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Injury update and notes from Steve Sarkisian’s Thursday availability

The latest on CJ Baxter, the rotations at wide receiver and safety, and more.

NCAA Football: Wyoming at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian met with the media on Thursday via Zoom to discuss Saturday’s matchup against the Baylor Bears and provide updates on his program heading into Big 12 play.

Here are the highlights:

The latest on CJ Baxter — The freshman running back departed from the first two games of the season before being rule out prior to kickoff against Wyoming due to the foot injury Baxter sustained in Tuscaloosa. But Baxter was back at practice this week and is expected to play against the Bears.

“He looked great today. I was really, really excited about watching him practice today — best practice he’s had in two weeks, so I feel good about him going into Saturday,” Sarkisian said.

On the safety rotation — Through the first three games, the Longhorns have rotated regularly at safety with backups Kitan Crawfod, Michael Taaffe, and Derek Williams all receiving playing time behind starters Jerrin Thompson and Jalen Catalon.

“We want to play a lot of guys,” Sarkisian said. “We think it’s going to be beneficial for us not only in game, but long term throughout the season. Jerrin has such a great amount of experience systematically for us, there’s a level of comfort there. Cat’s a really good player, I think he’s doing well. I think Kitan Crawford’s playing really good football for us right now, as well, not only on defense, but on special teams. And we know Michael Taaffe is a steadying voice back there because of his high football IQ, and Derek Williams keeps getting better, he keeps coming. So we’re fortunate there to have five guys that we feel comfortable can go in the game and play good football for us, and so having that ability to rotate those guys I think has been good for us.”

On Baylor backup quarterback Sawyer Robertson — After starter Blake Shapen left the season opener against Texas State with an MCL injury, Mississippi State transfer Sawyer Robertson has filled in for Shapen and is expected to do so again on Saturday.

Sarkisian was asked about the challenges that Robertson provides.

“I think the athleticism, for sure — his ability to create outside the pocket. The other challenge is a little bit of the unknown, right? He hasn’t played a ton of football that way and so you don’t have all the information that you’d like. But, he’s a competitive guy, I remember recruiting him coming out of high school and he’s a guy that I felt like probably played his best football the second half last week and so maybe he’s finding his stride a little bit more,” Sarkisian said.

“So at the end of the day, I think playing Baylor you’ve got to do a great job stopping the run, you’ve got to make sure you defend the play-action pass, and then when you cover it right, you’ve got to make sure that he doesn’t have the ability to use his legs to extend plays, whether that’s running it or extending plays to find throws off schedule.”

On Isaiah Neyor and the wide receiver rotation — Despite some indications that Sarkisian could extend the rotation at wide receiver thanks to improved depth at the position, the three starters have been the primary contributors. So Wyoming transfer Isaiah Neyor, who was expected to play a large role last season, has only played a handful of snaps this season after returning from the ACL injury that ended Neyor’s 2022 season before it began.

“First of all, I think physically he’s great, but it’s like anything when you have a an injury like that, there’s a mental component to it, too,” Sarkisian said. “And I see some really good days, I seem to some days when it when it doesn’t feel as good. I think the challenge for him is finding that level of consistency day in and day out of what he brings and understanding of what we’re doing and having the intent, which he does, but he’s very talented guy and we’re hopeful we can get him to that point.”

The wait for other wide receivers to emerge to pressure the starters continues, too.

“Ultimately, any time you start rotating receivers, you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Is that what’s in the best interest of our team to be successful in the moment?’ And so the moment I take Xavier off the field or AD Mitchell off the field, or Jordan Whittington off the field, is that in the best interest?” Sarkisian said.

“I would like to rotate guys more. Last week’s game was really difficult, you only run 52 snaps in the game, and you’re in a tight ballgame and you want to make sure that the guys that are running those routes you have utmost confidence in to go do it — and not that we don’t in those other guys — I just have to have such a knowledge base of those guys that they’re able to do it and so I’m hopeful we’ll be able to get to a little bit more of a rotation here moving forward.”

Sarkisian believes that freshman Johntay Cook is close to breaking through, the space is becoming more comfortable with fellow freshman DeAndre Moore, and junior Casey Cain is a “Swiss Army knife” who can play multiple positions.

“Inevitably, every game takes on a life of its own and we try to do what’s in the best interest of the team to be successful.”