Football

Thompson, Johnson present player perspective for first time since Sarkisian’s hire

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Tuesday marked the first occasion in Steve Sarkisian’s time as head coach of the Texas Longhorns that current players were made available to the media. The most recent meeting with the press for players prior to Roschon Johnson’s and Josh Thompson’s availabilities was last year at the end of last season under the last coach.

Since Sarkisian took over on January 2, players trained under new strength and conditioning coach Torre Becton, learned how the program is expected to operate under Sarkisian and his staff, and studied yet another scheme on both sides of the ball. It’s a lot to absorb, whether from the playbook or on the practice field, but Johnson and Thompson both have seen progress made with their second head coach at Texas.

“The coaching staff is really great,” Thompson said Tuesday. “I really appreciate everything that they do. They come in with a great mindset, high energy every day, and I really appreciate that.”

Thompson used “high energy” to describe Sarkisian and his staff several times, adding everything players are instructed to do has a purpose behind it. That applies not just on the practice field, but in the months spent with Becton during offseason conditioning.

“You can see that the things that we do in a winter offseason really translate on the field, whether its footwork or anything else,” Thompson said.

Thompson doesn’t work directly with Sarkisian very often considering the Texas head coach’s background in offense, but he mentioned how every position group in the program knows how much accountability and discipline mean to a Sarkisian team’s success. As a result of the staff’s energy and emphasis on those traits, Thompson said the team’s intensity level during practice has picked up in recent weeks.

The energy isn’t just shown in making demands of players, but also in making sure players have the tools and instruction they need to succeed.

“He just takes accountability to his players, and he listens to his players,” Thompson said of Sarkisian. “Whatever we need, he’ll give to us. I really like that about him. Each coach has their different beliefs and everything, but Coach Sark comes in with everything that he does and just put it in a great program. He’s leading us in the right way.”

Johnson, like Thompson, is learning the way Sarkisian runs a program, but the Port Neches-Groves product and others on his side of the ball are familiarizing themselves with how Sarkisian calls an offense.

“He’s a great offensive mind,” Johnson said. “He’ll do a good job of utilizing our strengths, putting players in the right spots to make plays, and be productive for the team overall. I feel like he’s already done a good job of that so far in spring, and he just really wants to put the pieces in the right place in his offense.”

In addition to learning the offense, Johnson studied what Najee Harris was asked to do at running back for Sarkisian at Alabama. He observed the offense Sarkisian runs is “a little more spread out” than what was run in 2020 and utilizes the backs in the passing game. Johnson believes a pass game including Texas’ running backs creates “some lethal, lethal threats.”

He also noticed the amount of motion and ways Sarkisian utilized it to hunt matchups. “With this offense, Coach Sark really does a great job of taking advantage of those types of situations where guys can really just utilize their talents and be special,” Johnson said.

While physical reps with the offense are vital to learning the playbook, players still need to spend time on their own learning their responsibilities for any play call the coaches throw at them. And Sarkisian and staff threw a lot of play calls at the Texas roster. Johnson said the new playbook was “a bit of a load,” but the volume serves as a way to see who is studying and who is falling behind.

“At the end of the day, the people who really care about it are the people who really want to make strides to get better and win championships,” Johnson said. “They’re going to be the people who come in the next day knowing the signals, knowing the plays, knowing where to line up, knowing their assignment, their technique, and all that. It has been a challenge.”

Based on what Thompson and Johnson said Tuesday, both coaches and players are doing all they can to make the challenging process as smooth as possible.