The Texas Longhorns held their third practice open to the media on Wednesday and head coach Mack Brown shared his thoughts when it was over.
More than anything that has happened on the field for the first three days, which have thankfully been free of any major injuries significant enough for anyone to report, is the absence of junior offensive tackle Desmond Harrison, who has been held because of academic issues. Brown wouldn't say if it was related to the clearinghouse, but he did continue to maintain that the team expects him to be back on the field in short order. Until that happens, however, his absence is a concern, especially because Harrison is missing important reps for his development.
The team has also been dealing with the severe Texas heat over the last three days, which has taken on a different dimension because of the speed of practice now. Brown indicated that the team is adjusting, but it hasn't been without growing pains -- freshman offensive guard Darius James had to sit out of practice on Monday for some time because his conditioning couldn't handle the heat. His head coach said Wednesday that James has "done better" the last two days.
The two injuries that are worth noting are a "sore shoulder" for freshman offensive tackle Kent Perkins, whom Brown singled out as a standout among the young players along the offensive line, and freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, who suffered what may have been a cramp or slight hamstring tweak that has limited him for the last two days.
As a result, redshirt freshman Jalen Overstreet saw more time at quarterback on Wednesday, but Brown also said that he was running behind his pads well at tailback, a positive sign since Overstreet is so tall for the position at 6'2. Brown mentioned a package of plays for Overstreet at quarterback paired with Johnathan Gray in the backfield in what would be a sorta Wildcat formation. Does that mean that the team is looking less at a similar package for Swoopes? At this point, it's hard to say.
The other player operating in the hybrid running back/wide receiver position is sophomore Daje Johnson, who flashed with a 50-yard touchdown catch from junior quarterback David Ash on a crossing route at some point in the last two days of practice.
Brown had some heartening comments about his second-year speedster, who will play a large role in the offense this season:
Daje's looked really good. He's in great shape. He's more confident. One of his issues last year was that he would play a day and then take a day off and be inconsistent. He's had three good days. We're really impressed with that. He's put a lot of work into conditioning this summer, and his speed just gives us another dynamic out there that we don't have in a lot of ways without him. We'll play him some at tailback, but right now he's getting slot, because we're trying to put in the basic concepts and get them down really, really well before we start putting in a whole lot of stuff.
Johnson definitely earned a reputation as an inconsistent practice player last year, but he seems to have made it through the summer without getting into any trouble, so perhaps there has been some maturation take place with him as he has spent more time in the program.
The limiting factor with him at wide receiver may be his hands -- he's been inconsistent in that area as well according to some practice reports and has a history of dropping some easy catches going back to his work in the International Bowl a year and a half ago. Perhaps as his ability to concentrate harder for longer periods of time improves, he will be able to fix some of those issues
What about the rest of the running backs? Brown also had some good news regarding junior Joe Bergeron:
We feel as though we have three really good older running backs [who] all have things in their mind they want to improve and they want to accomplish - mainly staying healthy. It's obvious [junior running back] Joe [Bergeron] has lost a lot of weight. He's got his weight down and looks good. [Junior running back] Malcolm [Brown] has worked so hard for the last year and a half to get his body in great shape, and Johnathan [Gray] is one of the hardest workers I've ever seen. We are really excited about having those three, and I'm impressed with [running backs coach] Larry [Porter]. Like I said, he brings a toughness to them. He probably caught them at a good time because he got them older, he got them in good shape, he got them hungry, and it's a good time for him to help them take another step.
The tradeoff of size for speed sounds like a positive one for Bergeron, who is still listed at 230 pounds, but may be less than that now. As for the ability of he and fellow junior Malcolm Brown to stay healthy? Well, only the season will prove that.
Among the defensive ends, Brown called senior Reggie Wilson's first three practices the best of his career, while redshirt freshman Bryce Cottrell has had some nice moments, including running over redshirt freshman offensive tackle Camrhon Hughes. A "smart player" according to his head coach, Cottrell is being prepared like a starter, though the battle for reps at defensive end is getting increasingly competitive with Wilson's possible emergence.
On the inside of the defensive line, Brown said he feels good about where the group is headed, but he does want redshirt freshman Hassan Ridgeway in better shape, an interesting comment since Ridgeway looked like a lean 300 pounds in the spring. If Ridgeway can improve his conditioning and understand how to play hard on every snap, he may find his way into the rotation this fall.
In the secondary, junior cornerback Quandre Diggs participated in some drills on Wednesday, so Brown is pleased with his progress and said that he's ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, freshman cornerback Antwuan Davis has impressed with his speed and physicality --he's a player who could end up seeing some action on special teams this fall.
As for Ash, Brown said that he seems more comfortable and is able to get the ball out more quickly this fall, so his decision-making sounds like it is becoming more crisp, perhaps aided by the tempo. Swoopes is struggling some with his accuracy, an issue that Brown said comes down to his feet and is something co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite is working with him on to improve his fundamentals there because Swoopes gets uncomfortable when his feet aren't set and then starts missing with his throws.
At wide receiver, Brown praised freshman Chevoski Collins for his burst and good hands, but said that the staff will re-evaluate next week whether they want him at wide receiver or safety. Right now, it sounds like he is playing well enough at wide receiver to stay there if that's what he wants, but it does sound like he will have some say in the decision.