AUSTIN — After a week’s worth of practice, plenty of uncertainty remains for Texas head coach Charlie Strong and his team. Strong has yet to name a starter at quarterback in preparation for his Sept. 4 opener against Notre Dame, and now must deal with new injuries to some of his players, including at center, receiver and running back. While injuries are out of the team’s control, effort is not, and Strong had nothing but good things to say about his squad’s effort so far.
“The guys have been really working hard and have done and unbelievable job,” Strong said. “The scrimmage today was really hard to evaluate for our offense because we had so many guys with nicks and bruises. You look at center with [Shackelford,] he has his ankle injury and with [D. Foreman and Warren,] they didn’t go at all today. Our offense was more about getting plays and getting the ball in play makers hands and trying to just sort through what they had.”
Strong expects Foreman, Warren and Shackelford, who he listed as “day-to-day,” to be prepared for the season opener. Taking snaps at center in Shackelford’s place until he returns is sophomore Jake McMillon.
Strong did say it would take longer for junior wide out Lorenzo Joe to recover from his injury.
“Lo-Joe pulled a ham,” Strong said. “With a hamstring injury, you never know how quickly you can get him back. They should be back. Lo-Joe is on crutches right now and can’t put any pressure on it.”
Although Strong will miss Joe throughout camp, he acknowledged the new player he has at the wide receiver position, sophomore Jerrod Heard. Strong complimented Heard’s demeanor throughout the process of the position switch.
“Jerrod was battling at quarterback and he said to me ‘I can be the backup at quarterback, but I want to play,’” Strong said. “I said O.K. big boy, you tell me where you want to play. He said ‘can I go play wide receiver?’ I said most certainly you can.”
Strong added that Heard receives reps at both wide receiver and at quarterback. Since Heard is taking fewer reps at quarterback, that leaves more reps for the other quarterbacks still on the roster. Strong said that the remainder of the scholarship quarterbacks are splitting those reps.
For his quarterback battle, Strong chooses to keep the decision making process, at least publicly, close to the vest.
“When we decide, we’ll talk about it,” Strong said. “The team will know. We can’t let Notre Dame know.”
Strong said he was impressed by the presumed leaders in the race, senior Tyrone Swoopes and freshman Shane Buechele.
“It’s a great battle,” Strong said. “What you love is how competitive it is. Every position. Not only that position, but at every position. Swoopes does a lot of good things, and so does Shane.”
Strong mentioned that reps are split in practice between the two by five minute periods. For every period Buechele runs with the first team, Swoopes runs with the first team in the next five minute period.
Strong was asked if he believed Buechele would be able to handle playing under the lights week one against Notre Dame. His answer was a confident one.
“I think he’ll be ready to go,” Strong said. “Just because of his background and where he comes from, his pedigree, and his dad, I just think it wouldn’t phase him one bit.”
Buechele will need to be ready to go. According to Strong: “We won’t walk into that game and not play both of them.”
Defensively, Strong said he went to one of last year’s problems and made sure his team knew it was something they needed to work on.
“On defense, the key for us is to tackle,” Strong said. “We have to do a lot better job of tackling. We need to tackle two big backs to see if we can really tackle.”
While he is still a few weeks away from the first game, and admittedly a week away from full-time preparation for Notre Dame, Strong knows what his team needs to do to succeed.
“We’ll go out and compete and play our hardest,” Strong said. “It’s going to be fun watching this group of guys play. We need to play with energy, we need to play with passion. We need to have so much pride in how we play and not just go out there and go through the motions, and look like a University of Texas football team.”