Football

Texas’ offseason system installs impeded but not derailed by coronavirus

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The coronavirus and corresponding responses by public officials have impeded Tom Herman from accomplishing his spring task of fully installing new offensive and defensive systems. Thanks to modern technology and work accomplished prior to UT’s closure and various stay-at-home orders, the install was greatly disrupted but not fully derailed.

In a call with local reporters on Monday, Herman said significant portions of Mike Yurcich’s offense and Chris Ash’s defense were installed during winter conditioning.

“We took full advantage of that,” Herman said Monday of NCAA-permitted winter-walkthroughs. “Really all of the normal down-and-distance offense and defense is installed. The kids have it all. They’ve walked through it all. The only thing we’re missing is the actual physical reps.”

Texas fourth spring practice was scheduled to take place on Tuesday, March 31. Instead, players are scattered around the state and nation stuck in their own homes like millions of Americans. Despite growing uncertainty regarding the start of the 2020 season, Longhorn players and coaches continue to prepare for football. They’re using apparatuses such as Zoom, Skype and FaceTime like countless others.

Winter conditioning and the associated walkthroughs were vital for new coaches like Ash, Yurcich, Jay Boulware, Coleman Hutzler, Andre Coleman, Jay Valai and Mark Hagen. They not only were acclimating themselves and their players to schematic changes, they were building relationships with their players. That process now has to become digital.

Herman isn’t concerned it will be a huge hindrance as far as mental acumen of the playbook with the technology they have available. He mentioned UT’s communication tools for football have a whiteboard feature that mimics being in a meeting and allows coaches to draw things for their players on screen. What Texas is missing, and the same is true for hundreds of FBS programs, is live reps.

“We had meetings, we had position-specific drills and we had walkthroughs,” Herman said about his winter conditioning. “These guys know their players really, really well, and I think their players know them. Again, the one thing that you miss is the establishment of those reps – those muscle memory reps – where you do it full speed and you go back and correct any mistakes to help the kid understand it better.”

The message from the new offensive coordinator is also being conveyed in a familiar manner for Herman’s program. In his call Monday, Herman mentioned two people currently at Texas, chief of staff Fernando Lovo and strength coach Yancy McKnight, saw Herman coach as a coordinator. During one of those position-specific drills in the wintertime, both Lovo and McKnight observed Yurcich and the way he was instructing players.

“I remember we were in the bubble,” Herman said. “Both of them came up to me on separate occasions and said ‘you know who Mike Yurcich reminds me of?’ I said no. They said ‘you.’”

“Mike has been phenomenal,” Herman continued. “Tons of energy, and just super smart. He gets it.”

He also heaped praise on his defensive coordinator.

“Chris has been what I thought he’d be,” Herman said. “He was a head coach for four years. In our time working together at Iowa State and Ohio State, you could tell he had head coach written all over him with his attention to detail and his organizational skills. He’s done a great job leading that room.”

His witting and unwitting familiarity with two new coordinators does bode well for Texas. Their work so far in the extra time created by a late-scheduled spring game helped Texas make strides in understanding the new systems to be applied in the upcoming season. A lack of actual, real reps does hurt, but thanks to the efforts of the turned-over staff, the learning curve will not be as steep whenever the pads do come back on.