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AUSTIN — On the recent premiere of HBO’s Hard Knocks, Oakland head coach Jon Gruden chastised a Raiders rookie for being too physical during a non-padded practice. Gruden appreciated the effort from the player, but noted he should save his hits for jerseys of another color.
Texas coach Tom Herman has a different philosophy for what he wants to see from the first few padded practices of the Longhorns’ preseason.
“Put your face on somebody,” Herman said Wednesday. “We want to pride ourselves in our physicality and you can’t be a physically dominant team on Saturdays if you don’t practice that way. Our practices are very physical.”
Placing emphasis on physicality is a hallmark of a Herman-coached team, and is one of the things Herman learned from his time as Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator at Ohio State.
Herman’s desire for hard-hitting practices stems from Herman’s claim that the number of practices from Day 1 of camp to the first game eclipses the amount of practices with some sort of padding on during the regular season. For Texas, this is the most amount of continuous practice time it will have all season.
Some players are used to it, like those returning from last year’s team and the freshmen that enrolled early. Others are still adjusting. “There’s the guys that got here in June that need a little learning,” Herman said.
Physical practices can lead to physical ailments. During Wednesday’s practice, Herman said senior Kirk Johnson landed on his shoulder but didn’t think it was “that serious.” Sophomore DeMarvion Overshown suffered a mid-foot sprain and was in a boot, but Herman said his time out of practice “should be hopefully just a few days.”
On NCAA-mandated off days, Texas attempts to give its players an opportunity to use the latest in recovery technology to alleviate those ailments and prepare for the rest of the week on the practice fields. Until these technologies are in-house in the planned south end zone facility, Texas currently shuttles players off-site to local businesses for things like cryotherapy, UV beds, and saltwater float tanks.
“That’s what we call being a pro,” Herman said. “Guys in the NFL, they spend a lot of time and money on their bodies because that’s their living. We want to train them not just for their own success in the future, but obviously for the team.
“We tell them all the time your body in peak physical condition is the greatest gift that you can give your teammates.”
Herman appears to be more excited for the 2019 Longhorns than for either of his two previous teams at Texas. There’s a lot of confidence with junior Sam Ehlinger under center, six starting caliber safeties ready to defend the Big 12, and physically impressive defensive linemen ready to replace three starters.
There was confidence in his previous preseasons in burnt orange as well, and those two years began with losses to Maryland.
Herman said he didn’t think those performances were indicative of the work they were doing during training camp prior to the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
He did note he has a unique constraint at Texas, with classes beginning the Wednesday before the first game. This season, Herman plans to make a change in how they operate prior to the first game to make sure the Longhorns start 1-0.
“Most other universities, they start the week before game week so you have time to get into a routine,” Herman said. “We’re going to adjust a little bit how we operate on game week knowing that classes start. It’s a totally different routine getting shoved out three days before the first game.”
Texas will continue to emphasize physicality and preparedness, but will try not to take it overboard during the next three weeks of practices. Herman won’t put the full pads on his players two days in a row, and said he plans to “monitor the intensity and make sure we stay fresh.”
Still, he wants to see the most from his players during the limited preseason practices.
“We want to see the guys that embrace that culture and those that have some work to do, it’s our job to teach them how important that is,” Herman said.