The offseason is in full swing and while we are months away from seeing football games that count in the record column, we still have spring football practices to look forward to, as Tom Herman and his staff kickoff their first spring in Austin. With the turnover on staff this offseason that means new philosophies and schemes are being installed on both sides of the ball, so this will be uncharted territory for the player and coaches alike.
Every player is working with a fresh slate and this will no doubt at fuel to what is sure to be a competitive spring, as the depth chart starts to shake itself out a bit. Herman has said before that there are no starters entering spring practice, and while that is mostly true, I think we can pencil in several players as starters knowing what we know from the past couple seasons.
There are several storylines to keep an eye on this spring, but I am going to break down a few I will be watching in particular as we get off and running into spring practice.
I want to go ahead and get this one out of the way. Shane Buechele had a very solid true freshman season under center for Texas in 2016, but Sam Ehlinger is campus and there is chatter that he will be given an opportunity to win the job heading into the fall. Personally I think Ehlinger should redshirt and be given time to adapt to the college setting and create separation between he and Buechele, but that doesnâ€™t seem to be in cards right now. Ehlinger fits Hermanâ€™s offense like a glove and it seems like a forgone conclusion that he is going to see the field in some capacity in 2017. I think Ehlingerâ€™s arrival will be good for Buechele, as it will get the competitive juices flowing and bring out the best of both he and Sam. Hereâ€™s hoping both come out of the spring healthy because Texas is still pretty thin at the position.
The Right Side of the Offensive Line
I think we can pencil in Connor Williams and Jake McMillon in as starters on the left side of the offensive line, and I think it is safe to say Zach Shackelford is going to be penciled in at center. From there on I think the final two spots on the offensive will be up for grabs this spring and there will be lots of tinkering from Derek Warehime. Patrick Vahe had an uneven sophomore year, but will likely get the first look at the other guard spot with guys like Denzel Okafor and Patrick Hudson getting looks as well. Warehime will also have to find a solution at right tackle, as Iâ€™m not convinced that Tristen Nickelson is the answer just yet. I expect would expect Jean Delance to get some looks there and would be surprised if he isnâ€™t the long term answer at one of the tackle spots.
Texas is ridiculously thin here and I expect there to be a body or two moved here to help them get by this spring. Andrew Beck is your likely starter at this point with Peyton Aucoin coming off the bench, with Cade Brewer arriving this summer. I said before I expected Reese Leitao to factor in heavily early on once he arrived this summer due to his skillset, but due to his off the field transgressions I canâ€™t project him into equation at this point. Texas has had the worst luck at this position for some time now, and unless they find a capable grad transfer I think their woes will continue another year. The goal here will be to just make it thru the spring without losing anyone to injury.
The Defensive Line
This particular group has already been publicly called out by Tom Herman for not being in the best of shape and on top of that the coaches are going to have to figure out where guys fit in scheme wise for Todd Orlandoâ€™s defense. I curious to see which guys take Hermanâ€™s comments as a challenge and rise up and make a move on the depth chart. Jordan Elliott has been commended for the work he has put in this offseason, and now that he is healthy I think he is in position to have a big spring.
Like the defensive line, this is about who is factoring in where. There has been talk of Breckyn Hager moving to inside linebacker and Malik Jefferson willing the â€œRoverâ€ role, so it will be interesting to see how players adjust to new roles under Orlando. It seems like weâ€™ve been on the brink of a breakout year for 5th year senior Naashon Hughes for some time now, and I wonder if the light will finally come on for a guy who has all of the physical tools in the world, but that light bulb seems to be flickering come the season. This is a contract year for Hughes, so it is now or never.
Itâ€™s safe to say that this group a pretty rough 2016 season. A lot was expected of guys like Holton Hill and Davante Davis, but both had miserable sophomore seasons for various reasons. With the new staff in place, these guys have a chance to start over from scratch and a chance to try to get back on track. Aside from seeing growth and development on the back end, I am anxious to see what combinations we see at corner and safety. Kris Boyd really started to come on as the season wore on, and if you can get Hill playing like he is capable you got yourself a very solid group of starting corners. At safety all eyes will be guys like DeShon Elliott, Jason Hall, and Brandon Jones. Again there is talent there, but can the coaches get the most out of them and find the right combination?
There is no way of sugarcoating it. Texas was absolutely awful on special teams (outside of Michael Dicksonâ€™s punting) last year and they have to improve in that phase of the game if they donâ€™t want to have similar results in 2017. Hermanâ€™s first commitment was a junior college kicker in Josh Rowland, and he is going to step right in to assume the kicking duties for the Longhorns. Rowland was a JUCO All-American and is already on campus this spring, so it will be interesting to hear how he faring this spring. Outside of kicking, I want to see if blocking and execution across the board improves in this phase and I want to see if Texas can find a return man that can actually do more than fair catch the football.
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