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The Orange-White game is less than a week away. Only a few more closed-door practices remain before the public gets a first look at a Steve Sarkisian-led Texas football team.
Spring games typically provide very basic looks at what a team has installed and runs. That will likely hold true for an Orange-White game where new systems have been implemented in all three phases.
It’s also an event for the fans and Sarkisian understands that aspect, too. He mentioned over the weekend the structure of practice No. 15 will be as close to a game as they can make it.
“We’ll split up into teams and I’d like to see the guys go play.” Sarkisian said Saturday. “Football is a game and it’s meant to be fun, and it’s meant to be enjoyable. I want the guys to be in that frame of mind.”
With a game-like setup, Sarkisian wants to see how his players react to situations like third-and-longs, red zone attempts, and goal-to-go plays. But there are other questions both Sark and Longhorn fans have that Saturday can provide more data for including…
1. The quarterbacks.
With the battle to succeed Sam Ehlinger ongoing, the play of Casey Thompson and Hudson Card will be one of the more scrutinized facets of Saturday’s event.
Sarkisian has been very careful in his words when talking about the quarterback battle. He has labeled quarterback as the most important position on the field in prior media settings and spoke about the position following scrimmage No. 2 on Saturday.
“I think Casey and Hudson both really played well today, they really did,” Sarkisian said. “I would say for the most part they played really well, but we have, right now at that position, too many negative plays that they take the brunt of it.”
“When you get sacked on first down, you play second-and-long football, that’s hard to win. We’re trying to cut down on those plays, which I think we did from a week ago, but we’re also trying to spotlight those plays to let them know even a few are not acceptable.”
Who takes snap one will be an over-analyzed aspect of the spring game. The real measure will be their play.
2. Crisp operations
Sarkisian was asked Saturday about where he wants his team to be after practice No. 15.
“I think where I’d like to get to by next Saturday, by the end of spring ball, is just operationally being smoother on both sides of the ball,” Sarkisian said. “The communication on both sides of the ball, the adjustments that need to be made within the play whether it’s pre-snap or post-snap as the play unfolds, and those things just becoming more natural to the guys.”
How is this measured? There may be some ways to tell like if they start a drill over or re-do a certain aspect of the scrimmage. But key in on missed assignments.
If a player gets beat, then he got beat. He was in the right spot but outmatched by his opponent. If there are missed assignments or miscommunications, for instance a stunting defensive lineman running free or a linebacker leaking into the incorrect gap, expect to see some dissatisfaction from Sarkisian and other staffers after the opposing team is finished celebrating.
3. The OL versus the DL
It all starts up front, whether in the pass game or in the Bijan Robinson-centric run game. Texas’ defensive line may be the strongest unit on the team with experienced players like Jacoby Jones, Ray Thornton, and Keondre Coburn grouped with a five-star talent in Alfred Collins.
How will an offensive line on yet another new position coach and with two known entities at guard match up? How will Andrej Karic and Christian Jones manage Texas’ pass rush? Will Jake Majors be able to bring what he showed against Kansas State and Colorado to Campbell-Williams Field?
The Longhorn O-line under offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Kyle Flood has improved in recent weeks, but a consistent performance will bode well for an offense still searching for QB1.
4. Receiver development
Sarkisian was asked Saturday if he had any home run threats at receiver. After a winding baseball analogy, Sarkisian said he was looking for receivers who could best pair consistent performances with big play outbursts.
“You love the reliable receiver that still has the ability to hit home runs, and I think we have guys on our roster that are capable of that,” Sarkisian said. “Some guys right now maybe closer to more of a possession-type guy but are consistent. Some guys might be more big play guys but aren’t quite as consistent yet.”
“But that’s what we’re trying to. We’re trying to almost squeeze them all into that box, and I think we’re working towards that we’re getting there.”
It’s unlikely Texas’ receivers will match performances from Sarkisian’s pass-catchers at Alabama over the last few seasons, especially with potential starters Jake Smith and Troy Omeire either out or limited.
However, someone from outside the perceived top four of Smith, Omeire, Joshua Moore, and Jordan Whittington needs to become an option for Sarkisian and staff to feel better about the position heading into the summer.
Sarkisian mentioned Marcus Washington and Kelvontay Dixon as players who had good performances in Texas’ scrimmage on April 17. If those two can continue to make plays against experienced corners in D’Shawn Jamison, Josh Thompson, and Darion Dunn, the outlook for the position improve greatly.
Until then, it’s a position where Texas may look to bolster its ranks via the portal or other methods.
5. What exactly are the tight end responsibilities?
Under Tom Herman, the tight end had responsibilities all over the field. Sometimes they were lined up on the line of scrimmage, sometimes split wide, and sometimes positioned as a fullback. The demands of the role were too much for many of the players asked to be the Y, save for Andrew Beck in 2018.
Will Sarkisian ask Cade Brewer, Jared Wiley, Malcolm Epps, Gunnar Helm, and Juan Davis to be utility pieces? Or will they be more traditional in nature with fewer between-the-tackles blocking responsibilities (additionally, who fills the role of fullback for this team should one be needed)? How much will they be involved in the pass game?
With Sarkisian’s new offense, each position has different tasks. Those of the tight end position may be drastically different from when we last saw it.
Cover photo courtesy of the Alamo Bowl