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Takeaways and Observations From The Texas Spring Game

Yesterday’s final spring scrimmage under the lights at DKR closed the book on the second year of spring practices under Tom Herman and his staff, and now the long wait until the season opener against Maryland truly begins. Per the usual, the annual Orange – White game presented several things for fans and coaches to discuss as we head into the summer months. Some of it was good, some of it was bad, and some of it was in-between.

I missed the opening quarter in real-time yesterday, but thankfully I was able to re-watch that and then caught the rest on tape.  There were several takeaways from the scrimmage yesterday, but I will keep my thoughts relatively brief in attempt to avoid too much rambling.  At the end of the day this was just a scrimmage and there is only so much you can truly take from it all things considered.

For the most part, the offense kept it pretty vanilla. The defense didn’t get too creative and stayed in a lot of their base looks, which is par for the course for spring games. You never want to give too much away to your opponents this far out from the season-opener, but at the same time you want to be able to put players in positions to get some good, competitive work in and put on a show for the fans and recruits in attendance.

Overall the scrimmage was competitive and there weren’t any injuries that I can recall, which is always a positive in these exhibitions. A lot of guys who were banged up prior were held out, while others were held out for precautionary reasons.

With all of that said, here are some of my takeaways from yesterday’s spring game.

Lil’Jordan Humphrey For MVP

If we were casting votes for a spring game MVP then LJ Humphrey would have won it in a landslide. Humphrey was a frequent and reliable target in the passing game and also logged carries at running back, much like he did in high school at Southlake Carroll.  Humphrey found the end zone twice as a ball carrier and seemed to be as focused as ever, despite the bowl game suspension. While Collin Johnson also had a solid night at the office and made some nice contested catches, I am giving the nod to LJ. Humphrey’s performance.  His Spring Game showing will no doubt make him a popular breakout performer candidate for the 2018 season.

The Running Backs Underwhelmed

I know the backs were at a bit of a disadvantage with the way teams and offensive lines were divided up and such, but there wasn’t much to write home about from this group. When LJ Humphrey and walk-on Tim Yoder are the guys finding the end zone for this group, that says a ton. Add in the fact that the coaches have been worried about ball security for most of the spring and Toneil Carter put the ball on the ground on his first touch of the night. While Carter’s fumble wasn’t recovered by the defense, it’s an issue for him that has yet to be fixed. It gives coaches pause when it comes to allotting carries down the line.  Keaontay Ingram arrives this summer and could push for carries, and Cal graduate transfer Tre Watson was in attendance this weekend. Both players inevitably see the opportunity for carries with the current state of the backfield.

The Offensive Line Is Still A Work In Progress

Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Texas offensive line issues certainly weren’t going to be fixed in one spring under new offensive line coach Herb Hand. My biggest observation aside from depth being an issue was that Denzel Okafor is like a fish out of water at tackle and it’s obvious now more than ever he needs to be moved back inside when the chance arises. I think that chance will come when Calvin Anderson arrives in the summer, but even then Okafor may still need to take reps there as a backup. Finding capable tackle bodies is imperative for the staff going forward so guys can get back to positions they are more comfortable at and truly maximize their abilities. There’s no doubt in my mind that while Derek Kerstetter can probably be a capable starting tackle, his ceiling is at guard or center and would probably make the unit overall better. Unfortunately due to necessity he still has to hold down the right tackle spot.

It will be interesting to see how Hand goes about mixing and matching his unit to get the best five on the field, but I wish there was more competition capable of pushing guys like Zach Shackelford and Patrick Vahe who seem destined to start by default heading into the summer. Both Shackelford and Vahe still seem to struggle picking up dogging linebackers and Shack is still inconsistent with his snaps, which will continue to be problematic come game time.

I think Hand will be able to upgrade this unit in time, but they still have a long way to go as things sit today.

The Quarterback Room Got Stronger This Offseason

Overall the quarterback play was about what I expected. The performance was solid, but not spectacular with some flashes shown from the young quarterbacks who arrived in the winter. Both Ehlinger and Buechele had their moments where they dropped some nice throws in the bucket, but they also had their share of misses on throws.  These are throws both players must make if the offense is going take the next step forward in 2018. I can remember Buechele overthrowing a wide open John Burt streaking down the sideline that would have been a touchdown, and Ehlinger underthrowing Humphrey in a similar situation that allowed Kris Boyd to make a play on the ball and knock it away. Those throws are imperative going forward and that goes double when there isn’t much pressure in your face.

In the second half we got to see a good bit from Cameron Rising and Casey Thompson and I have to say I am encouraged from what I saw. Rising showed what we saw on tape of him coming out of high school. He has good mobility, he is comfortable throwing on the run in either direction, and he throws a good, catchable ball. I am thankful he won’t have to be rushed to the field anytime soon and will have some time to develop, because I think he could end up being a good one by the time he graduates. With regards to Thompson, I have to say I was a little surprised by his quickness and acceleration as a runner, even though I knew he had solid athleticism from watching his tape. I don’t  know if I undersold that aspect of his game or he has seen an uptick in speed and agility since arriving to campus, but he is going to be a problem as his game evens out and he becomes a better passer. Like Rising, he seems comfortable throwing on the move, but he clearly still has the young quarterback tendency to bail from the pocket early if his first read isn’t there.  Spending some time in the incubator will do him a lot of good so he can develop that feel in the pocket and learn to go through his progressions.

The Defensive Front Has A Chance To Be A Problem

There have been consistent reports of the offensive line being overwhelmed in practice by the defensive front and it was easy to see why. Todd Orlando’s defense sends a lot at you and even with some pieces missing in action, they were still able to be disruptive due to guys like Breckyn Hager and Charles Omenihu. When you take those two and add in players like TaQuon Graham, Malcolm Roach, and a guy like Chris Nelson if he decides to stay around, then you have yourself the making of an ominous group that will be as good as any in the conference. Speaking of Roach, he was playing out of position a bit at Rover due to Gary Johnson being out, but he showed he can still be a problem as a blitzer from that spot.  That should make some opposing offenses uncomfortable.

This group is going to create issues for offenses up front and that will play right into the hand of a talented, reloaded secondary despite losing a couple of starters to the NFL Draft.

The Tight End Position Seems To Have A Pulse

Don’t look now, but the tight end position may be making a resurgence after long being dormant in Austin. Despite Cade Brewer missing the entire spring recovering from a knee injury, the spring game showed that Texas still has a couple of options at tight end that could help the offense this year. Both Andrew Beck and Reese Leitao were targeted frequently in the passing game and look like they could be turning into a safety valve for the quarterbacks. On top of that, it looks like both Beck and Leitao are able to stay on the field and be competent blockers instead of acting as decoys. This is already a drastic improvement from recent years at the position. When Brewer gets healthy and added back into the mix , Texas will have a solid grouping that can be effective in both phases and give the offense more options.

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