Strong talks team as calendar closes in on ND

Charlie Strong. (ill Gallagher/IT)
Charlie Strong. (Will Gallagher/IT)

AUSTIN — Texas head coach Charlie Strong faced a lot of familiar questions in his media availability on Saturday. Camp story lines surrounding Texas football include the quarterback position, freshmen who have good chances to earn immediate playing time and ping pong. While one of these is an off the field story, Strong’s responses to the on-field matters included secrecy surrounding his quarterback decision, notable players at various positions and other general camp updates.

While Strong has not named a starting quarterback, mostly in order to keep week one opponent Notre Dame in the dark, he said the decision will be obvious to those inside the locker room.

“The decision will be made,” Strong said. “The team will know. I’m not going to put it out there because I don’t want Notre Dame to know who we’re starting at quarterback. I don’t even have to make an announcement. [The team] will know.”

Who starts at quarterback, whether it is senior Tyrone Swoopes or freshman Shane Buechele, will not be a decision Strong makes independently. Strong stressed that the entire staff was on the same page regarding who will take snap number one on Sept. 4.

“We’re on the same page,” Strong said. “Everybody has an idea. They have the same idea. We see it. We’re at practice every day. We see it.”

If Swoopes does not earn the QB1 role, he will still find ways to see the field according to Strong.

“It’s a great package for us,” Strong said about the “18-Wheeler” package. “We will continue to use that package. You look at him back there and he created a lot of touchdowns, a lot of short yardage plays. We were very fortunate to convert those short yardage plays. Having bigger backs is going to really help that package because you have the big backs now with [D’Onta Foreman] and [Chris Warren.] It’ll be a really good package for us.”

As far as the injury replacements on the offensive line, Strong said sophomore Jake McMillon continued to receive reps at center, while junior Brandon Hodges, freshmen Denzel Okafor and Jean Delance have taken reps at right tackle. Strong said freshman Zach Shackelford probably would have been at 60 percent today if he had gone, and junior Tristan Nickelson would likely return to the field before Shackelford.

Kyle Porter during fall practice. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Kyle Porter during fall practice. (Will Gallagher/IT)

When Foreman and Warren were held out of practice last week, freshman Kyle Porter was able to take reps with the first team. In his opportunity, Porter really impressed the head coach.

“He’s a really good running back,” Strong said about Porter. “The thing is he’s a guy that can run behind his pads. He can find a crease. He’s so shifty in the hole that he can shift inside then work back out. He’s a strong runner.”

Strong also said sophomore Jerrod Heard has continued to impress at wide receiver, catching a long touchdown pass during Saturday’s scrimmage. When asked if there was a possibility for some trick plays with Heard on the field, Strong did not rule it out.

“You can do a lot of different things now with him,” Strong said. “He’s been at the quarterback position. If you want to move him back there at some point and go into the wildcat package with him being there, he can throw the ball. He’s been back there so he knows the offense very well.”

One of the names that Strong mentioned when asked about punt returner was freshman Kai Locksley. Locksley, who Strong insisted has not moved from quarterback to wide receiver, received punt return reps because of his hands according to Strong. When asked about his other starting specialists, sophomore Michael Dickson and senior Trent Domingue, Strong gave them both glowing reviews. He mentioned that Dickson, who Strong calls “Aussie,” can place the ball where the team wants it.

Although there is a lot of pre-season optimism surrounding the program, Strong still has one major concern.

“Probably just the youth,” Strong said when asked what concerns him the most. “You just don’t know week-by-week what you’re going to get. The leadership is a lot better than what it’s been. When you’re dealing with a bunch of young players, you want to get to the game now just to see how they’re going to perform. You do like to get to the game and just put them out there and watch them. I think they’ll be eager to go and get it done.”