The 2020 college football season is already unlike any other before a single game has been played. Coaches have to prepare for a wide variety of scenarios, including one where multiple players are held out of action due to COVID-19.
Coaches like Texas’ Tom Herman can’t sign a free agent for a week if a player goes down. Texas, as well as every other school playing football this fall, will do more to prepare the entire roster for action this pre-season camp than ever before.
“I think we figured 80-90 percent of your scholarship roster is probably going to see the field at some point this year,” Herman said August 7. “They better be ready. We’ve got to accelerate these learning curves pretty quickly.”
That means Texas believes it needs to have around 70 players ready for game action this season. Last year 46 Longhorns appeared in at least 10 games. So how does Herman plan on really preparing true freshmen or third stringers for live game action?
“I think two main ways, myself as the head coach being cognizant of the fact that we just need more blocks of time devoted to the third group, but also the second part of that is making sure that those guys rotate in with the ones and twos,” Herman said.
Following a scrimmage on Saturday, Herman said the coaches have given reps to third-string players more “than we ever have.”
“Those guys have gotten some very valuable reps,” Herman said.
Freshmen who would normally redshirt or walk-ons who have earned playing time in one of the game’s three phases might be called into action earlier in their career than anticipated. DaJon Harrison hasn’t zoomed to the top of the depth chart at wide receiver, but what if players ahead of him at receiver are unable to play? These are valuable reps for players in his position.
Using available practice time to prepare more members of the roster may not be the only motivation for giving the whole roster reps. Since Texas was robbed of spring practices to drill down the offensive and defensive installs, this is a way for Longhorn coaches to partially make up for lost practice time for the entire depth chart.
A scout team has not been established this early in preseason camp. Once preparations for UTEP begin, many of the third stringers rotating in with the first and second teams will don a black jersey in order to give a look at what the Miners and Texas’ other opponents plan to do on the field.
The Longhorns had nothing close to a normal Power 5 football offseason due to pandemic restrictions. Players are still fully getting into playing shape, so providing more reps to the third-string players means the starters and backups aren’t as taxed during the ramp-up to the first game of the season.
“The ones and twos need it too because of us not quite being in the shape we’re used to being in this time of year,” Herman said.
Even with practices occurring in the morning, the Texas heat does not discriminate. There’s also been a greater-than-usual amount of soft tissue injuries like muscle pulls. Spreading more reps across the roster allows for the punishment of August football practice to be spread out as well.
Coaches likely will never have to prepare for a season like 2020 again in their careers. Entire swaths of the roster are at risk of being unable to play or practice. As a result, Texas is working to prepare the next man in ‘next man up,’ even if that goes all the way to the bottom of the depth chart.