’m confident about that.”
Offensively, pre-snap penalties like false starts and illegal procedures were an issue for Texas on Saturday, an area in which the Longhorns need to improve given the frequency of shifts and motions in Sarkisian’s offense, in addition to three turnovers that Sarkisian termed “too many.”
“On the flip side, that’s a real credit to the defense and creating those turnovers,” Sarkisian said.
Freshman cornerback Manny Muhammad, who Sarkisian said has been coming on in recent practices, returned an interception for a touchdown in disguised coverage and forced a fumble by junior tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders recovered by freshman linebacker Leona Lefau. Senior safety Jerrin Thompson came up with the second interception on the sideline in a two-minute drill.
As the team seeks to create more sacks, the defensive line has to remain disciplined with its rush-lane integrity, an area that needs improvement after several breakdowns on Saturday.
“One area area where I know we can improve defensively as really making it a point to get after the quarterback — and we’re seeing the effect of that — but we still have to understand our rush lanes, especially on third down and so that is definitely an area for us to clean up and try to minimize some of the quarterback scrambles that came into having big plays on Saturday,” Sarkisian said.
Two of those plays were made by freshman quarterback Arch Manning in third-and-long situations, including a touchdown run up the middle on which Manning reached 20 miles per hour, a speed Sarkisian said Manning didn’t know he could hit.
Redshirt sophomore Quinn Ewers also had a strong scrimmage, according to Sarkisian.
“Quinn played really well. He had a really good day. It’s unfortunate — the interception in two minutes was not on him, but that’s rapport with his receivers that we’ve got to keep working on,” Sarkisian said. “But I thought he was really efficient. There was a moment there where the defense had a really good period — we had a third-down, fourth-down competition — but I thought Quinn really rebounded in the backed-up segment, the goal-line segment, and in our red-area period, so that was good.”
For redshirt freshman quarterback Maalik Murphy, who remains ahead of Manning in the competition for the backup job, it’s about performing more consistently by minimizing the one or two mistakes he tends to make every practice.
Among the freshmen, Sarkisian named Muhammad, linebacker Anthony Hill, nickel back Jelani McDonald, safety Derek Williams, and running back Tre Wisner as standouts, with Wisner making an impact on special teams. Manning, junior tight end Gunnar Helm, sophomore guard DJ Campbell, sophomore Buck end Justice Finkley, and redshirt freshman Buck end Jaray Bledsoe were the returning players who received praise from Sarkisian.
In practice on Monday, Sarkisian worked with the team on game conditioning. Physically, the Texas head coach is confident after the work that his team put in during the offseason, but he felt that the focus and mental intensity flagged at times during the scrimmage. During what Sarkisian described as a taxing Monday practice in heat over 100 degrees, he was happy with the way the Longhorns responded.
“That’s what I was stressing upon the guys and so that’s why we kind of structured practice the way we did today, and like I said, I thought today was much better,” Sarkisian said.