AUSTIN — Texas Media Days marks one of the few occasions the media is able to meet with every member of the coaching staff. All of the coaches were asked their opinion on the main storylines surrounding Texas football this season, including quarterback, the defensive line and the new offense. Joe will break down his time with the defensive coaches, while JW reports on the new offense.
By: Joe Cook
While much of the offensive staff received an overhaul this past off season, there was only one change among the defensive coaches, defensive backs coach Clay Jennings. Jennings, who previously coached at Arkansas, replaces Chris Vaughan, who left after his contract was not renewed by the university.
Jennings received many questions about his presumed starters at corner, sophomores Davante Davis and Holton Hill. While those two had impressive freshman seasons, they still have to fend off the competition to be on the first team each week.
“Holton Hill and Davante Davis, they’re good players,” Jennings said. “But everybody gets tired. If I’m asking those guys to play 80 snaps a game ata consistent level for the whole time, I’m fooling myself. I’m not putting that kid in the best position. What we do, whoever has the best week is going to be the guy that plays. We have enough packages, everybody’s going to have an opportunity to play.”
Jennings talked about the leadership that senior Dylan Haines and junior Jason Hall provided. He continued to say that although those two lead, they are not expected to do everything at the safety position.
“Dylan Haines and Jason Hall, those two young men are great for us because they spend so much time teaching young kids,” Jennings said. “We can’t go out and have a young man play 80 plays a game and not be successful. One thing we’re going to have to do is that some of those young guys are going to have to step up because the more fresh we are, the more we can do.”
He continued to say that the way younger players like sophomores Kris Boyd and Deshon Elliott can get on the field is to learn the scheme. Jennings mentioned that Boyd’s “swag is at an all-time high at all times, and that’s what I love about him.”
When talking about the nickel position, Jennings said that sophomore P.J. Locke was his “number one guy,” but sophomore John Bonney and junior Antwuan Davis were also rotating with Locke.
Jennings was also asked about his freshman safety, Brandon Jones. When Jennings was at Arkansas, he was one of Jones’ primary recruiters. Jones picked Texas before Jennings arrived in Austin. Now that Jennings is at Texas, he appreciates the opportunity to coach Jones.
“I think sometimes, I don’t think they realize, that you actually create a relationship with the kid whether or not you get him or not,” Jennings said. “The fact that the fate that both of us ended up here at the University of Texas is awesome. I’m excited about not only watching him grow as a football player but as a man.”
Overall, Jennings said he thought his unit improved, saying they were better in practice 15 than they were in practice one. He also noted that the team chemistry was very high.
“I think that I’ve seen, this summer, a lot more guys spending a lot more time together,” Jennings said. You come in every day and those guys are in the player’s lounge spending time with one another. It’s not just DBs hanging with dbs. Its DBs hanging with wide outs. All those young guys hanging with those quarterbacks and offensive linemen. There’s a certain sort of admiration amongst the team. The chemistry is big. I think our chemistry is pretty good.”
One of the Texas defensive coaches that remained with Charlie Strong did so with a touch of drama added. Defensive line coach Brick Haley flirted with the idea of joining John Chavis’ staff at Texas A&M. He decided to remain in Austin to coach up a highly ranked group of athletes he has on the defensive line.
Haley brought in six defensive tackles along with several players that can play on the edge. While playing time was a big sell on the recruiting trail, none of it was guaranteed unless the players learned the X’s and O’s.
“They have to come in and understand the position,” Haley said. “They have to understand the concepts of the defense. Then they have to come back and get the inner workings of what we’re trying to get done.”
Haley said this was something that was understood by those who chose Texas.
“When you’re honest with kids, then you get a little bit more out of them,” Haley said. “That’s what we were with all these guys. We said ‘we’re going to sign six, but you six have to come and compete. Do you want to play? Do you want to come in here and earn something or do you want to go somewhere and be given something?’”
One of the players that Haley mentioned multiple times in his availability was sophomore defensive end Charles Omenihu. Since Omenihu stepped on campus, he has added large amounts of muscle to his frame. Omenihu, who was listed at 232 pounds as a recruit, now weighs 270 pounds according to Haley, and Haley thinks he could even add more.
“You’re talking about a guy that’s 6-foot-6,” Haley said. “Right now he’s 270 but he looks like he’s about 245. He has the frame that can carry the weight. What you want to do is put good weight on, which I think he has. At the end of the day, it’s not how much you weigh, but how well can you carry that weight.”
Haley said that Omenihu, and the rest of his unit, will determine how the defense fares this season.
“I tell them all the time,” Haley said. “It all starts with us. Our defense will go as we go. If we’re good and solid up front, we’ll have a good and solid defense.”
When linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary was asked about sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson’s alignment, he compared Jefferson to one of Texas’ former opponents. Here is his quote in full.
“I think we’re going to put him where we think we have an opportunity to win. I’m going to say this. I’ve gotten that question a whole bunch. I think if you watch football now-a-days and you look at Malik’s skillset, and I’m not trying to put any pressure on him, if you just watch football and look at teams that have been good on defense, you see teams that have had inside linebackers that are able to dominate the game because they’re playing inside and they can go from sideline to sideline. It’s not just line up outside and rush the passer.
I’m not going to name any names, you guys can think of it. [Wells: Jaylon Smith?] You said it. His freshman year he lined up outside and did one thing. The last two years he lined up inside and a lot of people thought he was the best defensive player in college football last year. The game has evolved where you can’t line up a kid, if you think he’s that great of a player, just line up on one side of the ball. If you watch Big 12 football, all they’re going to do is run the other way or slide protection to him.”
Although defensive coordinator Vance Bedford’s opinion on playing freshmen has been documented, he is excited for the incoming class to see the field.
“What excites me about the defensive players this year is our young guys,” Bedford said. “We were small on defense last year.”
Bedford could mean small lacking depth or just small in stature. He fixed that this offseason, adding plenty of depth to positions of need. He also added several players that weighed 300 pounds or more.
“Last year we had no depth,” Bedford said. “This year, with the young guys coming in, that gives us a two deep.”
Bedford had a simple message, followed by his plan to achieve that message.
“This year, we’re going to ball out,” Bedford said. “We’re going to play a lot of guys early. We already rotate the defensive line. We’re going to rotate linebackers. We’re going to keep guys fresh. I’m excited to see these young guys get started. The number one thingright now is learning what to do, and then go out and do it. Once they get that done, I think we’ll be alright.”
By: Justin Wells
From the side of the ball responsible for scoring points, the theme from Texas Media Day was excitement.
It was about moving the ball with the talent to do it. It was about incorporating a young, confident quarterback, two powerful running backs, a budding offensive line, and wide receivers that could run the relay in any Track & Field meet.
New Texas OC Sterlin Gilbert brings a new style of offense to Austin in 2016. He brought OL coach and close friend, Matt Mattox. Former NFL WR coach, Charlie Williams brings years of pro experience coaching guys like Marvin Harrison, Keyshawn Johnson, TY Hilton, and Reggie Wayne, who he said is the best he ever taught. Jeff Traylor was promoted to teaching the inside wide receivers, a tall task in Gilbert’s version of the veer and shoot.
So with the staff set, the talent on campus, and Strong finally getting ‘his’ guys on the 40 Acres, there’s a reason for optimism.
“You just look at where we’ve been,” said Strong. “We were not very pleased in the first two years, so now we feel like we’ve recruited well enough, the guys have been in the system, they kind of understand it, and we’ll see where my attitude is and see the way I’m thinking. With the older guys, so much is being said right now about this young group, so you feel like right now with this older group that they can deliver the message where they’re taking ownership in the team, so that message has been delivered. They want to see a change, so now you get players that really want to see a change and you just fill it. It’s going to be a quiet confidence, but those guys need to continue to work and if you continue to work, good things should happen for you.”
Gilbert likes what he sees.
“I’m extremely excited, motivated, determined to get to the mark,” said Gilbert. “We’ve obviously put a lot of work in this summer and carried it from the spring. It’s exciting to get on the field tomorrow and continue our evaluation and continue the fit and put our guys in the right spots to be successful.”
Naming a starting quarterback has been the hot topic since freshman Shane Buechele’s 2-TD, 300-yard performance in the Spring game. While Strong is still in no hurry to decide who will take the first snap against Notre Dame on September 4th, Gilbert likes what he sees from the 18-year old rookie from Arlington Lamar.
“You hear all of these things about Shane, and the thing about it is he isn’t doing these things (staying late, working extra) by himself. There are guys around him, and a lot of our guys who have bought in to try what we’re going to do and work just as hard. While Shane’s doing all these extra things, it’s not like he’s by himself. There are a lot of guys who have bought in and doing the right things and asking things we’ve asked them to do and things they’re doing more of.”
Having a duo like Chris Warren and D’Onta Foreman will certainly take the burden off a young signal-caller. And with the balance Gilbert desires on offense, they’ll have plenty of chances.
“(Warren and Foreman) are big and talented,” said Gilbert. “The other places I’ve been, we were only fortunate enough to have one big back. You look back there now and there’s two. Then you throw Kirk (Johnson) and Kyle (Porter) in the mix, you’ve got a stable of backs that can do multiple different things. The physicality aspect of what we can do with those two (Chris and D’Onta) can fill that void for us.”
Texas-Ex and new running back coach, Anthony Johnson, also sees potential in another ball-carrier nobody is discussing, redshirt freshman Tristian Houston. He said Houston was at 225 pounds during the Orange-White scrimmage, but over the summer worked hard and slimmed down to 205. When Gilbert says, “stable of backs,” he means it.
When Texas is running the dang ball, they’ll be chunking the dang ball. That’s got WR coach’s Charlie Williams and Jeff Traylor fired up.
“(John) Burt can beat you down the field, without a doubt,” said Williams. “So the next step is to work on the intermediate stuff to continue to improve in that area. (Collin) is the best type of wide receiver that a quarterback would love to have. He’s tall with range, and his catching range is unbelievable.
Williams speaks with great confidence and experience that only being around professionals brings you. He’s got a coach’s voice; strong, deep, and demanding. Something he learned from the great Tony Dungy. Despite the immense talent and potential of UT’s pass-catchers, Williams breaks it down simply for each player.
“Just be consistent in everything you do,” said Williams. “Just execute each play. Be where your feet are. Do your job and don’t worry about anything else.”
Traylor sees more talent than when he first arrived in early 2015.
“We’re excited,” said the East Texas native. “Coach Gilbert has a history of doing a great job with offenses, understands the principles of the spread, how to get the most of athletes, and use the player where his skillset is best utilized. I’ve enjoyed being around him, known him for awhile and am really looking forward to this season.”
Traylor smiles when talking about the youth of the program and the excitement they bring.
“We’re very excited about the kids we’ve recruited and how the older kids have bought into the offense,” Traylor said. “Our depth is just so much better. We finally have real competition, which creates a better football team. We’re now having real discussions about 1’s, 2’s, and 3’s, and it wasn’t that way before. We were thin and now with the last two classes, there’s actual depth, so there’s reason to be excited.”
It all starts along the up front. Strong builds his programs from the inside-out. Like he tells players and coaches, ‘big guys beat up little guys.’ So adding nine 300+ pound recruits in 2016 is benefitting both sides of the ball, notably the offensive line. Coach Mattox likes what he sees.
“The great thing about it is that when I stand around them, I feel small,” Mattox said with a smile. “I’ve had some people comment that they’re not used to seeing me look like a small person in pictures. They’re great kids, they love football, they’ve done everything that I’ve asked them to this summer and that’s really all we can ask for. We’ve given ourselves a chance, and now we have to take it to the next level here in camp.”
He mentioned an early five of Williams-Perkins-Shackelford-Vahe-Nickelson. Since nobody has hit each other yet, take that with a grain of salt. Add to the mix 5-star signee Patrick Hudson and 4-star Denzel Okafor, and now we’ve got meat with those potatoes. And they’ve put in the work this summer to be ready to play.
“I’ve seen their bodies change,” said Mattox. “I’ve seen guys who needed to lose weight that have lost it and I’ve seen guys that needed to add weight that put on the right weight. We had exit meetings in the spring talking about, ‘Hey, here’s what you need to do during the summer and where we need to get to give ourselves a chance,’ and I really think that all of them have done what they needed to do.”
And then there’s the kicker, Trent Domingue.
The one thing Strong knew he needed heading into the summer was a kicker. It’s unknown if the Lou Groza Award semifinalist can do backflip Vines on Instagram. He needed a reliable veteran who had been there before. It was like one landed from the sky via Baton Rouge.
“One fell in our hands,” said Strong with a smirk. “Trent Domingue (LSU grad transfer) was big for us.”
For his first two seasons, the scoring output and production in Austin has been less than desired. It’s cost UT some games in the scoring-happy Big 12. But for the first time in Strong’s tenure at Texas, there’s excitement in the air on that side of the ball. And for good reason.